3/23/19 – Anticipatory Grief

Posted on : Mar 21st, 2019 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

This Saturday we continue with our Lenten worship series, “The 3 Kinds of Grief Nobody Talks About.” This week we will look at an experience of grief that is often called “anticipatory grief.”

Anticipatory grief happens when we, or a loved one, anticipate our own, or a loved one’s death.  It often is experienced when one is first told of a terminal illness.  The shock is overwhelming.  We’re stunned; and the first place our mind and emotions focus on, is death.

I experienced this often during the HIV/AIDS health crisis.  From the mid 1980’s to 1996 there were no drugs to manage HIV and certainly no “cure.  In the early years of the epidemic, people got sick and often died after their first hospitalization.  Later, as medical science was able to discover more about the virus and how to manage the many opportunistic infections related to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, those who were infected lived longer; even though ultimately most people died.

As the epidemic grew into a full-fledged pandemic, the entire gay male community lived in constant fear. AIDS was a death sentence.  Almost every week at least one or more members of our church would come to me to share in absolute confidence that either they or their partner or a close friend had just been diagnosed with AIDS.  All they could focus on was death and dying.  While comforting and supporting those who were recently diagnosed, I found myself offering these words.  To family and friends, I would say, “Don’t bury your loved one until they die.”  And to those who were themselves ill, I would say, “You’ve got a lot of living to do before you die.” 

This same situation happens today with many people when they receive a terminal diagnoses of cancer.  Anticipatory grief causes us to focus on death while there is still a lot of living to do.  One of the many scripture passages that comes to my mind in such circumstance is “the raising of Jairus’ daughter.”  Jairus was a very powerful leader of the synagogue.  He had a 12 year old daughter who was very ill and dying.  As Jesus and Jairus were talking, some one came from Jairus’ home and told him his daughter had died.  Jesus says to Jairus, “don’t believe them.  She’s just sleeping.”  [In the ancient world “sleeping” was a euphemism for death.  The only difference between death and sleeping, apart from breathing(!) was whether you woke up or not.  Our tradition of a “wake” when someone has died comes from the reality that many folks who were thought to be dead, did wake up!]  Jesus, Peter, John and James (the mighty three) went to Jairus’ home and “woke” up his daughter.  Jesus took her by the hand and called out, “Child, get up!”  Her spirit returned, and she got up at once. Then, in true “Jewish mother fashion,” Jesus directed them to give her something to eat.  

It is easy to let anticipatory grief focus us immediately on death, but for most of us there is still a lot of living left to do before we die.  We’ll look more deeply into that on SATURDAY. 

Blessings to each of you!


Luke 8: 40-42, 49-56

Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him.  Just then there came a man named Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. He fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, who was dying.

While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the teacher any longer.”  When Jesus heard this, he replied, “Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved.”  When he came to the house, he did not allow anyone to enter with him, except Peter, John, and James, and the child’s father and mother.  They were all weeping and wailing for her; but he said, “Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead.  But he took her by the hand and called out, “Child, get up!”  Her spirit returned, and she got up at once. Then he directed them to give her something to eat.


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