Anticipatory Grief—The Fearful Worry About What The Future Holds.
An owl visits Calvin. Sketch: Schoenhofer
Today, Mary and I volunteered at the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry. I looked forward to getting out of the house and doing more than take a walk. Mary sewed face masks for us and we got gloves to wear when we arrived. Four National Guardsmen were helping. I felt good that I could pitch in and help. Looking at my coworkers wearing face masks and gloves felt a little surreal. I felt grateful for the service of the four Guardsmen wearing protective gear and doing the most dangerous task of loading food boxes into cars.
I can't believe I just wrote that. Who would have thought loading a car with a box of food is dangerous, even life-threatening? As someone wrote, it feels like we’ve all entered a Stephen King novel. Is this the future? Face Masks? Social Distancing? Gloves? Troops loading cars with food?
What is Anticipatory Grief?
The term for this is “anticipatory grief.” Sam Dylan, in a Healthline article, How Anticipatory Grief May Show Up During the COVID-19 Outbreak, gives us an excellent overview of what this looks and feels like.
We feel on edge and are not sure why—hypervigilance; we scan the news regularly.
We feel angry and out of control—working at home is not fun anymore, and our favorite brand of mac and cheese hasn’t been available for weeks.
We focus on the worst-case scenario—ruminating about an apocalyptic version of the future.
We feel exhausted—our worry and stress hormone, cortisol, floods our body and zaps our energy. We read posts about how productive and creative everyone else is, and we find it hard to do anything more than read a novel.
We avoid telling anyone how we are feeling. “I am having an awful day today.”
No wonder we have these feelings. We are experiencing a lot of loss. Dr. Doreen Dodgen-Magee identifies loss we experience in her article: Necessary Self Care During COVID: Working through Loss. We've lost some financial security, the ability to buy what we want, the opportunity to travel and meet with people. And we've lost the feeling that we are in total control of our lives.
Some Things We Can Do.
Connect with someone even if we don’t feel like it. Social distancing does not mean cutting off communications.
Name what we are feeling and tell someone about it. “I’m not doing so well today.”
Stay fed, hydrated, rested, and get exercise. Make this a priority.
Try doing something a little creative. Write a poem. Draw a flower. Take some pictures. Start a scrapbook. Learn to knit. Check out YouTube for countless creative ideas.
Step Back a Moment in Compassion
This is a tough time, and our reactions and the reactions of our family, friends, and neighbors will be different and changing. Instead of lashing out in judgment, try stepping back in compassion. We have some challenging weeks ahead, maybe longer. Instead of looking to a time when it will be over, focus on what is happening right now. So much is out of our control. Let’s look for what we can control in the here and now.