The worst part of sudden loss may be how the brain adapts to make sure you’re never caught off guard again. This is not particularly helpful because it means living life always waiting for the other shoe to drop, which one might argue isn’t living at all. It’s like every part of your being is saying to the cruel world, “Don’t mess with me, and if you try, I’m going to be more prepared this time!”
But how do you prepare for an unimaginable loss? You don’t really.
When I was 17 years old, I lost my dad after a short three-month battle with cancer. In the many years since then, I’ve worked tirelessly to try to protect myself from the unbearable pain and sadness I experienced then.
I never end a call without an “I love you,” and try to resolve every conflict before the sun goes down.
I read stories about miscarriage and sick children and tragic accidents to remind myself how fragile life is, and that this, too, could happen to me. I then research statistics to see just how likely it is that said things will happen to me or my family.
I avoid all the no-nos in pregnancy and buy the safest car seats and say prayers every night.
And yet, I’m always worried I’m not doing enough.
Time is slipping through my fingers, and today might be my last day here or my last day with her or him or them.
When I’m living like this, I also struggle to give myself grace. I’m telling myself I should be more patient, more grateful, more fun, more everything I’m not. The shoulds lead to shame and guilt. And I know from personal experience we can’t truly love others well when we are coming from a place of worthlessness. We can’t give away what we don’t have, and if we don’t have love for ourselves, we can’t give it away.
But here’s what else I know is true . . . the more I live in this anticipatory grief—preparing myself for a loss that has yet to come—the less I’m able to savor the beauty in the moments.
It’s like being halfway through a vacation and feeling sad that it’s almost time to go home.
So today I’m challenging myself, and maybe you too, to embrace the wonder of this day. To pause to look into your child’s eyes, to observe your heart beating in your chest, to experience an intentional inhale and cleansing exhale.
There are signs of life and love and God all around, and these things are worthy of great celebration.
And while you are giving thanks for the beauty that surrounds you, create space for your grief and your sadness and your fear. They have a place in your story, too. Just don’t let them take center stage and steal the joy that is available to us when we release our loved ones, our hopes, and our cares into the hands of the One who holds the universe.