Songs of Nature

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Anticipatory Grief

Day 17

Written By Eyleen Farmer

Image courtesy of Rebecca Webb Wilson, Hawkeye Nature Photography


I think of God, I am restless, I ponder, and my spirit faints.
You will not let my eyelids close; I am troubled and I cannot speak
. —Psalm 77:4

Image courtesy of Rebecca Webb Wilson; copyright 2010My dad was a poet. By which I mean he saw the world through poet’s eyes. He noticed things the rest of us missed, loved things that most of us wouldn’t think to love. To him every child was beautiful; every meal the most delicious he had ever had; every walk in the woods an exciting adventure.  He abhorred malls but liked to go to the grocery store just to admire the food. He cared not a whit for expensive clothes but wouldn’t bat an eye at the cost of a handcrafted rocking chair for a grandchild.  

Near the end of his life my normally easy-going dad became restless and easily agitated. There was one particularly frustrating night when I was staying with him to give the regular caregiver a night off. Dad was out of bed every five minutes, continually getting tangled up in his oxygen tubing during incessant trips back and forth to the bathroom. I was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to close my eyes. After several hours, I was at my wit’s end. “Dad! Please just be still!” He could hear the exasperation in my voice, and while he did not want to upset me, being still was quite beyond his capacity. I wasn’t sure who was in worse shape—him or me. My heart was screaming, “What has happened to my dad?” Neither of us could bear it.

My dad was grieving because of the frightening things that were happening to him. I was grieving because the man I was trying to care for wasn’t anything like my dad. Professionals call this “anticipatory grief”—grief before the actual loss. During that long, trying night we were both rehearsing our lines for the final drama to come. We were both saying, though we couldn’t name it then, “I don’t want to be without you!”  

It helps to know that the confusion of feelings before a death is a normal part of the griever’s journey. As you care for your loved one, care for yourself too. Take a day off. Forgive yourself for not doing everything perfectly. Pay attention to the small miracles that can unexpectedly grace your days. Try to remember that what you are giving is enough.

O God, help me to notice the small things that can carry me through. Amen.