Anticipatory Grief is a Selfish Toddler

When I awoke this morning I had exactly zero desire to talk about hard things.  That’s been pretty common lately.  Besides the word vomit my sister and I exchange by phone (how’s that for a visual?!), my mouth stays shut.  When someone says, “How are you?”  My response is usually “Good!”  Not because I’m a liar, but because I am still, in fact, breathing and if someone was able to ask me how I’m doing, it means I managed to make it out of the house to join the real world.  So that IS good.

But anyway, yeah- I had zero desire to talk about hard things.  I’m going to do it anyway.  Let’s discuss anticipatory grief.  Which basically means that you get to experience all the grief that comes with loss before loss actually happens.  You may not have heard of it, especially if you haven’t been in therapy.  You may have heard of it, but not spent a whole mess of time thinking about it.  That was me.  Until 2015.  And if you are a part of my life, you probably know way more about 2015 than I currently wish you did.  It is so important to be vulnerable, to tell the truth, to not walk through things alone.  But that doesn’t mean some times I absolutely hate that people know so much about the ugly in my life.  I’d love to just share the pretty.  But that’s not realistic.

I can’t tell you my daddy’s story the way I want to.  I can’t chronicle his doctor’s appointments or share what happens behind closed doors.  It’s not my story to tell.  But his story is forever interwoven with mine.  And the only way I know to make sense of all this mess is to share my part in it.  Because you might be dealing with hard things, too.  And you might need to remember you’re not alone.  I need that reminder, too.

Along with terms like “anticipatory grief,” I have gained a lot from sitting and saying all the things on a big comfy couch, in a quiet office, sound machine in the background, tissue on the table.  One of the phrases I’ve heard over and over is this- “If you do not deal with your grief, your grief will deal with you.”  I know this to be true.  But I still avoid dealing with it.  It’s been two long years and I’m sick of dealing, so I try to put it away in a box or pretend it’s not there.

But grief, anticipatory or otherwise, demands to be felt.

     Of all the feelings, it’s my least favorite one.  Love isn’t pushy, but even if it was, it feels so great that who cares. Joy is sometimes evasive, needing to be searched for or chosen, but it is never an inconvenience.  Even sorrow can be soothed and rocked quietly back to sleep.  But not grief.  Nope.  Grief is a selfish toddler in full on meltdown mode.  It throws itself on the ground, kicking and screaming because it wants to be heard.  And those tantrums- well, you don’t often see them coming.

I haven’t been dealing with my grief.  And today, my grief dealt with me.  I walked the aisles slowly because it’s not often I get to walk aisles alone.  I thought about the editing I needed to do for a photosession.  I thought about finding time to get some files done for work. I thought about trying to make the popsicle stick bracelets that Layla and I had found a tutorial for.  I did not think about anyone’s cancer or doctor’s appointments or anything else.  I made my way to check out and the cashier said, “A Hulk fan, huh?” as she noticed the bright green bracelet around my wrist.  The one my sister made while Dad was still in the hospital.  The one I wore as he fought through chemo and radiation.  The one I fidgeted with as he told us he had decided not to go that route anymore.  It is so much apart of me that I don’t always notice it’s there- just like my grief.  But as she noticed my bracelet, I noticed my heart ache.  Oh, it hurt.  I shook inside, but smiled and laughed and said “Oh yeah.”  The tears were unavoidable.  But I didn’t want to make this poor lady feel the heaviness of it all.  It’s not her fault I don’t just deal with this stuff.  So I put my head down when I grabbed my bag, made a bee line for the car, and sobbed.

All that to say, I still believe Jesus is the big answer to all this.  It’s just different from what I expected.  Instead of taking it all away, he beckons me to come sit awhile with Him and tell Him all about it.  (Sometimes in a parked car in a parking lot when grief throws it’s latest tantrum.)  Instead of offering me a shortcut through the grieving, he challenges me to feel it, to experience it, and to trust that He is enough in all of it.  There is a lot to learn, but the lessons don’t come easy.  Here’s what I do know though- I call my grief a toddler.  And in watching my own  babies grow at rapid speed, I know that toddlers don’t stay toddlers for long.  They grow, they mature, and they learn how to use their words instead of losing their junk in public.  I’m holding onto hope that my grief will do the same.


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