When you see an end coming, what do you do?
Recently, an impending loss in my personal life has had me thinking about anticipatory grief. Thinking back over losses in my life, I realize how little I understood about grieving and loss. Even though I was close to both of my grandmothers, I didn't attend either of their funerals. While I did live far away at the time, I know most people would have travelled much further to be present at the funeral of a family member and someone they cared about.
At the time of my grandmothers' passing, I wasn't connected enough to myself to understand the importance of tending to grief. I know their deaths left me sad, yet I pushed those feelings away and carried on.
Ignoring or suppressing feelings is not a helpful way to grieve the loss of someone we care about. Whether it's the physical death of someone you love or an impending end to a relationship (breaking up or even moving), tending to our grief is important. We don't always know when someone is going to leave - or even when we are for that matter.
My dearest pug friend Pandora (and the subject of Wanda's book "Wanda Petunia's Eternal Love) left me unexpectedly. I was older in life and more emotionally mature when Pandora transitioned. She was with me during a very challenging period in my life. The presence of her witness in my life and her extremely attentive devotion (aka codependency) led me to experience what the qualities of love would feel like in ways I had not experienced before. So when she was gone one day - just like that there was no anticipation and just shock.
At the time, I thought her sudden departure was horrible. I would much rather have had anticipatory grief.
But I've since realized all partings can be painful - unexpected and expected.
Just as there are stages to grief, there can be stages to anticipatory grief too.
The desire to deny someone will be leaving. Anger that this is even happening. Bargaining can be especially prevalent in anticipatory grief - we will do something - give up something else - if only the ending can be different. It usually isn't ~ so then there is depression as we think of how life may feel empty and sad without the one we love. And then acceptance - which once it is reached is a relief... even if we end up back in one of the other stages again.
Because of the impending loss I am facing, I have also been waiting. I don't know how long they have left here... And that's another part of anticipatory grief > waiting.
One of the hardest parts of life can be waiting. Waiting is exceptionally hard when we know someone only has so much time left on earth. Again, this could be said of all of us. We don't know how long we have - yet don't usually think about it. Otherwise, we would be in a constant state of anticipatory grief - and that would be quite challenging.
As I was pondering my friend recently, I decided to paint.
Painting Wanda-related paintings always helps.
I decided to start painting Wanda as she would be waiting:
what would she do?
She would likely begin by looking at the clock! After all, Wanda is real and she has real feelings. One of these real feelings is impatience!
Realizing the futility of watching a clock, Wanda would venture outdoors where the butterflies fly.
Nature is healing and butterflies are the perfect example of going through stages: caterpillar > cocoon > butterfly. When you are in the cocoon and waiting, that is just where you are and must be.
Going deeper into waiting could mean going deeper into the forest. Forest bathing (time outside under the trees) is a great cleansing balm for anxiety, sadness and impatience. In the forest, there is a call to the present moment. Present moment is another helpful aid in the waiting and patient building process.
Leaving the forest and coming to the lake or sea or ocean, Wanda would set sail and float. Sometimes you just can't direct things in life- kind of like Wanda's boat above where she has forgotten her oars and there's no sail.
This was my mindfulness painting process. As I painted these vignettes, I realized waiting is perfect for creating. If you are experiencing anticipatory grief or anything that involves waiting, you might try creating. Feel free to add Wanda to your painting, drawing or collage too :)
Life can sure be challenging and especially when it changes in ways we don't like.
Practice your coping skills, like creativity and time outside...
reach out to a friend...
email Wanda or me...
and remember you are loved!