Most people are very familiar with that sinking feeling of emptiness and sadness following a loved one’s death. What many don’t know is that grief can start even before the tragic loss. It’s quite similar to the emotional suffering after death, in the way that you struggle with your fear of the future. It’s crucial that you acknowledge this type of grief. It’s tough to address emotions when you’re oblivious to them. It can hurt your mental or emotional health along the road.
The Anatomy of Anticipatory Grief
Anticipatory grief refers to the set of intense feelings of pain and sadness people feel when they expect death in a loved one. This involves a great sense of loss beyond the actual passing of a loved one. For this reason, it triggers fear. For older adults, fear of being alone. For children, fear of being left to fend for themselves. For the patient suffering the disease, fear of leaving their loved ones.
Anticipatory grief looks a lot like normal grief. The deep sense of loneliness is there that even little things like family movies can get you so emotional. There are also feelings of anger and irritability. It can come from feeling frustrated about the helpless situation of a cancer-stricken mom. It can also be due to some relatives “not caring” about a dying loved one. The anger might be towards the self, feeling that you haven’t done enough to avoid your relative’s suffering. Or that you can’t settle whether you should cling on to the hope or let go of your loved one.
Anxiety is also a hallmark symptom of anticipatory grief. Some are concerned about the loved one’s suffering not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. Others tend to imagine what it’s like living without their loved one, thus increasing stress.
Despite these turbulent emotions though, anticipatory grief can have a positive side to it. It inspires loved ones to band together, find comfort in each other’s company, and reconcile broken relationships. It also compels them to iron out end-of-life plans and ask their dying loved one for last wishes. Work with funeral-planning services to honor your relative’s desires or preferences.
The Healthy Approach to Anticipatory Grief
It’s not just important to acknowledge anticipatory grief and know what it looks like. You also have to learn how to deal with it, mainly because it can interfere with daily routines and your health. Find an outlet or an understanding family member or friend. If you’re not comfortable sharing struggles with people, write down your pain in a journal or put it in an art piece. The important thing is that you have an outlet for emotions.
It’s also essential to take care of your overall health. You’ll never be able to care for your dying loved one or the rest of the family when you’re not okay yourself. So, as much as you can, try to achieve enough hours of sleep, eat nutritious food, and work out regularly. Prioritize stress-relieving techniques, like mindfulness exercises, meditation, and prayer.
Of course, it’s also crucial to maximize time with your dying loved one. Try to patch things up when there are rifts in your relationship. Forgive, and ask for forgiveness. Let go of bitterness and hurt. These can help in dealing with anticipatory grief better.
In the end, acknowledge that a sense of grief can happen even before a loved one dies. It’s normal. Don’t feel bad for experiencing it. But don’t let yourself be eaten up by negative emotions, either. Deal with it healthily.