Monday, August 20, 2012

Voices of Experience: Anticipatory Grief Poem ~ "Edge of Day"

[Reviewed and updated November 6, 2017]

Only he who suffers can be the guide and healer of the suffering. ~ Thomas Mann

Grief is the normal response to significant loss, but it doesn’t necessarily wait for death or separation to happen. It can occur both following a loss and in anticipation of it. Anticipatory grief and mourning can be felt as soon as the diagnosis of a life-threatening illness is given, at the moment when we become truly aware that death may happen to us or to someone we love.

If exploratory surgery, diagnostic testing, biopsies and the like are required to determine the extent of the disease, the ambiguity and uncertainty of awaiting a definitive diagnosis can be excruciating.

The following poem was written shortly after the author learned that he had a serious condition that would require surgery, which he describes as his darkest hour, and which thrust him into an agonizing period of waiting, worrying and wondering until his surgery could be scheduled. I invited him to share his experience here, as I believe both his poem and his introductory remarks are a poignant description of how effectively he is coping with his circumstances, and his words serve as a message of courage and hope for all of us.

He writes,

I was recently diagnosed as having a serious illness. For some months since then, I have lived in anger and fear as to what the doctor will find once he operates. I have always assumed the certainty of life, but I never really thought much about the imminent prospect of death until this happened. I am amazed at how many things aren’t all that important any more, such as my to-do list. I am not in any immediate danger, and the operation that will occur shortly may help lengthen my future. However, it was not the outcome of this procedure that frightened me, but rather figuring out how to cope with this news.

The uncertainty of not knowing what the doctor will find when he opens me up has held me hostage for nearly five months. Now, I am within spitting distance of that surgery, and my heart is finally at peace. I have done all the research, asked all my questions, and my doctor has been kind and patient with me. Even before the knife cuts into me, he has already earned his fee.

Writing about it seemed to comfort me a bit. During my darkest hour, I wrote a poem entitled “Edge of Day” which I am sharing with you today. I do not think my heart could have conceived the future of hope that I now have without first confronting my despair so fully via this poem.

There came a time when I had to accept ownership for this difficult path before me. All the prayers and concerns of my family and friends helped, but they did not change the reality.

I decided to stop beating myself up over it, and “relax” into it. That is all any of us can do, and the rest is up to God and doctors. I hope and pray that you will find a similar peace and comfort. We will talk again later, I am sure.

Sincerely, Bill Scott

Edge of Day

I stand on the edge of the day
          With both mourning and hope,

This timeless schism in my heart
          Is not always my friend
                    And yet it is not clearly an enemy either,

Indigestion of the soul
          Seems to fit the best,

The edge of anything
          Requires a decision
To this or that,
          Or tit for tat,

The reality of me
          Up for grabs
                    Just like that,

"Give me liberty
          Or give me death"
How noble
          That sounds,

The only options
          Are not really options at all,
Just clouds in my coffee
          For all to pity,

Death itself is
          Not the enemy
The real demon
          Is living with uncertainty,

The edge of the day lasts forever,
          But I may not,
As I ponder for the first time,
          The end of me.

Copyright © by William E. Scott, July 25, 2012

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© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, DCC


  1. Thank you, Bill Scott and Marty Tousley, for this powerful piece. As I grieve (gently), deal with the insecurities of life, and accompany others through harsh difficulties, you help me keep my priorities straight and my heart open. Thank you for helping me remember what matters this morning.

    1. Bless you for those lovely comments, Elaine, and from my heart to yours, thank you ♥


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