Waiting has always been hell for me. I’m an extremely impatient person and have been this way since I was a child. But, enduring this coronavirus pandemic, waiting and watching as this impending doom grows closer and more certain, takes on a horror all its own. I’ve been sitting alone in my home for nearly two weeks now, although it seems like much longer. And all this time I’ve been waiting…waiting to find out how bad this will be, waiting to see how the pandemic will impact my community, and worst of all, waiting to see if this deadly virus will hurt or kill one of my friends or family.
This current scenario has also triggered memories about the last time I experienced something similar to this – the ten months of wondering, waiting, and watching between Rick’s cancer diagnosis and his death. Cancer widows, widowers, and anyone who has lost a loved one months after the diagnosis of any fatal disease are most probably experiencing the same feelings I am today – anticipatory grief.
Anticipatory grief is defined as the normal mourning that occurs when a patient or family is expecting a death. This type of grief has many of the same symptoms as those experienced after a death has occurred. It includes all of the thinking, feeling, cultural, and social reactions to an expected death that are felt by the patient and family.
So yes, this pandemic has triggered memories of three years ago, when I felt all the helplessness, despair, and fear of Rick’s impending death from lung cancer. I remember the attempt to remain hopeful that just maybe it would all turn out okay, despite statistics that shouted otherwise. And then, just as now, the worst part was that there was so little I could do to control the impending event.
I tried to remain upbeat. I cared for him and prepared as much as I could, but other than that, I just waited.
And here I sit once again, waiting to see how much the virus will ravage my community, and waiting to find out if I will have to experience that awful grief of losing a loved one, again. I’m waiting to see how I’ll be able to help – if I can help at all. Once again, I’m waiting to experience the pain of the loss and to discover how I will be able to continue on with my life afterwards.
But this time, I’m not alone in my suffering. This time, my entire community is in the same circumstances, and now as I wait, I also watch as friends, family, and strangers attempt to buoy each other’s spirits – and it’s an amazing and beautiful thing to see.
Most of us are suffering from anxiety and anticipatory grief, and we are banding together to Facetime and Zoom with each other, to share funny or uplifting posts and memes, and to make encouraging phone calls and texts. Young people shop for those who are more vulnerable to the virus. Families band together in their homes to hug each other and play games and make the best of a bad situation. Crafters sew masks for those who are on the front lines and desperately need protection from the virus. And, as always, first responders risk their own lives to help and save others.
In the awful months when Rick was dying, friends and family supported me. After his death, they banded together to supply me with all the love and care I needed, as well. Their love for me made all the difference. And then, about a month after his death, I was privileged to discover this wonderful support group – Hope for Widows. Women who knew exactly how I felt where there for me and let me know that I was not alone in my darkest hour. They encouraged me in those early days, and even now, as we all know what it means to face this crisis without our spouses by our sides.
Today, as I remember the pain of those ten long months of anticipatory grief, I see the same type of outpouring of love on a national – and international – scale, and it’s heartwarming to see how we are helping each other through this storm.
Many of us feel anxious and helpless to do anything but huddle in our homes – waiting and hoping, filled with anticipatory grief. But sharing this burden and witnessing the love that has brought us all together in adversity has eased the pain just a bit, so the waiting is a little easier to bear. In a way, we’re all part of a giant much-needed support group, one that I’ll think of as Hope for Humanity.