Anticipatory Grief during Deployment
by Claire Shackelford
One day a couple of months before Mike’s second deployment I caught myself anticipating ‘anticipatory grief!’ Those of you who have been through a deployment know exactly what I am talking about. You are standing in the shower at 6 am waking up and preparing for your day when suddenly the thought enters your mind “What if I get the call today?” You are grocery shopping in the produce aisle when a thought enters your mind about funeral arrangements.
Anticipatory grief has been defined for a while, but it is fairly new ground when helping family members understand their emotional reaction to deployment. Anticipatory grief is usually defined as a grief reaction to a loss that is anticipated but not necessarily realized. When you suffer with anticipatory grief you may have intrusive thoughts of the “what ifs” and some times even flashes of a picture of your soldier suffering or being wounded.
I have yet to meet a spouse or parent of a soldier who has either been deployed, is deployed or is ready to deploy that has not dealt with these feelings. The feelings, intensity and expression of them all fall on a continuum, but they are real and can be disturbing, nonetheless.
Grief is the internal feeling we have when we have a loss. That loss is not always death, although that is usually the first thought that comes to our mind when we think of grief, grieving, and mourning. The loss that is grieved can be a real or perceived loss (such as with the anticipatory grief.)
With deployment there is always grief felt over the loss of close contact, the loss of “peace” while grappling with the concepts of war, as well as the loss of the perception of safety for our loved one. When we are actively grieving we usually find ways to express this internal (and very intense feeling) outwardly.
Some cultures are very passionate in the ways that people release their feelings of grief — their mourning style is very intense, immediate and more primitive than we, as Americans, tend to express our grief. We tend to internalize things more. It’s a cultural norm and expectation. Even in the Psalms we find expressions of grief that are quite desperate and expressive, so I don’t know how congruent our expected cultural norms are with the way we are created.
As a Christian I struggled with trying to figure out this concept of anticipatory grief and what my response to it should be. In Romans 12:2 I am told:
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
I did not want to just allow myself to succumb to this grief I was experiencing.
Anticipatory grief is really a very intense form of worry. Let me clarify. When someone has received a terminal diagnosis and death is imminent then I would say that anticipatory grief is truly a person anticipating the imminent loss of a loved one. When the loss that is being grieved is not imminent but only possible then it seems to be, at least to me anyway, a form of intense worry — worry that something might happen that would cause you to grieve.
The biggest distinction between the two is for those who are dying and their loved ones, anticipatory grief allows the grieving process to start gently and they start exploring the feelings of loss before the loss occurs. For those whose loved one is in a dangerous job, anticipatory grief is more of a mental chore of tackling “maybes and possibilities” to avoid fear and the feeling of being out of control — in a sense, worry!
When addressing worry and grief now, at this stage in my life, I have found a ‘plumb’ contained right in the Word of God. First, I had to repent from the lack of discipline I displayed in controlling my thought life. In 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 we are told:
“3For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
How do we take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ when we are busy worrying and not trusting in His sovereign and good provision moment to moment? First I had to confess my addiction to fear, and that addiction to fear came more from an immature belief in Christ’s desire to truly save me from my sin. I once was told by a very wise friend that I had confused unworthiness with worthlessness. That cleared so much up for me. In I John 4:18 we are told
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
I had the reverent and grateful ‘fear’ confused with the fear of an angry father who could not be pleased.
I had to let go of my own misconceptions of who my Heavenly Father is, and I had to trust His Word and what it tells me about Him. My first step was not trusting or relying on my own understanding of God. I need the Holy Spirit and the Word to light my path, guide my steps and tell me which way to walk. Without them I am stumbling in the darkness!
After much prayer and study I found such a wonderful and practical tool in a Scripture passage that I had read and quoted many times before this. Only the Holy Spirit can make a passage come to life and give you the ability to practically apply it in a way that is life transforming!
The passage is Philippians 4:6-9
6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
This is not merely a suggestion, but rather it is a direct instruction – a directive.
7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
When you are tempted to indulge in worry and fear around all the possibilities of what could or what might happen to your soldier, airman, marine, or sailor, ask yourself these questions: Is it true? is it noble? Is it right? Is it pure? Is it lovely? Is it admirable? Is it excellent or praiseworthy? Because if you ask yourself these questions you will not be able to answer honestly and continue to worry.
Once you put the litmus test into practice and you use it to judge your thought life, be sure you fill your thought life with things that DO pass the test. I used things in scripture and from my life that fit within the description of what we should dwell on to fill my thoughts.
For example, along with Bible study and focus on scripture I would also think of the day I married my husband and how much I love him. That certainly fits. I would think of the day my children were born and I held them for the first time. I thought of my friends in Church, and my family members. I would think of this Country and how blessed I am to be an American and how grateful I am to those who defend our Constitution.
I do not want to be held captive by my own fear and thought life, but rather I want to live in that freedom and victory that belongs to a child of the living God, through the saving grace of our Lord Jesus! Through Him I am the captor – not the captive!
About the Author:
Claire Shackelford began writing when she found herself attached to the Army at the hip—at one point her husband and two sons were serving. It was then she began writing about her journey through separations and deployments from a Christian perspective. She never faced deployment with her husband, but she have been through 2 now with her oldest son. Claire holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work and she serves as a ministry leader with Christian Military Wives as well as on the Board of Directors for Christian Military Fellowship.