Making Peace with Anticipatory Grief
We often are faced with difficult, yet unavoidable truths. Aging, and eventually death, are among them. As difficult as it is to accept the effects of aging and death of a loved one, it is sometimes compounded when our loved one is diagnosed with a prolonged and drawn-out illness such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis or ALS.
Frequently after receiving such a diagnosis, family members become uncomfortable with facing the prognosis head-on. As a result, they end up avoiding the issue altogether. They become consumed with day-to-day caregiving and lose themselves in the disease process itself. Eventually, the avoidance causes additional angst when the family could be busy making memories and cherishing their time together.
It also is common for loved ones to feel guilt for their “anticipatory grief.” That is, they feel bad for grieving “too soon” while their loved one is still alive. This grieving process can start upon receiving the initial diagnosis and can last, and even repeat, throughout the disease. We need to be able to talk about “anticipatory grief” and understand that it is a normal part of the grieving process.
Although there is no blueprint for anticipatory grief, here are some suggestions that make it easier to understand:
- Accept that the anticipatory grief you are feeling before death is normal.
- Remember that anticipatory grief does not mean you are giving up on your loved one. Being there to provide support demonstrates your continued commitment. Maintain a focus on what you are doing — supporting, caring, loving, and creating meaningful memories.
- Connect with others and care for yourself. The longevity of this process requires that you take care of yourself so you can provide the best care to your loved one. Seek out support opportunities outside of your immediate family and circle of friends. Local caregiver support groups or a support group specific to your loved one’s diagnosis are good places to start.
- Allow yourself to feel relief. It is normal. When dealing with prolonged illnesses, there can be months or years, and sometimes even decades, of caregiving. It will be overwhelming and exhausting. When your loved one does come to the end of their journey, there can be a sense of “relief.” That is normal, but it can also create additional feelings of guilt. This is not a reflection of how much you loved and cared for your loved one; rather it is a normal reaction after a prolonged, stressful and overwhelming time in your life.
- Don’t “pigeon hole” the grief process. Just because your loss was “anticipated,” do not assume this will speed up or slow down your grief after the death. We all grieve at our own pace.
Libbi Hash has over 25 years of experience working in senior living and is the wellness and resident relations specialist for Kisco Senior Living; they provide full-service senior living communities that offer an enriched lifestyle drawn from thoughtful details. She was born and raised in Brevard County and now enjoys raising her son here.
As featured in our DIGITAL MAGAZINE.