15th November 2022
Grief is a universal process that we are all destined to go through at some point in our lives, involving a range of different emotions that we must make sense of if we are to integrate our loss into our lives. But anticipatory grief is different because it involves other emotions that you may find difficult to come to terms with.
Anticipatory grief is the process we go through when we are preparing for the death of a loved one. However, the grieving process can often begin while the person is still alive. This, in itself, makes grieving more problematic, involving a range of other emotions.
With dementia, the person you have known and loved slowly recedes from you, your family and their life, meaning that you essentially lose that person long before they actually die.
Dying two deaths
With the grief you experience when losing a loved one, it is clearly defined and comes as a result of a single, major loss. However, with anticipatory grief, it is often referred to as ‘dying two deaths’. The first death, the slow, psychological deterioration of your loved one, becoming less and less like themselves, as well as their actual death.
This can make the whole process more difficult to come to terms with, leaving you feeling anxious, angry or desperate over a longer period of time which can impact on your health and wellbeing, your job, your family life and your relationships.
The other major difference with anticipatory grief is that it involves lots of smaller losses, which, over time, can leave you struggling with a range of emotions. Dementia, and this includes Alzheimer’s, is a slow progressive condition that slowly erodes at the faculties of the sufferer. Each loss of ability will feel like a little death. You may grieve their loss of memory, personality, awareness, their physical ability and their communication long before they actually die. You may grieve the loss of their companionship and it may even make you reflect on your sense of self.
As these losses usually take place over a much longer period of time, coping with the emotions involved can take its toll on your own mental health and you may find it even more difficult to cope.
How to cope with anticipatory grief
First, you must accept that it is normal to grieve before that person dies. There is no need to feel ashamed of the emotions you are feeling – it’s perfectly natural.
Be mindful to take care of yourself. Often, we throw ourselves into caring for our loved one, to the detriment of our own health and wellbeing. The best way you can be there for your loved one is to make sure you are eating healthily, sleeping well, and getting on with life as normal as far as it is possible.
Reach out for support. Whether that is from your family, a support group, respite care or professional counselling, it is important that you don’t try to cope with things alone. Having the opportunity to express the emotions that you are feeling is key to finding ways to better manage your grief.
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.