Don’t let it steal your joy in today.
I’m a big believer in lessons. Even from the most unexpected places.
Last week my dog got sick. He has Cushing’s, but this was different. He was lethargic, wobbly, uninterested in walks, uninterested in barking at every leaf that flies by. I took him to the vet and the short-term prognosis is good, antibiotics for his bladder infection, different medicine for suspected pancreatitis and different medicine for colitis. Long term? Not so good. His chest x-ray was cloudy from liquid, possibly blood. The ultrasound technician happened to be onsite and that test clearly showed a 10cm tumor in his liver, a tumor in his spleen and a small tumor in an adrenal gland.
Suddenly I was back in that awful time when dad was first diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure. I know, I know, you can’t compare the loss of a parent, spouse or child to that of a pet. Even a beloved pet. But grief is grief, and suddenly I was anticipating the loss of a companion of 12 years. And grieving.
This type of grief, “anticipatory” grief is common, rarely discussed and is grounded in the facing the eventual death of a loved one – even a pet. It is really a grief centered around losses: loss of a companion, loss of your place in the world, the loss of dreams. Even the loss of financial stability. I suspect that loving a person living with dementia means living for years in a world of anticipatory grief. And it’s hard.
What was most difficult about that year with dad, was being in an “in-between-place”. How long would this go on? What would dad and I go through before that final goodbye? When do you give up hope and let go? Do you give up hope? How do you let go?
Fortunately, I have an amazing support system of friends and family, honed during my years as a caregiver. I sent a group text about the vet visit and asked for prayers. One friend’s response, “Living in the now helps and is so very difficult to do,” really hit home with me. I started thinking back to that year with dad. It turns out “grief doesn’t occur in isolation, and often the experience of grief can bring to light memories of other episodes of grief in the past.”(1)
Reflecting on that year (some of it spent visiting dad), was helpful. I realized I don’t know how long I have with Josh. Once we get the short term under control, he could live well with these tumors for years. I realized I needed to stop petting him and saying, “My poor big guy.” That was my grief and all he knows is that I am sad, but not why.
We have today, and today should be filled with the joy. The joy of a long walk, the joy of a car ride, the joy of getting down on the floor to snuggle and play. Am I anticipating his loss? Yes, but this time I’m going to try hard to embrace grief for short periods of time, then let it go. Because we have today.
Some great articles on anticipatory grief:
(1) Anticipatory grief symptoms and purpose
Grieving Before a Death: Understanding Anticipatory Grief
Why is anticipatory grief so powerful?
Disclaimer: The material in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace, nor does it replace, consulting with a physician, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other qualified professional.