Ways Anticipatory Grief Affects You and How to Cope
When you know life is going to change, you may find yourself walking around waiting for a bomb to drop. You feel like you are stuck in an “in-between” place. You don’t know if you should be hoping the bomb doesn’t drop or planning what will happen when it does.
Anticipatory grief is when someone experiences devastating feelings and reactions from expecting the death of a loved one. Someone can also experience this when they are expecting the loss of a companion, the loss of dreams they wanted to happen, or financial changes.
These emotions can be just as strong as the ones you feel after the death. It is not common to talk about anticipatory grief. For this reason, it may feel unacceptable to talk about the pain and therefore don’t receive the support that they need.
Signs of Anticipatory Grief
Grief before death looks different than the grief that comes after. There is more anger, less control, and their reactions may appear strange to loved ones. It is important to remember that these emotions will come on rollercoasters. Some days there may be a lot of symptoms when on other days, none at all. There is no step by step process, and the feelings are not consistent.
- Sadness will come flooding in like waves and sometimes without warning . There may be little triggers such as a TV show or hearing a song that brings a memory.
- Fear of death as well as fear of all the changes that will come with the loss
- Anger from feeling like the situation is unfair.
- A desire to talk during this time is normal. You may feel lonely and be looking for some understanding. Without a safe place to talk you may feel socially and emotionally numb.
- Anxiety from caring for your loved one or not knowing how to care for them.
- Guilt if they are suffering. You want them to be free of pain. You may feel their fear of death. You may have survivor guilt because you are the one who will go on living.
- Visualizing the death is also something you may feel guilty about but is completely normal. You may be going over the scenario in your head and trying to plan out what will happen next.
Ways to Cope with Anticipatory Grief
Knowing yourself and your triggers will help you navigate the grief. Be smart about how you spend your time. Let’s look at some of the ways that you can cope with the situation.
- Talk about it. Find a safe place to express your pain. Others have been where you are. There are plenty of support groups and if your grief is making it hard for you to get through your days, set up an appointment with a therapist. They will help you navigate the rollercoaster.
- Let yourself grieve. Some people feel like they don’t have a right to be sad about something that hasn’t happened yet. Don’t do this. This process is important and you really can’t stop it. It is best to just grieve in a healthy way.
- Spend time with your loved one. Don’t stay away. It may be hard seeing them when they are not in the best of spirits/health, but you both need it.
- Write in a journal or letters. Journaling is a great way to get out the memories. Save the happy moments for later by writing them down. Writing down your feelings helps you tell yourself that they matter. Letters can be used to say hard things to your loved one. It may be hard to get things out in person but they will appreciate the thought in a letter.
- Try meditating. Meditation is healing for your mind and body. It helps you to check in with yourself and allow yourself to take a break from the intense emotions.
- Express your feelings through art. Doing something with strong emotions like creating gives you a place to put them. Again this shows you that your feelings matter and have value.
- Take care of your physical health. Keep doing all of the little “normal” things. Go to the gym. Eat dinner. Grocery shop. Don’t let these things get lost in the grief.
- Reach out to a counselor. Counseling can help you discover a lot about yourself, and give you ways to progress through this time in a healthy way. You need support and you need a safe place to be with your grief.
Support for Someone Grieving
Maybe your spouse or friend is going through anticipatory grief. You may know the person dying but aren’t as close with them. It is easy to feel like there is nothing you can do in these situations. That is not always the case. Here are some ways to help them and give them the support they need.
- Make a decision. Don’t sit there and do nothing because someone hasn’t told you what to do. Don’t ask the person grieving what you can do. Ask yourself. Just step in and help.
- Help with the ordinary. There are a lot of daily tasks that you can do for them. Mail a package, get something at the store, babysit, shovel the driveway, etc.
- Be available. Invite them to contact you. Be specific. Tell them, You can call me anytime after 5 PM or you can text me anytime. Leave them notes to remind them that you are there if they need you.
- Be a listener. Don’t try and fix their problems, just listen. Ask them questions that tell them you want to listen to the answers. Don’t monologue about what they need to do. You are not the hero, you are the supporting character in this story.
- Be patient and accepting. Their process will not be quick. The pain will not just go away. Do not get frustrated if they seem to be getting worse. You are not trying to fix them, you are just there to support them. Accept them however they are and with whatever emotions are experiencing.
Some people avoid seeing family members right before they pass. It can be difficult to see a loved one in an unhealthy state and unable to live life in the same way. They use this as a way to hold on to good memories, but anticipatory grief can sometimes make the process of death feel more natural. It is hard to let a loved one go but seeing them weak or in pain makes it easier to let them move on to the next place.
These opportunities provide closure that people with loved ones who pass suddenly never experience. With anticipatory grief, you have time to process emotions and be with the person before they move on. You can give yourself closure so that when they do pass you will have fewer regrets.
It is also important to understand that letting go does not mean that you stop loving your loved one. You don’t need to hold on to the pain for fear of what letting it go might mean. Keep the very best memories of them inside of you and don’t let those go. Slowly, you will be able to let go of the pain.