30th October 2022
We normally associate grief with coming to terms with losing a loved one after they have died. But if a loved one has received a terminal diagnosis, if they lose their independence or if they are entering hospice care, it is perfectly natural for you to begin grieving before the person has died. And although the responses you feel and the emotions you experience are very similar, grieving before someone who is about to die presents its own unique challenges.
How is anticipatory grief different?
The actual grief that you feel for someone who is about to die may not feel any different to those you feel after someone has died, but in many ways, it is completely unique.
Not everyone will experience anticipatory grief. For some, not acknowledging the feelings of grief can be a coping strategy to help them through a period of terminal illness before they die. It may help you cling to feelings of hope and get through the difficulties of coming to terms with a loved one dying of a terminal illness.
Living with the knowledge of a loved one’s impending death can leave you feeling conflicted. On one hand, you have the feelings of grief as you deal with the emotions of adjusting to life without them. On the other hand, you may be holding on to the hope that your loved one will recover. It is normal for you to move between these two contrasting states on a daily or even hourly basis.
How might you be affected by anticipatory grief?
One of the most difficult things to cope with about anticipatory grief is that you just can’t predict when your loved one will die. Everyone’s death is as unique as their life, and this can take days or years, so this makes it very hard for you to begin the process of letting go. This can take its toll on you, leaving you feeling emotionally and physically exhausted and drained.
You may also feel guilt because you are going through the process of grieving while that person is still alive. To some, it can feel like you are betraying your loved one because you are beginning to come to terms with life without them when they are still alive. This can also be draining but it is perfectly normal to feel conflicted.
You may find that you are living your life in a state of hyper vigilance – constantly on edge all the time, anxious and worried whenever the phone rings or you are due to visit. This can take a huge toll on you physically and emotionally and it can have an impact on your daily life and work, making you feel constantly distracted or preoccupied.
Time plays a significant role in anticipatory grief. While sudden death presents its own challenges, a long protracted death, where your feelings of dread are present for weeks, months or even years, can leave you feeling disconnected from your own life, unable to focus or make any plans for the future.
If you are experiencing feelings of anticipatory grief, it is important to understand that it is perfectly normal to feel anxious, worried and constantly on edge. It is also normal for you to begin processing your grief before your loved one has died, without worrying about feelings of guilt or betrayal. The most important thing is that you accept your emotions as part of the grieving process, and you don’t bottle those feelings up or suppress them.
If you are looking for personalised, sensitive bereavement counselling in Harrogate or online, feel free to get in touch and I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have.