Coping With Anticipatory Grief – Part 1

Anticipatory Grief is different than conventional grief. Anticipatory grief generally happens before someone dies, and conventional grief afterward. This type of grief can be experienced by both the loved ones of someone who is nearing death and the person who is dying.

You may have different feelings when a loved one is dying. You may hold on to hope while also beginning to let go and these emotions can be deeply painful. People are less likely to get support for their grief at this time. People who have not been through this experience may react poorly, they may think you are giving up on the dying person.

There are things you can do to help you cope with the grief you are feeling for the person who is still here.

Understanding Anticipatory Grief

This type of grief is a deep sadness that is felt during the last days of life. Grief before death gives you a chance to say goodbye, which you don’t have when a loved one dies suddenly. But grief before death doesn’t replace or even shorten the period of grieving that follows death.

People sometimes use words like “battle” and “fight” to describe terminal illness. These metaphors incorrectly suggest that patients can “beat” their illness with enough effort. This alone can make it hard for the dying person and their loved ones to express their grief before death.

Not everyone feels anticipatory grief, but it is common.

Feeling grief while your loved one is still alive does not mean you are abandoning your loved one or giving up. Instead, this may give you a chance to gain meaning and closure you might not have had otherwise. You may feel like you are somewhere between holding on and letting go. Some people find this extremely painful as they may feel like they are betraying their loved one if they are leaning towards letting go.

The truth is it is possible to live with both holding on and letting go at the same time, you do not have to choose.

Allow Yourself To Feel And Grieve

Let yourself feel the pain as this helps you be honest and true to yourself. Anticipatory grief is not just grief for the coming death of a loved one, it is also grief for the other losses that go along with death, such as:
• The loss of a companion
• The loss of shared memories
• The loss of dreams for the future

Sometimes, past grief may resurface during this time. Denying the pain you feel now may prolong grief later on. Grief serves a purpose, whether it occurs before death or after death.

Researchers have identified four phases and tasks of grief. The tasks include:
• Accepting the coming loss
• Working through the pain
• Adjusting to a new reality where your loved one is absent
• Connecting to your loved one in a different way as you move forward

This does not mean you should give up on your loved one or forget about them. These tasks help you hold onto the joy and love you once shared. They can also help you cope with deep sadness that may make remembering painful.

Express Your Pain: Don’t Do It Alone

It is important to let yourself feel pain. Many people find it hard to express grief before death. They may feel they are not feeling supportive of their dying loved one. Talking to a trusted friend is a good way to cope with these feelings. Nobody should have to face this grief alone. Keeping these feelings to yourself can lead to loneliness and isolation.

Anticipatory grief is similar to the grief you feel after someone dies. The one big difference is that there is often more anger and you may find it much harder to control your emotions.

Someone who does not have a loved one facing death has little understanding of how you feel. Even if someone who has been through the death of a loved one will have experienced it differently. It can be upsetting when someone tries to tell you what to do or how to feel. Some people react to this advice with anger, while others simply shut down. Neither will help you cope.

Find a friend who does not judge and will let you express anger. This person should be a good listener and should not try to “fix things” or tell you how you should feel. If your friend does try to share unwanted advice, speak up. Let your friend know you want someone who will listen and not try and fix things.

There is no easy fix for your emotions but a good listener can help you feel less alone.

Spend Time With Your Loved One

People often talk about how hard it is to spend time with a dying loved one. They may not want to remember their loved one as they were dying, they want to remember how the person was before their illness.

Spending time with a loved one is important. This is true not just for the person who is dying but also for close loved ones. If you decide not to visit, you may regret your choice later.

Find meaningful ways to spend your time together. Share old photographs or memorabilia. Ask your loved one to share stories about family heirlooms and other possessions like jewelry. You may find that reminiscing can be cleansing. Consider making videos of your loved one sharing stories. These recordings can be shared with children, friends, and other family members. You can even give your loved one a foot massage as this can help reduce pain or relax the person and it provides the needed touch. Reading your loved one’s favourite book out loud is another way to spend time together.

Everyone finds meaning in different things, in the end, the activities you choose are not important. What is important is the time you spend together, even if it is in silence.

You may feel nervous about visiting your loved one, many people fear that they will break down and make their loved one’s grief even worse. Keep in mind that your loved one prefers to see you, even if there are tears. You may be scared your loved one will want to talk about their death. If you do feel anxious, take some time to think about. and face your own fears. It is possible that you will upset your loved one more by avoiding the subject than talking about it.