Joy held her husband’s hand tightly, fear and worry on her face.
She watched him, counted his breaths, hoped for any flicker of recognition.
Ronald’s Parkinson’s disease was stealing more and more of their time together.
After 45 years of marriage, she couldn’t accept it. She felt lost, disoriented.
“What will I do?” she said over and over. “I don’t want to be without him.”
Many people know the pain that Joy is experiencing. Anticipatory grief is painful preparatory awareness, a result of understanding that death is imminent. As soon as a terminal diagnosis is provided, loved ones often find themselves beginning to wrestle with loss.
Caregivers, especially, find that anticipatory grief is a significant part of the care they provide. The realities of the disability or disease, the daily responsibilities, the physical and mental demands, and the end-of-life medical, financial, and legal considerations all contribute greatly to anticipatory grief.
This grief type may actually take a greater toll on us than the grief we manage later. Perpetual anxiety and a high-alert feeling can make a sad time feel almost unbearable.
To cope well, consider the following strategies:
•Acknowledge and accept your myriad of emotions. Anticipation of your loved one’s death may include shock, denial, and a sense of helplessness. It takes time to digest and deal with the reality of your impending loss. As it is, you are already losing life as you know it, and must accept a “new normal” — with the knowledge that you will have to adjust again, to life totally without him or her.
•Lean on others. Seek out as much emotional support as possible. Your grief process may require a team of helpers. Community support is vital. Look to family, friends, neighbours, your worship community, mental health care professionals, and volunteer organizations who can come assist you.
•Secure reliable help with daily tasks. Errands, shopping, chores, etc., still have to be accomplished, despite the grief. Look for people and services that can help make daily tasks less burdensome.
•Don’t put off inquiries about hospice services. Learn about end-of-life care early on. Make well-informed decisions with the input of everyone involved, before you’re overwhelmed by emotion.
•Encourage productive communication. Facilitate respectful and compassionate interaction among caregivers, loved ones, and the person who is dying. Face it together, following the dying person’s lead. Listen and permit open expression and honesty. Tell each other what you need, and try to be there for each other.
•Make the most of this time. Slow down and be present. Recognize the need to share and be together:
share intimately and meaningfully
record the sentiments of the dying person if they wish
help the dying person complete end-of-life tasks
•Expect a family shift. Part of anticipatory grief is grappling with the impact of loss to the ongoing life of the family. Roles must be adjusted. The dying person’s responsibilities will be assumed by someone else. To ensure some sense of continuity and security, try to maintain some of the family’s normal routines.
•Practice good self-care. Grief can make the world seem chaotic. Meet your need for rest, healthy food, exercise, respite, and enjoyable distraction. Don’t allow your physical, emotional and spiritual needs to become too depleted.
Pay special attention to your mental health. Keep a journal. Find a compassionate counselor. Look for local or online support groups. Find at least one non-judgmental person to share whatever thoughts and feelings you wish to explore.
Allow anticipatory grief to help you focus on your loved one. Make use of the time left to strengthen your relationships, meaningfully reflect, and finish well.
If you need help with anticipatory grief, or are considering bereavement counselling, call Neil Ward today on 07970 860 711.