The New Normal

By Ron Ciancutti

The crowd had long since departed, and June sat alone at the corner of the eight-foot table covered in red plastic. The posters the grandkids made, which included the most memorable shots of Papa, were still propped up on easels by the door: Papa pitching baseballs, Papa teaching Alicia how to drive, Papa surprising Grandma on her birthday with a new car, Papa simply being a great guy. June choked up again, probably for the hundredth time in the last three days.

He passed quietly in his sleep. She had rolled over and called his name in the darkness, a form of communication they had used for decades. He always answered, always ready to give her the comfort and security he provided from their first date. But this time he didn’t answer, and when she put her hand on his skin, she found he was cold. And he was never cold. Instead of jumping from the bed, she simply turned the light on. Lying by his side for the last time, she felt a sense of calm.

“So this is how it ends, huh, buddy? We always talked about this day, and here it is,” she whispered. She lay a moment longer by him, her hand on his chest. “Oh, Papa—where do you think you’re going, huh? You’re gonna leave this big family to little, old me? I’m not strong like you … I’m not … not ... nn …”

And the sobs began. Eventually, she gathered herself, called 911, and requested “an ambulance or coroner or whatever.” The blur of events followed, including the indelible, visual impression of watching him being carried out of his house of 48 years. And now she was sitting at that stupid table after that stupid “wake,” where everyone left by saying, “Don’t hesitate to call me.” And she thought, “Call you for what?”

Some words kept coming back into her mind. Her 19-year-old grandson, the one who was so frank, like her, had simply said, “Well, Gram—time for the New Normal.” It was a term she was unfamiliar with, but it made so much sense. With her husband’s passing came the mandate that she must now find a new way to navigate the day. Everything must go like a fire sale at the furniture store. No more breakfast together, walks in the park, dozing during afternoon television, or evening crossword puzzles. No more Christmas shopping for the kids and holiday concerts with the other couples their age. She would need to find a life all over again—the “new normal.” Did she have the strength to seek it?

Did she have a choice? She couldn’t convey to anyone the desperation she felt, the abandonment. If she prayed for anything, it was more about the earth opening up and swallowing her whole—she didn’t want to deal with this pain, this fear, this unsettledness. And she knew right then that the new normal would never be as good as the last one, and that was a daunting thought. She tightened her lips and took a deep breath, steeling herself to the pain and stifling the temptation to break down.

“Well, June,” she said to herself, “Chapter Two.”

God’s Plan, Not Mine
“Steady” Eddie Hanes had a lot of nicknames. He liked them all. The guys in the assembly line at the plant called him “Old Reliable,” the guys in administration called him “the Cleanup Hitter,” and the bowling/golfing gang just called him “the Closer.”

It was simply his way; he was the guy who could wrap things up definitively and without error. Projects at work, favors requested from relatives, the strike that would secure the win in the last frame, the putt no one else could sink.  Steady Eddie made it look like a breeze, and he got things done.

What would have been a burden to some, he absolutely embraced. As the years passed, Eddie became even more impressed with his reputation. “I’ll take care of that for you,” he’d often quip, and sure enough the bank would extend someone’s loan, or the new employer would grant someone an interview, or someone in need would be provided with a great discount. Eddie knew so many people and had so many favors he could call in that he generously used them for everyone else.

One evening Eddie had organized a spaghetti dinner to help a family raise funds to meet the hospital bills of their child, who was suffering from cancer. He had taken in substantial donations and was leaving the VFW Hall with a canvas moneybag on his way to the bank. In a flash, he was struck in the head with a baseball bat, and watched three teenage boys flee into the night with the bag.

Steady Eddie Hanes was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. The friends he had and the people he once so anxiously served poured their time and money into his life, but his speech was slurred and his physical limitations were substantial. He worked the bingo tumbler for the Veterans Association and went table to table in the evening, thanking each and every one for their service. He was handed a New Normal but performed his lot in life without question. “God’s plan, not mine,” he would say with a broad smile when people felt sorry for him.

Stops And Starts
Everywhere, in both positive and negative lights, life is keeping the promise that the only guarantee is that change is inevitable. There will be New Normals in our lives. Some will challenge our spirit and some may break us down for a while. But the hits we take will come and go, without a doubt.

Here are some more examples:

  • A 30-year employee is laid off.
  • A new mother loses a child before his first birthday.
  • A store clerk’s wife starts the day by asking him for a divorce; she has found someone else.
  • A boy hands a girl a Valentine that she gives back.
  • A girl receives a Valentine she didn’t expect.
  • A man opens his paycheck to find the raise his boss had been promising.
  • A team that didn’t even expect to be in the playoffs wins the championship.

So let’s make this our fervent prayer, that we value the good things we have while we have them. That we encourage those who are experiencing challenges of loss or hardship, and empathize as if they had happened to us. That we rest assured that the bad times will pass.

Life is short, my friends. Let’s live to make the most of it and help each other through. The New Normal comes in both good and bad “restarts.” Let’s spin it right.

Ron Ciancutti has worked in the parks and recreation industry since he was 16 years old, covering everything from maintenance, operations, engineering, surveying, park management, design, planning, recreation, and finance. He holds a B.S. in Business from Bowling Green State University and an M.B.A. from Baldwin Wallace University. He has held his current position as Director of Procurement since 1990. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at