There is a little discussed state of mind that precedes loss. It is the phase when the prospect of losing a loved one (due to death, divorce or estrangement) is looming large. You busy yourself in the task of finding the best doctors, treatments or therapists to help you along. Action eases anxiety and presents an illusion of control. Yet, the voice inside you starts whispering trying to prepare you for the inevitable. We often brush these thoughts out of our consciousness because even entertaining the prospect of loss might make it come true.
Like Trishanku, you feel suspended between heaven and earth, neither here nor there. Everything is a possibility, anything can happen. We cannot fully commit to an emotion because the loss hasn’t happened yet and there is always hope…All emotions are anticipatory, in preparation of what is to come. Anticipatory grief, anxiety, anger…The only emotion we can permit ourselves to fully feel is the love but that can trigger further grief.
What can you do in such a situation?
Here is what I have learned from my own recent and ongoing experiences with anticipatory grief-
- Roll up your sleeves, brace yourself, this is going to hurt. For a while. There is no timetable how long exactly. And there is no way out of it but through. You are already in the midst of the pain, acknowledge that. The intensity, frequency and duration of this grief is not in your hand.
- Befriend ambiguity. The demand for certainty will only add to your suffering.
- Don’t forget to celebrate the good and cherish the present togetherness no matter how brief.
- At some point you will have to wrestle with the big questions this experience of loss might throw up for you. Who am I without this relationship in my life? What does my own life amount to? Is life inherently meaningless? Why is the price of admission to love separation and grief? What is the point?! Why me?
- Check how you are distracting yourself from the emotional pain. When you stub your toe, waves of pain arise. We hold our toe in our hands to give it support, stop what ever it is we are doing or wherever we are going and breathe deeply till the pain subsides. If you were to inject your toe instead with an analgesic, you would be spared the pain but miss out on the vital information the pain delivers. Does the pain suggest a fracture or just a bruise, did you lose your balance because of vestibular or vision issues?
- It is exactly the same with our emotional pain. We can medicate it with alcohol, food, sex or overwork, but that is just a distraction. Pause, regroup, give yourself support and breathe. Listen to what your pain is telling you. Honour it. Allow yourself comfort though, use your wisdom. (chips and white wine in small therapeutic doses are allowed!)
- Finally, as the waves of pain subside and the fog and fatigue lift marvel at how you survived, give yourself permission to drop or postpone commitments that you don’t have the capacity to meet. And whenever appropriate start processing what has happened, so you only carry the love and lessons from the loss and not the pain.