What is anticipatory grief?
Somebody? Yes, please…
Mmhh tough question!
Well, we bet not so many people know the answer to this. Most of us are unaware of this type of grief despite facing it most times.
We will use a brief illustration to fill you in.
You see, we are all living on borrowed time, and every day is an installment. Hard truth. But unlike other borrowed things, we don't know how much of our life remains.
Often, we grieve the deaths of loved ones or help our grieving friends, but we forget about our own jumbled-up emotions.
We assume that the feelings we have then will fade away.
What Is Anticipatory Grief Exactly?
We are all standing in one long queue. Each day the first person in the line dies. The rest of us get closer to being the first person with each passing day.
You can not jump the line or move behind. When your turn comes, there is nothing else to do.
Sadly, we never get to know who is in front of us or behind us in the line. (sob! sob!)
But like always, nature has its way of giving us hints.
And so, we may be fortunate to realize a loved one is far much ahead of us in the queue. (Talk of terminal illness or debilitating conditions to which death is imminent) Often, we have those dear ones confined in hospitals or care homes.
Our duty as people who are still far behind in the line (or so we believe) is to care for them. We should make them feel comfortable, loved, cherished, happy, clean, dignified, and honored. We sometimes do all that to hide our pain as caregivers.
The truth is that we miss them. TERRIBLY.
And yes, they are still alive and with us. But the thought of them getting closer to their graves with each day tears even the bravest of hearts apart.
Every day you see tiny pieces of life fall off them.
You know their time is up.
You have so many awkward, silent moments.
No one wants to open up and talk about it.
You are so cautious not to overwhelm each other with emotions. But you know, certainly, that you are staring at the inevitable—DEATH.
Imagine what the dying person feels if you (the one who still has a longer life) feel that blend of emotions.
Now, that feeling right there is ANTICIPATORY GRIEF.
In this article, we discuss three common emotional rollercoasters that people with anticipatory grief face. Make sure to go through them and let us know which of the three you are familiar with in the comment section at the end.
The 3 Emotional Rollercoasters in Anticipatory Grief
Have you ever cared for a loved one in their last stages of life? What was it like for you?
From your expression, we understand that might still be too delicate for you to share. And we truly understand.
So we will give you views from people we interact with who are willing to share theirs.
1. Hope Vs. Despair
When caring for a dying loved one, there is just so much that goes on in your head.
At one point, you are so hopeful the angel of death will skip them. The next, you give up all hope of them seeing another day.
What happens? Why can't your mind make up its mind?
With terminal illnesses, there come a lot of emergencies. The endless CODE BLUES you are used to hearing by now keep arousing your hopes.
But the faces of the emergency team coming from your patient's bedside dwindles that hope.
“Will they make it through the night?" You ask while staring at the bloody pipes stuck on their chests. Somehow you want the answer, but deep down, you may not take it.
Hayden J. commented on an article on the strength of anticipatory grief. Here is what he had to say:
I'm in this phase right now. Caring for an elderly relative with end-stage heart failure, frequent emergencies. It's physically painful, frequently crying jags. My own heart feels like it's about to snap, but I can't do anything but wait
Reading that, you realize there is one key aspect in anticipatory grieving—WAITING.
Wait, how do we even wait for a loved one to die?
What does the statement above make you feel? Like a terrible person, right? Let us discuss this below.
2. Guilt Vs. Consciousness
So the doctor walks to you and, with a straight face, says, "mom has less than ten days to live."
Looking at her lying on that bed, she can barely open her eyes. And when she does, it isn't long enough to recognize you or your presence by her deathbed.
Thoughts race through your head. You are torn between calling relatives, breaking down, and… (wait for it) being grateful that somehow the stress is ending soon.
It has been years of agony and misery since she was first diagnosed with a brain tumor seven years ago. Every day for the last seven years, you are unable to complete your grieving process. You keep starting all over. (What's worse agony?)
Feeling guilty about waiting for a loved one to die is, in fact, OKAY. It is a normal reaction in anticipatory grief.
Be conscious of your feelings. Talk about them with a counselor or a trusted friend. Where your sick relative can still talk, encourage them to talk as well.
Trust us. They also have guilty feelings.
For instance, like the case above, your mom may feel guilty about dying and depriving you of motherly love. She may be guilty of living you with unfulfilled dreams and all that.
When you talk, you reassure yourselves out of these thoughts.
Becky G. knows this so well. She said:
I might add that the guilt you feel for wanting it all to end is also another stressor. That isn't often talked about and not something we want to admit to ourselves, let alone anyone else.
Harriet, an author at The Caregiver Space website, had this to say on matters of guilt:
In my experience, guilt is a waste of time and energy. You have nothing to feel guilty about. It's normal to be exhausted, to want loved ones to live forever, and to want their lives to come to a peaceful close. You cry because you care, and I think this is a blessing of sorts.
3. Sanity Vs. Insanity
Oh, you thought Anticipatory Grief (AG) would only test your patience? Maybe you were not sooooo right.
There are levels of insanity that come with AG (let's use initials here)
Different parts of our brains handle different emotions. For example, the part responsible for happiness isn't the one in charge of pain and so on. Our sanity levels shift when all the areas are triggered at once.
I kept trying to take part in grief counseling when my mom was in hospice care. They thought I was crazy.
And what does AG do again? Yes, it touches all those parts at once.
As you care for a dying loved one, so much goes on in your head. Common thoughts revolve around Finances. If the relative is the sole breadwinner, other family members are likely to get depressed thinking of what the future holds Here is where we think of hospital bills and the cost of a memorial service and funeral arrangements.
Do you need a breather? Maybe don't be a caregiver.
But if you have to be, which is almost inevitable, start taking your brain for a jog. It is likely to experience a significant shift. And it needs to be fit for that.
And how do we make our brains fit for those sanity waves?
By focusing on what matters most in life!
We will have a small section for what matters most in life below. For now, let’s focus on six key ways to manage anticipatory grief, shall we?
6 Helpful Steps to Manage Your Anticipatory Grief
- Talk about it. Both of you should strive to hold those looong, uncomfortable, and emotional conversations. Talk about how you want life to be with you gone. Talk about how you want to spend your last days together. Talk about your will. Talk about everything. Talk, talk, and talk some more.
- If the patient cannot open their mouths, you talk to them. They hear. Tell them how special they are to you. Absolve them of any wrongs they did you. Reassure them all is well. And release them to go well.
- Still can't talk? Seek the services of a professional counselor. Or better yet, (read favorite tip) write your feelings down. Yes, journal all that you feel and read it to them. As we said, THEY HEAR YOU.
Be aware of your environment. Particularly the scents around your patient. Be sure to incorporate grieving essential oils as you bathe or massage your dear patient. These have calming effects and help even you through the grieving process. Take, for example, lavender oil. This will help you with the guilt, shame, and feelings of anger that come with grief.
- Celebrate your loved ones and spend as much time as you can together. Get them random gifts. These can be personalized jewelry (oh yea, we have unique collection right at WonderSpark. Check it out here) to mark special memories. And when they finally go, keep marking their special days.
- Finally, learn to let go. This is a path meant for us all. Please don't hold on to someone when their time comes. It isn't easy to do, but when the universe wills, we have to bow to its command. (sigh)
What Matters Most in Life?
If you ask people this question, all their answers will vary.
Some will say Peace. Others will say, Money. Others will say, Love. And some will stare at you blankly.
At WonderSpark Jewelry, we believe in seizing moments. Making every moment special for both our loved ones and us. And being present in every moment. We believe in loving truly and showing that love by sharing gifts.
They say life is for the living...
Do you consider yourself to be among the living? If you are reading this, chances are you do.
Despite going through anticipatory grief, you are still among the living.
So… Live life. Make memories.
While at it, get you and your loved ones some WonderSpark jewelry to mark all those sweet memories.
Don't die with regrets!