Ambiguous Loss and Anticipatory Grief

I wish I had known about ambiguous loss and anticipatory grief much earlier in my life.

In yesterday’s post, I alluded to my Dad’s transition into residential aged care. 

Today, I want to share some knowledge I have gained over the past few months, because I have found it enormously helpful and therapeutic in dealing with my own experiences and feelings.  I am sure I wasn’t the only person who didn’t know these things, and my hope is that others will benefit from these insights. 

My father has become increasingly frail, and even though I knew the time was coming, making the decision to move him into residential aged care was incredibly painful. For him, it was a loss of independence, his home, his cat and my dog. His sadness was profound, and completely understandable. Still, he was very thankful — as were my siblings and I — that he could move into an excellent place where the care is consistently empathetic and kind, where the food is good, and where he can have his own things around him. 

My emotions, too, were complex. I felt guilty, even though I knew it was the right time and the right thing to do. No loving child wants to see their dad leave behind the life he has known and the things he has accumulated, and no loving child wants to see their Dad so sad. 

I experienced a very real sense of grief and loss while packing up his things, setting up his room, and helping him transition to a new phase of life, There was more to it, though, and often I didn’t know how to express what I was feeling. 

Through my research and reading, and through wonderful constructive advice from friends who have been through similar situations, I have come to understand that many of the things I am experiencing are encompassed by two terms: ambiguous grief and anticipatory grief

I had never heard of either one until recently, and I think they should both be much more commonly known.

Ambiguous Loss is a kind of grief experienced where there is no distinct end or no closure. Generally speaking, it arises from an emotionally painful or turbulent situation that one is going through, and which doesn’t have an “end date”. The reasons for grief or a profound sense of loss might be indistict, or complex, or unidentifiable at the time. Sometimes the grief masquerades as anger, frustration or overwhelm. To experience ambiguous grief is vague, exhausting and indefinite in more ways than just the timeline. 

It’s that mixed feeling of sadness at having to make big decisions that we didn’t feel ready to make, and thankfulness that things worked out perfectly when we needed them to.

It’s the sadness we felt at making decisions about what to do with his things, and asking my best friend to adopt his cat, even though he is still with us.

It’s the sadness I feel at saying goodbye and leaving Dad behind every evening, knowing he is safe and well cared for in his new home, but also that he is no longer ‘at home’. He is exactly where he needs to be, and I love it and hate it at the same time. 

Anticipatory Grief occurs when one realises or acknowledges that death is approaching, or even just a likely outcome. 

This is what I have experienced on a number of occasions when Dad had a health crisis and ended up in hospital. Most vivid in my memories was March 1st this year when I had followed the ambulance to the ER in the wee hours of the morning. When I got there, instead of being taken through to see Dad right away as I had always been before, the doctor on duty actually took me into a little room and  had “the talk” with me to made sure I understood how precarious Dad’s condition was, and that he might not make it this time. To his relief, I was fully aware of that. I suppose many people are surprised by it, or in denial, and I totally get that, too. It’s the natural reaction but, having been there more than once, it is no longer my default. There was no dozing while I sat by my father’s bed that night: instead, I spent hours composing the message I would send to my siblings, and another that I would send to other family and friends, at a decent hour of the morning. 

This is what we felt when packing up Dad’s things for his room at the home, and when sorting and cleaning out the accumulation of papers, trinkets, and household items in his house. Those are the sorts of things usually done after someone dies, not before. Still, it had to be done. 

Similarly, putting his wallet and the jewellery box containing my grandfather’s wedding ring and Dad’s much-loved pocket watches in a special spot in my own house for safekeeping felt strangely poignant and painful and incredibly sad. 

This is what I go through every time Dad has a episode of poor health, or gets an infection, or can’t express why he doesn’t feel good. It happens when he has times of vagueness or confusion, and when he can’t find his words All of those things are happening more often than they used to, so the sense of grief increases as time goes on. 

What I have learned thus far is that ambiguous grief is a very real and important part of the emotional process, and that my feelings don’t always have to be understood to make sense and be accepted as valid

In hindsight, I wish I had understood both of these realities when my mother was diagnosed with dementia, when she went into care, and when she didn’t know who I was anymore. My father, siblings and I were grieving the loss of the person she had been long before she actually passed away. When she died, it felt like it was my mother and someone entirely different at the same time. I felt so guilty about feeling that her passing was a liberation for her and a relief for us, even though my grief was as desperate and profound as ever. I was angry at myself for not knowing how to feel. 

At least this time, with experience and some knew understandings, I can accept the vagueness and complexity of my feelings, which can change from one moment or one day to the next, and just let it be whatever it is. I can cherish every moment with Dad and grieve at the same Time. I am free to laugh and cry, to tell my siblings the stories that are simultaneously sad and funny, and to live each day as it comes without having to explain to myself or anyone else why I’m a mess. 

As awkward and painful and weird as that may be, but I think it’s a healthy way to be. Still, I know I need to manage all those pesky feelings so I stay healthy, too. 

So, I try to make sure I talk honestly with my husband, siblings and closest friends about my thoughts and feelings. My sisters and brother are feeling the same things, and they all live interstate, so keeping them in the loop and encouraging them to express their feelings are hugely important, too. 
I allow myself to cry. ‘Being strong’ is rubbish. 
I refuse to beat up on myself when things are tough, or if I don’t achieve everything on my ‘to-do’  list. 
I remind myself to take each day as it comes.
I remind myself that we are doing the best thing for our dad, and that he is being expertly and compassionately cared for.

And every single day, I hold Dad’s hand and I tell him I love him. Because, throughout this whole process, Dad being sure of that is the most important thing of all.  

Different Kinds of Grief‪
#EmotionalIntelligence #emotions #grief #feelings #MentalHealthMatters  #MentalHealthAwareness‬ #personal #blogpost 

Helpful Reading: 

What Is Ambiguous Loss? 

Ambiguous Grief: Grieving Simone Who Is Still Alive 

How To Deal With Ambiguous Loss

Grief Before Death: Understanding Anticipatory Grief

Grieving Before A Death: Understanding Anticipatory Grief

Having Dropped — And Temporarily Lost — The Ball

I’ve been absent.

It seems that I haven’t just dropped the proverbial ball when it comes to blogging regularly, I’ve gone and lost the jolly thing.
I last saw it a couple of weeks ago, when it bounced a couple of times before rolling away through some very prickly bushes and falling into a seemingly bottomless hole.

The thing is, life since that drafted virus unleashed itself on the world has been tumultuous.

I could tell you I haven’t written anything, but that’s not true. I have written some really great lessons and three entire new units because what I had planned (and written) previously wasn’t going to work in an online learning environment.

I could tell you I didn’t have a quarantine project, but that isn’t true either. I’ve had two, both of which happened by necessity rather than design.

Project One: reinventing my career
Initial Observations: Teaching from home is a whole lot more work than it sounds. All that extra time online is very tiring.
Final Observations: Challenging and exhausting, but enormously satisfying. Most students engaged really well. More positives than negatives.
Verdict: Aced it.

Project Two: supporting my father as he spent a couple of weeks in hospital before transitioning into residential aged care.
Initial observations: Lots of phone calls. Mountains of paperwork. Huge emotional adjustments.
Further Observations: Decisions are hard, even when you actually have no choice. Emotions are hard. Being on one mental and emotional roller coaster while your dad is on a completely different one can only be dealt with by hanging on for dear life and completely faking any appearance of knowing what you are doing.
Verdict: Aced it. Especially the part where I looked like I knew what I was doing.

It should also be mentioned that these two significant challenges occurred simultaneously. I didn’t have time to scratch myself, much less spend any more personal time online than I did.

So really, I’ve achieved far more since mid-March than is apparent from my nonexistent output of either blog posts or fiction.

I admit that I have seriously contemplated walking away from writing and/or blogging. Even while considering that, I knew that was the stuff of emotional and mental exhaustion, because I still have ideas and plans bubbling away in the back of my mind. I am not ready to quit, and I would be letting myself down if I did.

I will get my mojo back, even if I’m not sure when that might happen.

Stay tuned, folks. I’m not dead yet.

The Upside of Isolation.

As it turns out, corona virus is not the only good reason to stay home.


I’ve ventured beyond the local supermarket, pharmacy and supermarkets once since isolation started. Last week, though, the time came when things had to be done, so I planned where I had to go, loaded up with sanitiser and prepared to social distance my way through town. 

And, sure enough, that person I would be happy to never see again walked past me in two different places that I had to visit. 

Song credit: ‘Close To You’ by The Carpenters

I saw them, but pretended I didn’t. All those years of experience as an actor paid off yet again. They looked at me, and I looked right through them like they weren’t there.

The first time I thought it was a fluke. 
The second time, I wondered. 

My skin crawling and my stomach roiling, all the while reassuring myself that it was just coincidence and doubting that at the same time, I completed the rest of my essential errands looking over my shoulder, and then got out of dodge as soon as I could. 

I would like to think it won’t always be that way, but I guess there are some things you can’t sanitise. Trauma will do that. 

Staying out of town definitely has an upside. 

I am safe at home, in more ways than one. I don’t have to watch my back, and I don’t have to worry about who is going to walk around the corner or show up in the supermarket aisle. 

I know that I won’t have that luxury forever but, while I can, I’m staying home. 

The Upside of Isolation #isolation ‪#IsolationLife #IsolationStories #StayingSafe #StayHome #SaferAtHome ‬

Image by Wortflow from Pixabay

Don’t It Go To Show Ya Never Know?

We’re not on Skid Row, we’re Somewhere That’s Clean instead.

Tonight was supposed to be opening night.

But who knew, when we started rehearsing ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ in January, that it would be Covid-19, not Audrey II, that would multiply and attempt to take over the world?

So much planning and preparation and rehearsal had already gone into the show when that drafted virus reared it’s ugly, spiky head and took over the world.

So much bonding had happened between cast members: new friendships, shared experiences, mutual encouragement, and lots of laughter will do that. So will working together toward a shared goal. And so will learning harmonies, putting them together and experiencing the magic that happens when it sounds amazing.

Then, in March, we had to hit the ‘pause’ button. We promised we’d bring it back, and we will. We assured the cast it would be our next show, and they’d be in it— and it’s true. We will.

Still, it’s hard to go from being part of something to Instead being suspended in the anticipation of it yet again, yet far more tantalising than it was before we started because now we had a taste of how good it was going to be.

It’s hard to go from three rehearsals a week to staying home and social distancing.

There was so much that was hard about calling a corona-halt to the show, even though it was the right thing to do.

So, tonight, even though it should have been opening night, I am reminding myself that every one of my cast members is safe. Healthy. Not infected. Able to be in the show when we pick it up again next year.

I am reminding myself that there is still so much to look forward to. We will do this show. We will do it together. We will build on the work we’ve already done, and not one bit of our work will have been wasted.

Our bonding will continue, our friendships will solidify and grow, and we will keep on making memories as well as music.

Personally, I can’t wait!

And On The Third Night, She Slept

Never underestimate the blessing of sleep!

Two nights of almost zero sleep had left me way beyond forswunk and very near completely useless by Thursday afternoon. 

A frequent flier on Air Insomnia, I have been through this before. I’ve always been a lousy sleeper, and ever since chronic back pain and fibromyalgia became part of my life, they have always been quick to join the party and keep me awake long after I wish to be unconscious.

So, as I have done so many times before, I just kept going. I taught my classes with the same degree of professionalism and confidence that I demonstrate every other day, with the help of only marginally more caffeine than usual. 

Once classes were done and my work for the day was finished, my recliner was my refuge. I put on a podcast and closed my eyes… and still didn’t sleep. Discouraged but comfortable, I just stayed there and rested… like I had a choice. 

A very early night was definitely in order, and I made sure I got one. Still awake at 11pm, I tried not to think about the state I would be in after another sleepless night. That kind of thinking doesn’t help anyone fall asleep, ever. So, I closed my eyes, listened to my regular radio program, and tried to slow my breathing and my thoughts. 

I drifted off at some point after midnight. Seven glorious hours later, I woke up when my alarm went off. 

Such relief! I feel so much more able to do what the day demands and meet any challenges that might come along. 

There is a reason they use sleep deprivation as torture, after all. It can be physically painful and psychologically overwhelming. I’m so thankful for the sleep I got last night, and I certainly hope that particular cycle of insomnia is finished. 

And now, I go once more unto the breach, dear friends. Online classes, lesson planning and my email inbox await me, and I must imitate the action of the tiger. 

On Offending Facebook’s Community Standards Yet Again…

Apparently, yesterday’s blog post about supporting our young folk through the Covid-19 pandemic was offensive to Facebook’s community standards. They took it, and the shares people very nicely did because it was a positive and commonsense post, down. They gave no explanation except “Your post goes against our community standards”. 

What? How?

With all the rubbish stuff people are posting, I am at a complete loss as to why something constructive on an important topic was removed.  

Was it because I named the virus correctly instead of using the more generic term?  Was it because I mentioned kids and teens?

I’ll never know. The great bot overlords at FB’s censorship department don’t explain things. They’re too busy censoring the wrong posts and thinking themselves clever for it.

It is yet another reason to stick to WordPress.

Supporting Kids And Teens Through The Covid-19 Limbo

Self-isolation does not have to be completely isolating. There are ways to support and encourage our kids and teens through the times of Covid-19.

To many people right now, the world seems like it is in crisis in the wake of the corona virus outbreak. Those of us old enough to remember SARS, swine flu and H1N1 tend to understand more of the reasons for that than our kids do, even if we still don’t understand why toilet paper is worth pulling a knife on someone, 

Yes, you read that right. It happened in a supermarket in Sydney, Australia, a couple of weeks ago.

To many of our kids and teens, though, it seems like some kind of madness has taken over. As concerts, sports, social events, classes and rehearsals have been brought to a screeching halt as they look on, some of them are starting to buy into the fear that they have seen expressed on TV, in social media, and among some members of the community. 

That hit home really personally on Sunday when our theatre company told the cast that we had decided to hit the pause button and defer our production of Little Shop of Horrors that was due to hit the stage in May. 

“This whole thing sucks!” one young cast member said. 
“I know!” another replied. “It’s taking all the joy out of life!” 
“I get it, though,” responded the first one. “We have to keep people safe. But it’s making a lot of people really miserable at the same time.”

She was 100% correct. I am feeling really miserable about it, too. That’s completely natural.

We will do the show — we just can’t say when. For now, rehearsals are suspended and we all find ourselves with a lot of extra time on our hands that we had been putting into working together for a common goal.

At a time when many of us are being isolated from the activities we love and the company of others who enjoy those same things, how do we stop the molehills of grief turning into mountains of misery? 

That’s a really big question, and I don’t profess to have all the answers. 

I do know that it’s important to find ways to encourage and motivate each other. It’s important to monitor and support each other’s emotional and mental health. 

So, here are just a few suggestions for possible ways to lift the spirits of the young people in your life during the disappointments and challenges caused byCovid-19:

  • Acknowledge their feelings. It’s quite natural to feel disappointed and a bit annoyed at the number of things being cancelled, postponed or banned. Instead of telling them to “suck it up” or “take it on the chin”, tell them you understand, and that you’re feeling similar things too. Empathy will always win more favour than platitudes. 
  • Involve them in the family decision making about social distancing, self-isolating and dealing with the practicalities that follow. Knowing that they have been listened to, and having some ownership of the decisions and plans that are made, will reduce feelings of resentment, anger and rebellion.
  • Praise and thank them for their maturity in accepting disappointments. A bit of intrinsic motivation goes a very, very long way with young people. 
  • Give them responsibility appropriate to their age and ability. It could be anything they feel is important and worthwhile: preparing a meal, keeping a particular area of the house clean and sanitised, disinfecting all the door handles in the house each day, or calling grandparents or other family members on the phone to support and encourage them. 
  • Limit the amount of “fear language” you allow in the house. This might  mean not watching the 6pm news on TV as a family, discussing what members of the family will allow on their social media feeds, and discussing things in a responsible way. Be honest about your feelings, but try to phrase your responses to the virus and consequent changes and limitations using positive and proactive language like “social responsibility” and “doing out part to protect the vulnerable” instead of using terms like “lockdown”, “corona virus jail” or “panic”. 
  • Encourage them to find constructive ways to use their spare time. ‘Netflix and chill’ is okay, but not all day, every day.
  • Self-isolation does not have to be completely isolating. Hanging out with friends in person may not be an option, but there are ways to socialise beyond the regular social media platforms where kids are likely to hear a lot of “doom and gloom” about the current situation. Try Skype calls or Google Meet, which enable people to spend time, chat, and still see each other, all from a distance.
  • Give them something to look forward to. Discuss and make plans for activities, holidays, or celebrations that will happen once the need for social distancing and self-isolation has passed. Anticipation of something good is a powerful antidote to feeling as though all the fun things have been taken away. 
  • Ask for their expert help. Whether it’s compiling a great playlist on Spotify, learning how to use Instagram or Snapchat, finding a great app or game for your phone or tablet, or ordering groceries or pizza online, older kids and teenagers are likely to have those skills down to a fine art. Even if you have a fair idea how to do those things, ask them anyway. 

While there is obviously no perfect solution, it’s important that we continue to try to find positive and healthy ways to deal with the limitations and restrictions that are being put in place.

If you have any other suggestions, please share them in a comment. 

Supporting Our Kids And Teens Through #CoronaVirus #lockdown disruption.
#support #PositivePosts #StayingHome #mentalwellbeing #MentalHealthAwareness #PositiveParenting

Down, But Not Out.

When people prove disappointing or worse, don’t let them drag you down to their level.

It’s fair to say that I’m glad to see the weekend. 

Earlier this week I found myself disappointed again by someone else’s basic inability to be a decent human being, and stunned by the willingness of others to simply accept it and look the other way. 

Sadly, it seems you can go the extra mile a couple of dozen times, give of yourself and your time to achieve a common goal, and support and encourage someone as much as you possibly can, but they’ll still cut you down and leave the knife in your back when it suits them.

I know, I know. I made the same old mistake – trusting that someone else would operate on the same principles of basic decency and human understanding that I do. I should know by now that the fact that I *should* be able to trust certain people is irrelevant. I’ve been hurt that way countless times before, and It seems I still haven’t learned. 

Still, I refuse to beat myself up for that. I’m feeling disrespected, under-appreciated, taken for granted and consequently emotionally bruised enough as it is. 

I don’t know the reasons for it, and I probably never will.  That knowledge wouldn’t change anything anyway. As much as it sucks, it is what it is. 

I know at some point – hopefully not too far in the future – the hurt and frustration I feel will diminish. Maybe I’ll even find there’s a blessing in disguise in the situation. It’s always a possibility. 

I feel as though I have shed enough tears, ranted sufficiently, and discussed the situation with my husband and best friend to the point where I can resign myself to the way things are, Being at peace with things isn’t out of the question, but I’m not there yet. I’m still hurt, and I’m still angry.

What I need to do is focus on healthy ways to deal with how I’m feeling. To that end,  I’ve immersed myself in things I love: rehearsals for ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ with the most wonderful theatre company on the planet, reading great books, spending time with people I love, and cuddling with my fur babies. 

This is all just another reminder that we can’t always have what we want, or insist that things be the way we want them. We can’t stop people from being horrible human beings, and there are many things in life that are beyond our control. 

It’s important to remember, though, that there are plenty of things I can control. First and foremost on that list is the way in which I choose to respond to challenges, conflicts and adversity.

I refuse to seek revenge.  I refuse to hit back, or be manipulative, hurtful and cruel to that person in response. That would make me as low as them. 

At the same time, I refuse to let that person take advantage of me again.  I will not let that person have more control over my life or my feelings than they have already had. 

I refuse to allow this situation to keep me down, dampen my spirit or harden my heart. 

In addition to all the other emotions I’ve experienced this week, I’m determined that I am not going to allow that person, or this situation, to undo me. If they think they’ve won, they have seriously underestimated me. There is, after all, more than one way to win in any given situation.

I’m going to keep doing what I do. I’m going to make the most of my opportunities.  I’m going to shine, and succeed, and accomplish everything I set out to do.

Given that I have managed to do exactly that thus far while living with fibromyalgia and chronic back pain, a little opposition from a sulky so-and-so isn’t going to stop me.

And if they, or anyone else, want to criticise, I don’t care. If they happen to be jealous or intimidated by what I achieve, that’s just too bad. I’ll be over here, living my best life, wearing my sassy pants, and not worrying about what petty people think or how puerile they are. 

Superficial

I wrote the poem titled ‘Superficial’ two years ago.

I remember feeling both hurt and angry, but mostly just plain tired of being made to feel as though I continually failed to reach the arbitrary standards expected of me by certain people.

This weekend, I have realised it is still far too relevant. It’s still just as true as when I wrote it.

You know, that’s just rubbish. It was rubbish then, and it’s rubbish now.

In fact, the only thing that has changed is how much I care — or actually don’t — about whether publishing it will confront the people who inspired it, and how they might respond to being called out.

The thing is, they should be called out. Their comfortable, conformist jusdgment is not okay. They don’t get to decide who is “worthy”. Their ideas of what is “acceptable” or “normal” are as subjective and as anyone else’s.

I am who I am.

I matter, and so do my feelings.
I am enough.

And I deserve to be treated with respect, whether they like me or not..

I wrote this poem two years ago. It’s still far too relevant,

Too bright, too individual, too funky, 
Too wild, too unafraid, too chunky, 
Too short, too loud, too bold, too dyed—
When will you ever look inside? 
It’s so easy to label something as sin
Ignoring the gems concealed within—
Love, passion, talent, loyalty, art.
Yet you say God looks at each person’s heart
For faith, service, and integrity:
Why can’t you look that way at me?

©2018 Joanne Van Leerdam

PS:
I saw you looking at my ears
And all my pretty piercings there;
Your distaste was almost palpable
And I still don’t eally care

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How can insomnia be a good thing?

This post struck a chord with me. I hate my insomnia, but because of it, I have written some incredible poetry at 3am.

I do try to manage it, and to practise good sleep hygiene, but sometimes my pain levels and my brain conspire against me.

On those night when I am not able to write, I find listening to talkback radio, a podcast or an audiobook helps me to relax and and least rest while I am awake.

I’d love to know what works for you.