Anticipatory Grief

Anticipatory Grief

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Given this pandemic, there is much about which I am sad. I miss my dog park friends, as the park was closed when too many younger people were found to be congregating. I will miss seeing my brother whom I was to visit next week. I miss the hugs along with the wine and prayers and laughter of my women’s prayer circle. I miss being with church groups in person in energizing and creative conversations about visioning and purpose, and sometimes just goofy games with marshmallows.
 
I know I have a rich bounty of things for which to be grateful, but I’ve learned that sadness needs to be befriended and given time to express itself. It's okay to be sad about little things. It makes a great undercoat onto which to paint my canvas of blessings.
 
There is something more going on for me right now: Anticipatory Grief. 
 
I live in the commuter catchment of New York City.  My children both work in the city, we have friends and connections there. And I live one town over from Connecticut’s first hard hit town. My town now has the most cases in Connecticut. 
 
In my Twitter feed, I am reading prayer requests from people whose grandparents, neighbors, coworkers and friends are in intensive care.  Or announcements of deaths. And yes, some of them are young people. I have a dear friend who is a top administrator at a New York City Hospital. I haven’t been able to talk to her, but from a few texts, I know she is coordinating the effort to double the beds. 
 
How can we help?  While I had an earthquake bag while living in Tokyo, and learned to wear face masks when sick out of politeness to others, I am a “dirt is good” girl, and so have no masks, one bottle of hand sanitizer and no stockpile of toilet paper to share. I am geared up to make face masks, and will drop off cans of food and make extra donations to programs that will help.
 
Still, there is not enough to do in face of the staggering numbers of Covid-19 cases and likely deaths. Each one is a person with a story, and loved ones and triumphs and quirks and possibly a unique hobby or a furry pet. So many years of doing funerals attunes me to this fact: each person is wonderfully and fearfully made, and each death will leave a wake of mourning. And because the health care system is overwhelmed, likely a wake of trauma as well. There will be heartbreaking choices. There will be ones lost without hand-holding, hymn singing, and tender final words.
 
I know life is full of grief and trauma and sadness and fear and worry. The work of clergy, of the church, is to accompany that and still proclaim new life and healing and joy and trust and hope. And I am ready to proclaim them, but not in a way that will bypass the shadowed valleys that are certainly ahead.
 
Trust in God, at least in my life, is not blind.  Like a muscle, it is easily exercised when all is good, and hard to flex when unwell, or injured, or grieving. Nor are rosy platitudes possible. There will be real and inexorable loss.
 
The gift of this particular Christian pilgrimage is not the avoidance of grief. I fully anticipate grief. It will be grueling. 
 
It is rather in also anticipating that somehow I will again, we will again, be able to find God’s wellspring. In time. 
 
And so, along with anticipating the grief, I will be anticipating — in its season — joy. 


Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash
 

Author

csp_townsley_5917-linkedin.jpg
Suzi P. Townsley

Associate for Innovation, Leadership and Change

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