We typically think of grief as something that comes after the death of a loved one; the intense sorrow and profound sense of loss we experience as we come to terms with their absence. However, in the same way that it doesn’t operate in fixed ways over fixed periods of time, grief also doesn’t necessarily start with death.
Experiencing grief before the loss of a loved one is sometimes called anticipatory grief. This can be experienced over a period of days, months or even years before the death of a loved one.
Anticipatory grief isn’t just grieving the gradual or anticipated loss of a person but the change that will come with that person’s absence. This could involve grieving a future you had imagined, financial stability or security, or your role in your family. Anticipatory grief can be characterised by feelings of anger, worry, regret, guilt and fear, as well as loneliness.
The challenge of anticipatory grief is that it is an ‘in-between’ space as you are grieving a death that hasn’t happened yet. To add to this challenge, anticipatory grief can also occur as we support or care for our loved one as they themselves come to terms with dying. In these instances, our instinct is to put our loved one’s grief before our own – to deal with our own emotions after – but this won’t necessarily help you or your loved one.
If you think you are experiencing anticipatory grief, you might find the following useful:
- Ask for and accept help: It can be tempting to shoulder the responsibility for your loved one’s care, and your grief, However, there are networks of family and friends, and organisations like Hospiscare, who can provide you with both practical and emotional support to cope with anticipatory grief.
- Talk to your loved one: Dying and grieving can be intensely lonely By talking to your loved one about how you feel, and in turn letting them talk about their own emotions, it can help alleviate some of this loneliness.
- Don’t forget to care for yourself: You can’t pour from an empty jug so to help you care for and support your loved one, you need to care for yourself too. Make sure you get some respite and time to relax, in whatever form that might take.
- Remember that whatever you’re feeling is normal: There is no one way to grieve and grief can happen at any point before or after death.
If you would like to find out more about grief support from Hospiscare, please click here.