One of the most commonly heard phrases I’ve heard throughout Tony’s diagnosis and after his passing is ‘I can’t imagine what you’re going through.’
It’s a tricky statement. I have a love/hate relationship with those words. I think, in some ways, people can imagine but choose not to. And in others, I think no matter how much you try, you cannot conceive the pain and despair that accompanies a loss of this magnitude. It’s a living nightmare and all the things you think about being so awful? Well, they are.
For 3.5 years, I did imagine. A lot.
After Tony’s diagnosis, I was always running a side by side play of different life scenarios and how I would handle things if it were just me. For example, I could be driving down the road and see someone with a flat tire and think…ok, my default would be to call Tony. I would then force myself to think through what I would do if that alternate scenario was present.
It felt really crazy at times to play this mind game. I eventually learned that what I was doing was referred to as ‘anticipatory grief.’ I would get frustrated for always worrying, always thinking about what I would do in that horrid ‘what if’ situation. It felt so wrong.
On the flip side, I also felt like overthinking all the ‘what if’ scenarios was a way of making sure those alternate plans would never need to be executed. Like those disaster recovery and emergency response plans we all see and hear about – a lot of work and nothing ever happens. I was convinced that the more I tried to mentally prepare myself for the unimaginable, I could whittle down the chances of anything actually happening.
Boy, was I wrong. On so many levels.
My worst case scenario, that nightmare that I thought could be circumvented through all my worry? It came true. In a slow blink, it seemed like we went from keeping cancer managed and under control to a whole different world. And then, when we thought we were gaining back traction and making progress, everything quickly slipped away and he was gone. It wasn’t supposed to be that way.
All that planning and mental anguish? It didn’t do me any good. While I may have thought through so many logistical and tactical situations, I never imagined the emotional side of it. I couldn’t, and still can’t. Even at almost 4 months, I cannot bear the thought that I have the rest of my life to live without him.
That right there? That’s the ‘you can’t imagine’ part of it all.
Now, if you think anticipatory grief is bad, the guilt you feel about that anticipatory grief following loss is even worse. You realize it didn’t do you any good. At all. Guess what? If and when you get a flat tire, you’ll figure it out. Doesn’t matter how many times you thought it through before. So why did you waste so much precious time in your head thinking about all of that instead of just being, living and loving together? Hindsight is always 20/20. Yes, I know that it was how I was coping with his diagnosis, but it still stings when I think about it.
Those pesky side by side plays? They still happen in my head, except in reverse. I now find myself thinking about what is happening and how it was supposed to be. How it should be.
During good moments, I am fully present and can remind myself that I can’t change any of this and that I have to do the best that I can, each and every day. It is what it is. I need to carry on and be in the moment, to appreciate what I have and to do what is best for myself and my kids. I made a promise to Tony that I could handle it and that we would be okay. This is the conversation I play on repeat to keep me going. I know I can and that I will.
But, there are the bad moments, ones where grief consumes every ounce of energy and happiness I might have. I sit living in the world we had built and refuse to accept that it’s all gone. I try to wish it all back to the way it was, hoping that everything was just a horrible dream I will wake up from. It’s a horrible rabbit hole to fall down and it can last anywhere from a few minutes to hours to days.
I’m working really hard at trying not to run those plays anymore. It’s a battle and I know that I’ll never be able to push those alternate scenarios completely out of my head. But, each time I am able to recognize a good moment, I place a little more hope that the next one will last even longer.
Thanks for listening,