How to Handle Anticipatory Grief
You might feel anticipatory grief if someone you love is sick or seriously ill. You may grieve as someone begins to deteriorate or you might experience grief as you notice the loss of the person in your life. Dealing with grief is difficult and you may not know how to handle grief that begins before a death. Acknowledge and work through the feelings that emerge. Make the most of the time you have left with your loved one and don’t forget to take care of yourself. Reach out for support from friends, family members, and a therapist.
Dealing with Your Emotions
Experience your emotions.It’s common to have mixed emotions when anticipating grief. You might feel sad, anxious, angry, depressed, or in denial. If you notice your emotions emerging, let yourself experience them. Don’t push down your emotions or try to ignore them. Acknowledge them and express them.
- It’s never fun to deal with painful or difficult emotions. Let your feelings out by playing or listening to music, journaling, and bringing awareness to how you feel.
- Avoid numbing your feelings with alcohol, drugs, binge-eating, over-exercising, or other compulsive and possibly destructive behaviors. It is tempting to try and escape the pain by engaging in mood-altering substances, but this will only lead to greater difficulties in the future.
Anticipate grief coming out in unexpected ways.You might experience grief in strange or unexpected ways, and notice that you tear up or cry in response to mundane things, oversleep, overeat, or experience other changes. If you feel like you have no control of your emotions or surprise yourself in your moods, know that it’s okay to experience grief in these ways. Recognize that the grief may come out in these ways.
Confront your own beliefs about death, dying, and the afterlife.Questions about why good people die, what happens in death, and how much a person suffers might arise in your grief. You may derive comfort from a spiritual or religious tradition. You may wish to lean on traditions for strength and comfort during the difficult time.
- Get involved in a spiritual and religious center as a way to get support.
- If the person is in hospice care, they may offer resources for you (and your loved one) as you explore these concepts.
Adjust to changes.One difficult part of anticipatory grief is adjusting to the changes that come from loss. For example, you may begin to adjust your life to not having the person in it any longer, or take on new roles as a result of their absence. You might feel like by adjusting to these changes that you’re accepting your impending loss and feel guilty.
- It’s okay to meet your needs and live your life during this time.
Acknowledge relief and guilt.Some people feel relief as their loved one nears death. Perhaps you’ve been under strain from caretaking for your loved one and now you feel relief that the end is near. This might lead to feelings of guilt over the perceived burden of caretaking. Feeling relief is normal and nothing for which you should feel ashamed of or guilty. It’s okay to acknowledge your feelings and not feel bad about them.
- You can feel relieved of stress and duty and still love your loved one. Just because you feel relief does not mean you don’t care about someone.
Making Your Time Together Count
Reflect on your remaining time together.If you know your time is limited, reflect on how to create meaningful experiences with your loved one. Do activities or have discussions that are meaningful to both of you. Go to places that are special to you or bring items that evoke pleasant memories.
- Be open and honest about what the person is going through. May people are too afraid to bring up the subject of death with someone who is dying, and it may be a relief to them to talk about it openly. Ask how they are dealing with the process.
- If you need to cover logistical conversations, have those, too. Don’t spend all of your time discussing advance directives or funeral plans, but do have these discussions to make sure you respect your loved one’s wishes.
Talk about memories.Spend time talking about the good memories you have together. Especially if it’s difficult to do activities with your loved one, talking about pleasant events and memories can fill both of you with positive feelings in this difficult time. Reflect on the meaningful times, funny times, and memorable moments.
- Even if your loved one has problems with memory due to Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, talking about positive memories can still be meaningful.
Make time to say goodbye.If you know that loss is coming, it allows you time to say goodbye and even make amends if necessary. Make time to let your loved one know that you love them, appreciate them, and that their relationship was meaningful to you. Say “I’m sorry,” or, “I forgive you.” Say anything you need to say.
- If you feel like your loved one is holding on because others aren’t ready to let go, say that they can leave when they are ready.
Taking Care of Yourself
Be kind to yourself.Recognize that dealing with grief in any capacity is difficult. Be gentle with yourself and give yourself what you need. For example, if you need a day off of work to process your emotions, take it. Stay socially active and surround yourself with supportive friends. Spend some time outside in nature by going on a walk or sitting in a park.
- Don’t engage in unhealthy habits such as drugs or alcohol. If you have a problem with abusive substances, seek professional help.
Take care of your body.Don’t let yourself go while you’re grieving. Continue to eat healthy foods and meals and don’t turn to food as a way to cope. Allow yourself to rest and get good sleep each night. Make time for exercise to keep your body and mind feeling good.
- Taking care of yourself is not selfish. When you’re stressed, it’s important to take care of your needs and health.
Make time for relaxation.While many things around you may begin to change, it’s important to cope effectively with these changes.Find some healthy outlets for stress, such as relaxation, and practice relaxation daily.
Talk to supportive friends.Don’t retreat into isolation when you’re going through grief. Connect with others also impacted by grief, such as family members or friends, and provide support for one another. Talk to a supportive friend who is a good listener.
- Be selective of who you spend time with while you grieve. Consider taking some time away from people who drain you and spend more time with those who are supportive.
See a therapist.Grief therapy can begin at any time. It might be helpful to process your emotions with a therapist throughout the death process. Work through and process your difficult emotions with the support of a therapist.
- Get a recommendation for a therapist from a friend or family member. You can also call your insurance provider or local mental health clinic to connect with a therapist.
Join a support group.Consider joining a support group to meet with other people also enduring the stages of grief. A support group is a place to listen and support others dealing grief and a place to reach out for support in dealing with your own grief. You may have questions you want to ask but don’t feel comfortable asking friends or family. A support group can be helpful in expressing your thoughts and feelings.
- Join a local support group if possible. If there is not a local support group near you, join an online support group.
Video: Understanding Grief. Lecture II. Anticipatory Grief Grieving Loss that Hasn't Happened
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