It’s the harshest kind of grief, hanging around, not ready to even barely get started. It hits me hard, even before I’m ready to stumble down that long road through the jungle that is grief.
Anticipatory grief, that’s what the psychologists call it. Grieving a loss before it actually occurs. But, I know it’s coming. So, I gird my loins, I steel myself for what is coming. I’ve been in this place before, and I’m old enough, lived enough life to know there’s a storm coming and I better get ready.
This grief doesn’t get to enjoy messing with all of me, not yet. There’s still hope. Hope that my friend will recover from cancer. Or that my relative who’s had several strokes and is severely depressed will turn the corner and be their old, dependable and personable self. Or, grieving some other change, some other loss in my life.
I can’t fully grieve, I can’t yet look ahead on this journey and start thinking those logical, sensible thoughts, that death is inevitable, that my loved one has passed away and that is simply reality.
No, that’s not reality. Not yet. There’s that hope poking around, reminding me that all is not lost, at least not yet. They could recover, they could rebound and this dark time will simply be remembered over coffee as a bad time, just one of those stumbling blocks on our walk through life.
This wound is open, infected. My magical thinking is that I can let this grief run its course, that I can gnash my teeth and scream at the wind in the middle of the storm. Eventually the dawn will come and I can see my way ahead, that life goes on, and I must take some steps in the right direction.
No, not yet. There’s that hope thing; there’s that uncertainty. So, I bargain and I rationalize and use all my grieving tools, looking for the easy way out.
“It’s not that bad,” I say to the mirror.
It is. The cancer and the stroke and the depression, or whatever disease my loved ones are battling are fierce and strong. And, let’s face it, fatal. It’s just a matter of time.
But. But, let me bargain. Let me cajole and do my best imitation of a cheerful Pollyanna.
That’s part of the grief process, the potholed journey I’m embarking on. My rational mind knows that. Yet, grief isn’t rational, isn’t a nice progressive process with a bright light shining a mile down the road.
Grief is chaos, bewilderment, a wringing of the hands, storming through my life, often blindsiding me, getting knocked off the rails.
This anticipation, it is still grief, and I don’t know how to deal with it, or make much sense out of it. I’ll just be grieving, with all of my righteous anger and rage, depression, frustration, self pity and glimmers of rational thoughts full of hope and a renewed healthy perspective of what life is all about.
Grieving is messy work, and like everyone else I know, it is work that I want to avoid. When I can’t avoid it, I’ll bargain and argue and ignore it and play all the mind games with the Fates that I’ve come to be pretty experienced with. Grief and I are wary rivals, wrestling as we do to see how I can move through these rough patches in my life.
Anticipatory grief? Heck, no. I’m right in the middle of it all. I call it out as grief, in all its forms and all of its moods. And, some day, I’ll emerge on the other side of the wormhole, a little worse for the wear, maybe. Yet, stronger for the journey.
—Neal Lemery. 9/6/2016