Friday, September 1, 2006

Anticipatory Grief

Do you have an elderly parent that you see getting weaker and more dependent with the passing of each day?  Do you have a spouse, parent, sibling, child or friend that has been diagnosed with a terminal illness?  Do you know someone who is suffering from a form of dementia? 

These are just a few scenarios that you may have experienced, or may be experiencing, with a loved one right now.  When confronted with these situations you may find yourself dealing with Anticipatory Grief.  This simply means that you are aware, on some level, of the eventual loss of your loved one and are grieving their death before it has happened.  Just as in grief, anticipatory grief can have very many different feelings and reactions, depending on the variables involved with your situation.  

Do you find yourself avoiding the issues, pretending that life is normal just like it was before your loved one became ill?  Do you find yourself unable to have meaningful conversations and moments with your loved one for fear that it will be interpreted as trying to capture "what time is left" with your loved one?  Do you find yourself avoiding serious questions, and avoiding the exploration of healthcare options, because you don't want your loved one to lose hope or stop fighting?  Do you find yourself having unbidden, or uncomfortable thoughts as you observe the physical changes in your loved one?  Do you find yourself depressed and sad, unable to function at work or at home?  Do you find yourself mad at your loved one for being sick, dependent, or for making end-of-life choices that you do not agree with?  These are all normal feelings, thoughts and actions, when dealing with anticipatory grief.

In some situations, you may feel that you are pulling away from your loved one emotionally.  This too is normal as your mind is trying to make efforts to protect you from the grief that will surely come when your loved one dies.  If you are not emotionally invested now, it won't hurt so much when they die, right?  Maybe.  But it has been my experience, that you will feel the grief, regardless of any protective measures that are put into place.  There is no avoiding the pain of grief, nor the pain of anticipatory grief. 

The best plan, in the event of anticipatory grief, is to prepare and protect yourself in other ways.  Make sure you have a good support system in place.  People in anticipatory grief, need to have someone that they feel comfortable with and can trust to be able to discuss all the thoughts, feelings and emotions that they may experience.  Depending on what your loved one's situation is, there are many organizations, support groups and counselors that specialize in that particular situation and with anticipatory grief.  Use them - that's what they are there for.  Also, talk with your loved one, as honestly as you can and as the situation allows.  Your loved one is more than likely having the same thoughts, feelings and emotions that you are and will welcome the opportunity to share them with their support system - YOU. 

Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.


P.S.  If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit organization that serves the community, and we operate solely on donations from families, clients and the community.  As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.



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