Anticipating the Death of a Loved One
Anticipatory grief can bring about many of the same symptoms of grief.
Grief is usually associated with the experience of loss, but anticipatory grief can start as soon as you become aware that death is on the cards. Once death is even just a possibility, it wouldn’t be unusual to start grieving.
Anticipatory grief can bring about many of the same symptoms of grief, including sadness, forgetfulness, lack of concentration, and feeling down. We may also grieve the person who is dying’s loss of independence, hopes, stability, and identity.
You may also find yourself in a heightened state of alert, waiting for the phone to ring, or watching your loved one deteriorate a bit more. This can feel exhausting.
If your loved one has had a long-term illness during the last few months when hospital visits are only permitted right at the end of life, this feeling of waiting for the phone to ring may have been even more heightened.
When death eventually comes, it can cause a sense of relief, which can trigger feelings of guilt for feeling the relief.
Please know these feelings are totally normal. It’s worth noting that the relief you feel doesn’t change the love you had for the person.
Here are a few tips for dealing with anticipatory grief:
1. Acknowledge your feelings
By giving your feelings a label, you will take the sting out of them. Are you feeling nervous, anxious, sad, disappointed, vulnerable, angry...?
If you’re struggling to get past your feelings once you’ve acknowledged them, do something that will make you feel better. Listen to music, dance, sing, phone a friend, or go for a walk.
Acknowledging everything means having your thoughts one at a time and getting to the point of them being in the past and you being in the present.
2. Share how you are really feeling
Anticipatory grief can feel isolating, especially if all your time and energy is taken up with looking after someone. Try and make time to tell someone you trust how you are really feeling.
3. Look after yourself
Try and take some time for yourself to avoid burning out. Keep a good sleep routine by going to bed and getting up at the same time daily.
4. Use the remaining time well
Use your time left to say all the things that you want to say, things like thanks, apologies, and I love you. Also think of any questions you may have.
5. Say goodbye
In my work with grievers, I regularly hear that one of the painful ideas that keeps them stuck in their grief is that they didn’t get to say goodbye. Saying goodbye is an important signal to your heart.
It also signifies that we can say goodbye and still be alright. However, if they do die before your next conversation, it is one less thing to feel guilty about. Resist the temptation to say goodbye then 'speak to you tomorrow,' as this negates the benefit of the goodbye – leaving an assumption that tomorrow’s conversation will happen and while it probably will, try turning it around so that the goodbye is last: 'speak tomorrow, sleep well, goodbye'.
This way you can still keep your assumption and hope that you’ll speak to them again soon AND complete the conversation.
Think of goodbye as the full stop. It always comes at the very end.
If you would like to find out more about anticipatory loss and what to expect, I am running a webinar on Wednesday, 16th February at 12 pm. You can book your place here.
Emma Tomes, also known as The Helpful Coach, is based in Poole, Dorset. Emma offers one-to-one support and training, specialising in topics such as resilience, stress management and how to manage grief and loss.