I have been off thinking for several days (and I've had more than a couple of things to do), and I'm still not quite sure how to write what I want to say. Nonetheless...
I watched a TED talk on how the speaker is "preparing" to get Alzheimer's disease. She prays that she will not--that the research will find a treatment or a cure in the next twenty years. She has watched, however, as her vital and intelligent father has moved further into his gentle dementia. She knows the genetic component and wonders what she can do to....well, to have a better Alzheimer's experience.
She talks about physical exercise, mental stimulation, having hobbies her hands can remember when her brain can't, and working on being a kinder and more loving person as a habit when it can no longer be a choice. It's a good program. I'm considering those issues now for myself.
The talk made me wonder as well what I have learned about loss and grief that would have been good to know before Anne died. How might I have prepared to live through the loss of one I loved? Perhaps that is a morbid thought for many. That is why I hesitate to even write this out. I think, however, that I know things now that might have helped me live better during the first months of bereavement.
For example, I wish I would have known then what I know now about personal regret, self-recrimination and the self-loathing which can arise from all that. I am much better now at feeling regrets, making amends where possible, and then getting on with this imperfect life. I have spent much time letting go of the "I should have done more" series of ruminations. Had I been equipped with some of those skills earlier in life, both daily life and bereavement might have gone better.
I suppose that's part of this reflection as well. Building the skills to deal with the loss of a loved one will make daily life better whether that loss comes or not. For most of us the losses will indeed come. But in the meantime, we will be better people with better lives if we work at preparing for such losses.
I wish I had known the difference between rumination and reflection earlier in my life. And I wish I might have known how to break the rumination cycle and how to keep introspective reflections positive and life-affirming. I have a much better handle on that now, and for that I am grateful. Here is another area, however, where preparing would have made my life better.
I am glad now that I am more grateful, get more exercise, seek out a larger network of friends and acquaintances, spend more time laughing, practice savoring experiences when they come, make positive choices about how I react and feel, understand the value of helping others no matter what, engage in a spiritual life rather than a merely religious profession...that's a partial list.
What might you suggest as ways, not only to prepare for surviving the loss of a loved one, but simply living a better life?