Saturday, October 15, 2011

Anticipatory Grief

I have spoken with a number of people regarding my daughter's upcoming surgery.  On the one hand, it is a fairly complicated surgery, with some serious medical technology being used.  On the other, the surgeon is one who has done this surgery many times before.  He is not simply reading the book and watching the procedure on YouTube.  He knows what he is doing.  There is great comfort in this!

But there is still this feeling of what I have come to label "Anticipatory Grief."  For those who need a refresher course on the works of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, grief often includes several stages.  There are five that she identified, and these stages can come and go in different order or in varying degrees, depending on the person and the day (or hour, or minute...).

The stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

This can't be happening... (denial)

Okay God, why are you doing this!?!?!?... (anger)

Look, if I can just be a better person, this won't happen, right?.... (bargaining)

I don't know why I never seem to get anything done...(depression)

Okay, we've done all we can, this is going to happen and we will get through this... (acceptance)

The statements or questions may be different, but I have been experiencing all of these.  Sometimes one at a time.  Sometimes several gang up together.  Occasionally, they are on a five minute cycle.

As I expressed to my colleague in ministry, "You know you are in the midst of bargaining and anger when you say, 'Okay God, that's it!  You take care of her or I quit!'"  For those who are theologically squeamish, let me point out that I know that God is big; God can take it.  God is no more threatened by my ranting than I am threatened by Lil Bit's crying.  (Although that is a post for another time about the breaking of the heart of God.)

For me, this cycle feels like grasping at control in the midst of the uncontrollable.  We have done our homework.  We have found a really good surgeon working out of a really good hospital that has a low incident of infection.  We have prepped our support networks in our families, in the church, among our friends. 

We have worked hard at treating Lil Bit like she is "normal," whatever that means.  Mostly it has meant letting her set the limits on her activity, saying "no" and backing it up when she tries to go past the limits of safety, and dealing with the usual issues of diapers, bath and naptime.

Having done all we can, I am faced with the limits of all that I can do.  I cannot guarantee her safety.  I cannot wish her surgery to magically be perfect or unnecessary.  I cannot add to the knowledge or skill of the doctors, nurses or attendants.

Part of the acceptance stage, with which I still wrestle, is realizing that this would all be true even if there were not surgery involved.  I could not guarantee her safety.  I cannot magically make it all better.  I cannot control the world and conform it to my vision of the ideal place for her to live and grow.

Having done all we can, we wait and we trust.  This gets a little harder as the date for surgery gets closer.  But it also means we get lots of practice.  And we pray a lot.  And we get teary eyed on occasion.  And we laugh a little too hard at inappropriate humor, just because we need the laughter.

I am reminded of two statements on grief.  They are perhaps opposites, perhaps mutually exclusive.  But they are also, paradoxically, both true.

The amount of grief we feel is directly proportional to the amount of unfinished business we have: what has not been said or heard; unfulfilled expectations, lost opportunities.

The amount of grief we feel is a sign of the amount of love we have for someone.

Yup.  That about covers it.