When most people hear the word grief they think of the period of time after a loved one has passed when family and friends grieve. Everyone handles this grief differently, some see the time after a loved one has passed as only the time to mourn that passing, some see it as a time to celebrate their life, and most of us see it as a mix of the two.
But grief that comes after someone has passed is not the only time that grief can come up. Another type of grief that actually comes up before conventional grief is anticipatory grief.
What Is Anticipatory Grief?
Anticipatory grief is the deep sadness that we feel during the last days of life — whether that means the last days of our lives or a loved one’s life. Not everyone feels this grief, but those who do can sometimes feel guilty or that they are giving up on the life before it has ended.
This is not true. Feeling this grief does not mean that you are giving up, it is simply recognizing that you are nearing the end and it can give you the courage and the chance to get the closure that you may not have been able to get if the passing was sudden.
So, anticipatory grief is not a bad thing, there is no bad grief. The only “bad” that can come in is in how you cope with that grief — and even in coping, there are no right or wrong ways, there are simply healthy and unhealthy ways of coping.
How to Cope with Anticipatory Grief
Everyone copes with grief differently and the way that we cope with our grief can even differ dramatically depending on what type of grief it is. So, while we cannot tell you the exact steps that you need to take to handle your grief, we can give you some tips that can help you to more healthily process that grief.
So, without further ado, here are a few tips that you can use to cope with any anticipatory grief you are feeling as you are preparing to lose a loved one.
1. Allow Yourself to Feel
Let yourself feel the pain and loss of the loved one, your shared memories, and dreams for the future. Not allowing yourself to feel the emotions you are experiencing will not help you work through them and will only prolong their existence. To get past these feelings, you need to allow yourself to experience them.
2. Talk to Your Loved Ones
Talking to your friends and family about the feelings you are experiencing can be a great way to help you work through them. You may be experiencing feelings of sadness and loss that are common with grief, but you may also be experiencing feelings of anger or irritation as well.
These feelings of anger are common with anticipatory grief — especially if others are telling you how you should feel or what you should do. To help you express these feelings, having a good friend who is willing to just listen and not try to fix anything, can be extremely helpful. A licensed therapist or a support group can also provide this outlet as well.
3. Spend Time with Your Loved One
This can be difficult for a lot of people, especially when you are watching your loved one pass from an illness, like cancer. Sometimes we want to remember our loved ones as they were before the illness — we don’t want our last memories of them to be them in a hospital.
But spending time with our dying loved one is important for not only the loved one who is passing but also for ourselves. If we do not see them, we can end up regretting that decision later on in life and bringing a deep feeling of guilt with us throughout our lives.
You could try doing some of your favorite activities together — like painting pictures, reading a book (aloud or having a little book club), or even making videos of you and your loved one telling stories. Whatever you decide to do, whether an activity or simply sitting with them, just make sure that you are not making the mistake of shutting them out during their last days.
4. Try Journaling
A journal can be a great way for you to not only express the emotions that you are feeling that you may be uncomfortable sharing with a friend or family member but also be a location where you can write down thoughts and feelings that you’re having during this time.
You could use this space to write down things you want to remember about your loved one during this time or you could use this space to write a letter to your loved one that helps you to express all of the things that you may have a hard time saying to them as well.
5. Try a Holistic Approach
Try experimenting with meditation, art therapy, music therapy, or even massage therapy. All of these, and other holistic approaches to coping can be great ways to process your feelings in a more creative and less conventional method.
This applies to both yourself and to others. This period can be very emotional and can bring up a lot of feelings from the past as well. Sometimes there can be anger or resentment between you and the person who is passing or even between you and another family member or loved one.
This can be difficult to navigate, but this situation can be the time to resolve whatever differences you and the other person may have and practice love and forgiveness.
7. Maintain a Sense of Humor
We know that there is not a lot of space for humor when you are experiencing the last days of a loved one, but when done thoughtfully, humor can actually be a great way to help lighten the moods of your loved one and those around you as well.
Be aware that not everyone will appreciate humor during this time, so be careful that you are not causing more pain or unhappiness by trying to be humorous.
8. Let Go
The human mind can be a very powerful tool and it is very possible that your loved one could be hanging on for a specific moment before passing. Maybe they’re waiting for a birthday or want to see their grandchildren or great-grandchildren one last time before they are ready to pass on.
Maybe they are just waiting for a goodbye from a loved one. Whatever they are waiting for, it can be helpful to offer a goodbye as a sign to them that you are ready to let go of them — in other words, it can give them the permission that they have been waiting for to pass on.
When to Reach Out
You may be feeling levels of grief that make it hard to facilitate some of these tips on your own. Know that it is natural to feel grief as we are losing our loved ones — and even more so when there is nothing that we can do to prevent it. But you do not have to go through this process alone. Seeking help from a mental health professional can help you to process your grief and help you to feel more ready when the time for your loved one to pass comes.
So, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at Love Heal Grow for additional personalized support during this time. No one should feel like they have to handle their grief alone and we are here to help you in any way we can.