Anticipatory Grief

Oftentimes, I hear, "Oh you look like you're so happy, I didn't know you were going through anything like that," from people who have either just met me, those who view me on live stream as well as some of my friends. I am happy. I am more grateful than anything. And as they say, happiness is a byproduct of being grateful. When I smile, it's usually genuine. I love to laugh and help others who are going through hard times as well. But then there's "me" -- the "me" you don't see when I'm not around you in person, or on social media or live stream -- the "me" that cries her eyes out when nobody's looking. I know it's not bad to cry, but I'd rather cry by myself, with my dog or comforted by my significant other. I try not to bring anyone down, but the fact is: I'm only human.

Seeing my mom suffer so terribly from cancer is just heart wrenching. I watched my father succumb to the awful end stages of cancer and I just can't believe I'm watching it all over again. There's really nothing I can do for her but be with her. Last night, she called me at midnight asking me to come watch TV with her because she was having a panic attack. My mom never knew the meaning of a panic attack, until she came face-to-face with cancer. I can't imagine the thoughts that must go through her mind as she tries to relieve the pain with her meds. She usually falls asleep in awkward positions, slumped over with her head almost falling off the pillow in a deep labored type of breathing. I never heard that from her while she slept.

I miss this.

Mom's close to 80 years young. The selfish side of me wants God to regenerate her cells and reverse the cancer so she can outlive me. "C'mon Mom! Why can't you live to 110 years old?" I can also be heard praying to God, "Please don't take my mom away!" My psychiatrist explained to me that part of the grieving process about losing a parent is the loss of part of our childhood. We lose that child within us in some strange way. We lose that sense of safety and comfort like when we were a child. I was also told, we truly don't become adults unless both parents are gone. The illusionary childhood in our minds, and most of all, in our past seems to become current, especially when we're seeing one of our parents fall ill. I'm learning to become more present, and to trust in God's will for everything, but it's hard because my human nature wants to take over and say, "No! Just five more years!" I remember my father saying to me, "All I want is another ten years, Deb..." And one week later, he passed away.

Whether or not you find this cold-hearted or not, there is beauty found within the moments of anticipatory grief and post grief. I remember five years ago when Dad was still with us, we talked a lot. We said "I love you" often. A week before his passing, over ten doves were sitting above his bedroom while I was outside in the yard. They were so beautiful. When they flew away, they made this pigeon-like noise and ascended up into the high skies where I could no longer see them anymore. It was almost magical. I knew right then and there, that this was Dad's time. During this time, I had rescued a puppy from a shelter. Lola comforted me as I was crying outside on my deck having a glass of wine. The photo on the left shows you her looking up at me. That dog saved me from dying of a broken heart. She knew how sad I felt.

The day Dad went to see Jesus was very strange, sad, surreal, with an odd sense of relief. He was in agony and hearing him cry out in pain was just torture for everyone in the family to hear. We were in hospice visiting him every single day. Then one day, I decided to go in around 2pm in the afternoon instead of doing a morning run. As I was having coffee outside, this beautiful moth landed right on the patio table. It appeared to have an ascending angel painted on it. You can see for yourself -- it was the strangest moth I have ever seen. When it landed, it was 12:21pm -- a time I always catch on the clock. And another strange fact is, all of our relatives pass away on the 21rst of the month, and that day was July 21, 2012. I looked over at my partner and said, "He's gone." She asked how did I know, and I simply showed her the moth and the time. About 30 minutes later, my sister called me and said, "He's gone." And when they told me it was a half hour ago, I just knew. I knew that there was something greater than ourselves out there, beyond all of our physical 3rd dimensional world. Sure I believed in God, but this is what truly made my faith greater. As my family all started to come over, I prepared a dinner for everyone. We sat outside, in a strange silence, some reminiscing about the past, or funny moments. It wasn't torture to sit at the table with everyone. I sat in my dad's seat unintentionally, and he played a joke on me. He kept throwing me these HUGE bees, that would land on me and drop in front of my dish. Dad knew I have a huge fear of bees and always said, "Hey Deb! Look! A bee!" And of course there was nothing and he would laugh way too long over it. He was still taunting me on the other side, and from that point on, I knew he was still with us, not in pain, but telling us that he was ok.

My mom lost a lot of weight. The other day when I went to rub her shoulder as we were eating dinner together, I felt nothing but bones. It took me back to when I was walking my dad around the property giving him physical therapy due to his hip injury one week before he passed. He said, "I love you, Debbie," and I said I loved him back, and then placed my hand on his shoulder to find that my once strong and mighty father -- my superman -- was now all skin and bones. It scared me. So when I noticed that about mom, my heart just broke into pieces.

They say that nobody knows the day nor hour of anyone's expiration date. But sometimes, you just know when it's close. It's not that I've given up on hope or faith, but it's more about trusting God's will instead of my own. I've been in a long enough depression to realize I've been grieving way before anything has happened. It's heartbreaking to watch a loved one suffer so terribly. It's also painstaking to see that your loved one is a completely different person due to the illness. And who wouldn't be? I'm grieving who my mom once was -- funny, active, full of life, always dancing and enjoying martini once in a while. I miss her. I'm mourning for that woman -- the woman who could do anything. And now, she can barely walk out of her bedroom and into the living room.

So if I look tired lately, give me a pass. If I seem to have put on some weight, let it go. If I sometimes withdraw from society, let me be. If I sometimes burst into tears, let me cry. And if you see me laughing and smiling, oh please let me, because I need every ounce of happiness I can get right now. As I type this out, my dog is staring at me, watching me cry. Once again, my little pup understands whenever I'm a hot mess. She's my distraction, my comforter, my little loving fur baby. She never misses a beat. I think God placed this little dog into my life for a reason. And now, it's like déjà vu -- the tears, the heartache, the emotional pain, the anticipatory grief -- but with a little less salt in the wounds. Because in the end, God is in control. God won't ever give us anything we can't handle. Dad once visited me in a dream and said, "Stop thinking about my last days here! Stop thinking about all the pain I went through. Here, take this," and he reached into his pocket and took out this rainbow full of sparkles. He threw it over to me, and when it hit me, it flooded my mind with only good memories -- memories of being together with the family, Christmases, vacations, fishing on the ocean, laughing, summertime by the pool -- all the good times in our lives. It all flashed inside my mind. Then he said, "Start remembering that instead! Stop dwelling on the sickness and get rid of that fear!" And then he left...and I woke up with a smile on my face.

This is my outlet -- writing. This is the way I express myself. This is my story. Whether you find it distasteful to write about this while my mom's still alive, then I have to wonder if you're repressing your own feelings about life, illness and possible death of our loved ones. This is apart of life and there's nothing wrong with talking about it, in fact, it's actually very healthy to discuss this topic. I usually try to find the good in everything. I can't always be "happy-happy-joy-joy" all the time, but I will always have happiness within me -- in my heart -- and when I'm able to share that happiness with the world, then I will. And just because you may see me laughing and smiling from time to time, does not mean I don't care about what's going on. I do. But I can't lose myself entirely to this dreadful occurrence that's happening in our lives. I need to be genuine. And when I'm feeling happy in the midst of chaos, that's a beautiful thing. That's a beautiful thing for anyone to be -- happy in the midst of it all. I'm not talking about dancing around someone's deathbed -- I'm speaking in regards to finding joy in the midst of your own nightmares. Sometimes we need to be a beacon of light in order to help those who need a little happiness of their own. Be genuine. Smile if you want. Cry if you want. GRIEVE how you want.

That's all up to you.

For more of Deb's articles, please visit: or join her on Facebook and Twitter. Check out her cooking blog for some of her famous recipes!