How do you prepare yourself for the loss of someone close to you, such as a parent or parent figure? It is not something I particularly like to think about, but lately, I haven’t been able to avoid it.
Recently my dad had to have major surgery. Fortunately, I was able to fly to AZ to see him beforehand. My dad is a strong, stubborn man and has made it through many hardships in his life, but he is now 85 years old. I could see he was trying his best to stay strong for the family. Although, because of the pain medication he was given, he would become easily disoriented and would forget why he was in the hospital.
It was difficult to see him confused, frail, weak, and lying in the hospital bed. I did my best to be as positive as possible, but my thoughts would wander. Is he strong enough for surgery? Will he recover this time? How will it affect my mom? My siblings? Me? Wait, stop thinking negatively!
I knew these thoughts were not doing me any good. I wanted to be as present as possible with my dad before his surgery. But I also knew these thoughts were okay and I couldn’t eliminate them. I was scared. I was sad. I felt uncomfortable.
To make matters worse, shortly after my dad’s surgery, the hospital no longer allowed visitors due to the coronavirus pandemic. We had to wait for the nurses and doctors to call us with updates. While I understood why we couldn’t be with my dad, it brought up more wandering thoughts and frustrations. What if he gets confused again? Will he feel scared and alone? Will he wonder why no family members are visiting him? Why is this happening now? Why can’t we be with him?
On the one hand, I wanted to stay positive. I wanted to believe that he was going to be okay. I didn’t want to put any “negative” vibes, thoughts, or juju out there. On the other hand, I wanted to “be prepared” when and if my dad was ready to go. Although, how do you prepare yourself for the loss of a parent?
As I thought about this, I realized that underneath this question was another one, “How do you prepare for grief?” Which is also a difficult question to answer, but one I am much more familiar with. Grief and I have spent a lot of time together. I know what it feels like to get stuck in grief, to fight it, to avoid it – BUT I also know how to sit with grief, to allow it to move through me.
Here’s what “being prepared” looks like:
- Being curious about how you are feeling, without judgment. It’s about finding the balance. Allowing yourself to feel, to begin to grieve because there’s a chance that your loved one is ready to go. It is also allowing yourself to be hopeful that things can improve, that they will recover, that you will have more time to spend with them.
- Returning to a place of peace – amid all the sadness, grief, and fear. How can you find peace no matter how you are feeling? No matter what is going on? It doesn’t mean you don’t care or that you can’t be angry, sad, or cry. It doesn’t mean you are going to be laughing, smiling and joyful all the time either. Coming back to a place of peace is simply a reminder that no matter what, you believe that you will be okay, you will get through it, you can be at peace.
Here’s what “being prepared” doesn’t look like:
- You will be ready for the loss. We are never ready, no matter what. I can recall when my mother-in-law was terminal. We knew we were going to lose her. Technically, we had time to prepare. We had a great Easter weekend celebration with her and she was stable when headed back home. Within 3 days she took a drastic turn and passed quickly. We were not ready.
- You are prepared for difficult conversations. You can practice what you want to say to your loved one. You can write it down, review it in your head, say it out loud, but when the time comes, it’s impossible to be fully prepared. You can’t know how they will respond, or if they will respond.
- You will have it all figured out. You can try to think of everything, but you can’t predict – when it’s going to happen, how it’s going to happen, how you are going to feel, where you are going to be, how everyone around you is going to act or think, what your loved one is thinking, wanting, feeling, etc. It would be exhausting. Simply typing it all out was exhausting.
What about you? Have you prepared yourself for the loss of a parent? Maybe you have already lost a parent. Did you feel prepared? I want to honor my dad and his wishes during this difficult time. I can’t even imagine what his wandering thoughts are. I know that things are out of my control. That I can never be “fully” prepared to lose him, to grieve him.
Ultimately, it is about turning it over to God (Source, a Higher Power, etc.). Which includes accepting where you are at, where your loved one is at, AND letting go of the resistance, the control.
There’s always more to learn and experience, about loss, grief, and family dynamics. Oh, family dynamics. That is definitely a topic for another time . . . “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” C. S. Lewis