All the gospel narratives relate that before his death, Jesus underwent a sort of anticipatory grief. They tell us that in the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed that, if it were possible, the “hour” might pass from him; he knew what lay ahead. A deep melancholy seems to have filled the soul of Jesus in the hours preceding his death; a terrible anguish weighed upon him but, it is written, obedience to the Divine will sustained him.
This scriptural account of Jesus ’ anticipatory grief came to my mind recently—a gift really— and provided insight and consolation to something I have been experiencing. A sadness and anxiety has been enveloping my days and, once aware of it, I sought to identify the source, the cause of the disquiet. Why am I often on the precipice of tears and, though lonely, find solitude so desirous? I realize that I too, know what lies ahead; I have been anticipating the inexplicable grief I experienced in 2011, at that “hour” on August 5, when I received the telephone call from a police officer informing me that my daughter had been killed in a terrible car accident.
In these weeks leading to August 5th, 2017, I have, by no conscious intention of my own, been returning, emotionally and mentally, to the same weeks in 2011, recalling how those days were spent; the conversations I had with my daughter, the lunches we shared, the plans we made, the purse she borrowed for her trip. Though the memories are bittersweet they in some way enable me to be with her again for she was alive at this time in 2011.
The memories do bring regrets, some “would’ve, could’ve, should’ve’s”, but gratitude always wins the day. I’ve never been angry with God; how could I be; the accident was not His fault nor His doing. I was grateful to Him when she was born—that she was born—and that gratitude never wavered while she was alive. And I believe she still is —just not where I can see her.
I do long for my daughter and always will. A mother and child who share a heartbeat are forever linked even when only one is still beating. This is what makes the loss so intense and would probably lead to despair if not matched by an equal intensity of faith. I will always be grateful to have had Madelen even if it was for a little while.
While anticipatory grief often relates to those caring for someone who is dying or to the person facing death, anticipatory grief also finds resonance with us who face the anniversary of the death of a loved one.
The days of and between August 5 and August 10, the day of Madelen’s death and of her funeral, our final time together on earth, are dark days. In 2011 they were dark because it was a period of profound grief and disbelief in the events unfolding; since then they remain dark for it is a period of remembering, reliving, regretting—and longing; dark also because of the temptation to despair, to question, to doubt, and the consequent struggle to resist.
I know that without Easter there would be nothing good about Good Friday. That is, I know death does not have the last word. And because I believe I am sustained – as Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane.