Debbie Caine a Limited Licensed Professional Counselor (LLPC) in private practice at Trinity Family Counseling Center. She completed her Master’s degrees in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Oakland University, and works with individuals, couples, families, and groups across a range of presenting issues.
When someone we love dies that person is usually memorialized, celebrated, and remembered. During this time, words are spoken, pictures are displayed, videos are compiled, flowers are sprawled, and music is played. But what happens when there is advance notice of a death? When we are aware that a loved one is dying? When that individual’s life and the impact it had can be contemplated and perhaps people begin to mourn before it is over? The normal mourning that begins to occur when a person and family is expecting a death is defined as Anticipatory Grief.
One of the hardest parts of caregiving is watching your loved one slip away. It is the knowledge that you can’t stop the decline and grieving the loss of the person you once knew, long before they are gone. This process is very common among caregivers and family members of those suffering from dementia, cancer, and any other terminal illnesses.
There are healthy ways of coping and working through the feelings associated with anticipatory grief:
Allow feelings of grief to help you prepare – Give yourself permission to grieve for the future that you will not have with your loved one, for the loss of your hopes and dreams. No emotion is “wrong”.
Educate yourself about what to expect – Learn about your family member’s condition and know the symptoms, side effects, and prognosis.
Talk to a professional – Find a professional counselor that will provide the opportunity to share your feelings of loss and frustration. Finding a support group with individuals that are sharing a similar experience can provide emotional support and insight.
Enlist help and continue to live your life – Reach out to family and friends or hire someone to help with the care of your loved one. Don’t put your life completely on hold. In the long run, it will help the patient and yourself. It will provide strength for the journey so that you can care for your loved one in a positive and intentional way.
Plan to spend meaningful time together – Try and plan time with your loved one that is meaningful to you both. Talk about special times you have shared, things that you are sorry about, and about how much he or she will be missed.
Help your loved one adjust – Look for ways to add new activities to your loved one’s life or think about how you might incorporate elements of a favorite pastime. Give them the opportunity to express what they need to.
Anticipatory grief gives family and friends more time to slowly get used to the reality of the loss. People are provided with the opportunity to complete unfinished business with the dying person. Anticipatory grief may not always occur. This type of grief does not mean that before the death, a person feels the same kind of grief as the grief felt after a death. There is not a set amount of grief that a person will feel. The grief experienced before a death does not make the grief after the death last a shorter amount of time. The grief experience is as unique as each individual. Remember the love you shared will last a lifetime and beyond.