Grief and bereavement will impact all of us in different ways. Some have had the painful experience of having to grieve many loved ones in their lives, others it is something they know will come and they dread the day it does. In this article we will be exploring Anticipatory Grief and how it impacts us.
What is Anticipatory Grief?
For many, the loss of a loved one is extremely painful and difficult to process, this is entirely normal and healthy. It is normal to experience a wide variation of emotions in the grieving process such as immense sadness, depression, longing, regret and even anger. But what if you are experiencing these emotions before your loved one has died? This is anticipatory grief.
Anticipatory Grief is the complex and painful experience of processing a loved ones death before they have passed away, this is common when the loved one has a terminal illness such as cancer. Knowing that a loved one has a limited amount of time left can create hugely overwhelming feelings and can trigger Anticipatory Grief.
Why is it so challenging?
Anticipatory Grief is often overwhelming as it can bring up many conflicting emotions at once. One may be shocked, angry and heartbroken that a loved one is terminally ill but also feel compelled to be strong and present for that person while they are still here. These kinds of overwhelming emotions can leave you feeling drained.
Anticipatory Grief is also less widely known than the kind of grieving and bereavement common after the loved one has died; this can leave you feeling alone and misunderstood. Friends, neighbours and colleagues may not recognise this type of grief and can sometimes fall short when it comes to support.
Finally, in many cases for those experiencing Anticipatory Grief they are often simultaneously part of caring for the loved one who is ill. This can bring an additional strain to your emotional and mental load, especially as you may be starting to process the loss while simultaneously caring for the person you are grieving over.
What can we do about it?
If you are currently experiencing Anticipatory Grief, remember firstly that it is entirely normal. While it may be tempting to try and supress those feelings in a hopes of appearing ‘strong’ for your loved one, this is only going make it harder in the long run. Speaking to other family members and friends about how you feel and to seek support is important. There are also many resources available such as podcasts, support groups and of course your own personal therapy.
Being kind and gentle with yourself and accepting your feelings as valid and as part of the process. If you are supporting a loved one going through Anticipatory Grief and unsure of your role, remember to simply be present and listen to them without judgement; reassuring them that it is natural and prompting them to seek additional help if you feel they may need it.
Grief is an extremely painful and complex part of our lives. Grieving someone who is terminally ill but still with us can stir up a widely confusing mix of emotions. Understand that you are not alone and the intensity of this pain will pass. The more gentle you are with yourself during this process, the more present you can be with your loved one.
The article is written by Lauren, Trainee Counsellor at The DMC Clinic. If you would like to discuss how any of the topics mentioned above are impacting your mental health, please contact The DMC Clinic to arrange an appointment.