Conversations in Grief Blog: As Prepared as Can Be
As Prepared as Can Be
By: Hilary Furnish
I recently had a last-minute visitor. One of my in-laws was going to be driving through and might need to stop for a rest. I panicked as my house was in no condition to receive visitors. On the day of the potential arrival, I woke up at 4:30 a.m. worrying about the state of things and immediately began cleaning my kitchen. I purged, scrubbed, and swept, feeling frustrated I had let things go for so long. When they arrived, they stayed only to nap and visit briefly before heading down the road. After they left, I realized they had never set foot in the kitchen I had so desperately scrubbed.
Life and death are often like that. We imagine the scenarios we may face in our heads. Yet, when the moment arrives we are left feeling that all our preparations really didn’t prepare us. A common expression we hear in grief support from families when a death is expected is, “we were as prepared as we could be.” There is a lot in that statement. When death is approaching, it can be helpful to know it is coming. It provides opportunities to have important and meaningful conversations with our loved ones. To ask questions and get things in order. Despite this, when the moment arrives, we have no idea what it will be like.
Death often brings with it other unwelcome companions in the form of guilt and regret. We may feel we have done all we can (or not) before our loved one died. Yet, the inability to revisit things or to create new memories with them is something we have not experienced before. The realization that we are now expected to live in a world without them is also something we are not prepared for. Even when we see death approaching, the grief we will experience after its arrival cannot be planned away. It can only be experienced fully after we lose a loved one and must be cared for as we learn to live without them. This is why many grievers express feelings of guilt over not having done enough. I hear stories of how they spent months providing care for their person’s every need. How they rearranged their life to be fully present and to provide opportunities for their loved one to feel the love they needed from their family and friends. Yet, even after all that, they say, "I could have done more.” This is the reality of loss. When the moment arrives, we long for more. More of them, more time together, and the ability to show them how much we love them.
We are never fully prepared, but what we learn in the process helps us as we grieve. There is comfort in having had the meaningful conversations we needed before our loved one died. We can take solace in having all their affairs in order. The hard work is processing our feelings of grief and loss as we stare into the space they left. We do this by being honest with ourselves about our feelings. Guilt and regret included. Loving and caring for someone who is dying is as imperfect as loving someone who is living. We won’t get it all right, but the important part is that we loved them, and they loved us. This is why we grieve. We cannot plan for how our relationship with them will change after they die. To live with a love that has no place to go. We can only love them and then continue to love them as we talk about them and remember the gift they were to our lives.