Thursday, June 30, 2011

Wondering About Anticipatory Grief

My husband dealt with multiple health problems for years and I thought I had what I've heard called anticipatory grief. It's a term used in situations where a person loses someone after a long illness or a known terminal condition. Thomas was not techinically terminal, but in a phone conversation I had been advised at one point what to expect. I did not tell Thomas until he had outlived the prognosis. He outlived the doctor's prediction by nearly three years. Still, I faced losing Thomas so many times, I sometimes rehearsed my reaction in my head. I rehearsed the conversation with my daughter. I tried not to think about it, but I did. The reality is not what I anticipated on the rare occasion I allowed myself to think about it.

When the day came, God allowed me to go through the process with a calm that amazed everyone there and everyone that heard about it. He kept me on my feet, kept any screams silent, walked with me through the entire thing. I tossed a large blanket over my shoulder underneath which I nursed my son while an officer interviewed me about what had gone on that day. I kept my wits about me enough to plan what I've been told was a very good funeral despite never even having been remotely involved in planning one before that. Thomas always said I was right for him because all hell could be breaking loose and I'd remain calm. I would actually do my crying in seclusion. I'd been crying for years. When he died I wondered if I'd have any tears left or just be mad. I remember thinking this is the worst thing to ever happen, but I have to be okay.

I've had plenty of grief in the past 15 months and from more sources than just Thomas' death. But when it came to his actual departure, I have come to believe that for me, when I thought I was grieving ahead of time, I was really grieving the current losses. We lost the privilege of physical intimacy. We lost the privilege of sharing our bed. We lost the privilege of spontaneity. We were married for ten years, but lost most of what we enjoyed about our marriage about half way through it. I cried, I got angry, made bad decisions, got scared, tried to figure out how to live over and over again.

And since he actually died, I've done those things again. I've cried, I've gotten angry, I've made bad decisions, gotten scared and I'm still trying to figure out how to live. When I actually lost him, when he was really gone, when he didn't bounce back at the last minute like he'd done so many times, I started a life that was a lot different than I anticipated.

Part of the complication for me is in the birth of my son. From the time I got pregnant with him, I forced myself to believe my husband would just keep on going. I'd reached a point of accepting those other losses and we had reached a point as a couple where we relied on our friendship and worked together to be the best parents we could. After Elijah was born, even though my husband's condition had not improved, I somehow had hope. We got a minivan two weeks after Elijah was born and five weeks after that purchase I went back to work. One week after that, two months from the day I had our son, I came home and Thomas was dead. A couple of days later, I remember thinking, "We have this baby and you do this now? Really?" Elijah though was an unexpected blessing. He wasn't a child we planned like his sister, but like her, we loved him. He had our hearts from the start.

Ariana was almost 7 years-old and we'd gotten into a pretty good routine before I got pregnant. I had somewhat prepared myself to do this with two children with minimal help from Thomas. He was doing more of what he could to help with our daughter during my pregnancy and in those first eight weeks our son was here, but he really didn't have much energy after working and I accepted that. He also held our son quite a bit and that is significant because in those early weeks he hardly held our daughter at all. He claimed she was too small and delicate. I wondered why the difference, but didn't think too much about it. Thomas now had a very strict lifting limit. It was so strict that Elijah would reach that weight at 3 months old, just one month after Thomas' death, so when this was happening, I figured he wanted to hold him while he could.

Elijah has lessened the blow of this tragedy in a lot of ways. Both of my children have, but in truth, I looked at him and Ariana and realized I had no idea how I was going to do this with their father actually gone. He'd had too many close calls to count, but the finality of it all is the difference. When he was here I had occasion to get a glimpse of the man I married and now that's gone. When I hated sleeping alone, not being held at night and when I hated being celibate, I tried to be grateful he was just here to talk to. Now he's not here for that. I could not anticipate what that would be like because he talked a lot. That was all we could do really so we did a lot of it. When I need to make a decision outside of the areas we talked about, he's not here to ask what to do. There is way less room for error with children in your arms and no spouse at your side or an ex across town, across the state or wherever.

And I had a dream that might have warned me. I dreamt once that I was widowed and living alone with my daughter and an infant son. I woke up and figured that must have been someone else. Why? The people in the dream looked like us, talked like us, had our names. Why? I had not yet gotten pregnant and did not anticipate getting pregnant. Elijah was conceived on a trip we took in April of 2009 and we had not had any kind of baby making activity in over a year at that point. I dismissed the dream and didn't mention it to anyone, not even Thomas. I was standing downstairs with some friends waiting for him to be removed from the house when I remembered it. I looked at my son and thought, "Holy Crap!"

I wonder now what anticipatory grief really is. It certainly isn't what I thought it to be. Despite years of illness, multiple hospitalizations, several surgeries, sleepless nights and a lot of suffering he and I both wished would end at times, Thomas' actual death turned my world upside down. And it should have. He was my husband, a faithful man of God, father of four and among so many other things he was to several people, he was the only man I had ever loved. God is turning my world right side up though and when I rely on Him like I should, I enjoy my life. It's not always easy. I was a wedding day virgin and part of my motivation was to avoid having to raise a child or children by myself. But God has blessed us anyway and my children and I have a good life. And I anticipate that it will get better.

It saddens me Thomas is not a part of it like I hoped he'd be. But I knew him. He'd still want me to believe in my future. He'd still want me to believe in purpose. He'd want me to focus my attention there. He would still want me to dream. He talked more about my writing dreams than I did. When all I could think about was trying to keep him alive, he was confessing a six figure writing income for me. I'll always miss him, but something on the inside stirs me to believe that there's greatness inside me still and there's greatness in my future. Believing my children are great has never been an issue. All of that has battled well with the sadness, loneliness and grief and it's nice that the grief has competition.

There's definitely been no shortage of life lessons here. I'm learning about myself, reinventing myself for this new road and rediscovering parts of me I had put away, who Sonya the woman is beyond Sonya the mother. Do I get tired? I get exhausted. I took the children to Great Wolf Lodge for a recent weekend to get a break. I'm out to discover the woman yes, but I still get my kicks just being mommy…splashing in the pool, playing video games, watching Disney Channel and making a fool of myself dancing to some teeny bopper song by a boy I had never heard of before that night. My daughter especially appreciates that I don't seem to mind making a fool of myself. It's an ability I believe every parent should have. They are worth it. I’m just finding out that I am too.

I am not sure whether there really is such a thing as anticipatory grief. Most widows I have had any kind of contact with say there really isn't a way to predict what this life will be like before you are in it. I do however have great anticipation of our future. I believe God has great things in store for us. I still believe Thomas' prayers will be answered. He prayed way more about the future than I did. Most of my prayers were really in the moment. He prayed my father would resurface and he did. And I had one more dream. Thomas came and talked to me and assured me I would be fine. I believe him. God tells me in His word that I will be fine. He tells me I have a bright future. I believe Him. I couldn't do this if I didn't.

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