The Anticipation of Grief

Knowing that a loved one is to die soon is not easy. It may seem as though the forewarning might relieve some of your grief, yet it remains a distressing situation. Your emotions are going to struggle with coming to terms with your future grief in many different ways. And as soon as you figure out how you feel about one emotion, another one will appear.

Until the event itself, you’re just not going to have an accurate picture of how you will feel when faced with the loss.

While the loss of a loved one usually causes sadness because of the loss of both the person and that part of you that existed because of them, gradual momentum towards an expected death adds anticipatory grief and mourning.

The anticipation of grief will wear you down fast. The constant awareness and focus on your loved one mean your nervous system will be on high alert for a longer period of time than is healthy.

Turn the anticipation from an unhealthy activity into a healthy one by discussing what’s going to happen with the person you are about to lose. Don’t shy away from the topic. They are about to go away forever and may be keener than you’d expect, to talk about what’s about to happen, share stories they want to keep alive, pass on any wisdom or personal effects. They may just want to talk about it so that they can try to understand what’s about to happen for themselves and feel some comfort from talking it out with you.

Remember, that at this time, it’s all about them, not you. They are experiencing something unique and scary. You may never get to understand how scary.

Do your best to look out for ways you can take over your loved one’s responsibilities so that they can see how their absence is not going to negatively affect others when you step in for them.

Understand that grief is not a linear process. You may feel as if having moved through some stages of grief during the anticipatory period, you should then quickly progress through the rest after the funeral ceremony. That will not be so. You will revisit this period of time and question what’s happening, and how you handled the situation.

You may feel you didn’t do enough because acceptance takes longer than when a person dies unexpectedly. After all, they’re there in front of you. Don’t accept self-imposed guilt in any form. Just accept that you were spared the self-doubt of things unsaid or arguments unresolved that might have otherwise been the legacy.