Grief is one of those inescapable states that grabs a hold of you and doesn’t let go until it – and you – are good and ready. Where the ocean meets land, waves rise up and crash onto the shore ad infinitum. Some days, the swell is huge, the waves ferocious; on others, the water barely stirs. So it is with grief – and most of us understand that process. But what do you do when you’re experiencing grief before you’ve actually lost someone?
Anticipatory grief is the grief you feel when the person you love is still with you, but will certainly be gone eventually. Perhaps a terminal illness has numbered their days, or else dementia is dragging their personality and memory further from their own grips. Dealing with this kind of long goodbye can be difficult, as your mind struggles to process this pre-grief. Not only are you grieving the person you love, you’re also grieving for your life as you knew it before – everything has changed, and will change again.
Anticipatory grief brings with it feelings of dread, loss, guilt, anxiety, and other tiny moments of sorrow – each another wave reshaping the shore. So how do you best cope with this kind of grief?
1. Take care of yourself
It’s important to know that what you are feeling is completely normal, and is not something that should make you feel worse. Try to let go of the guilt that comes with anticipatory grief, and do your best to live a life that is healthy for your body and mind.
2. Reach out
You are likely not the only one suffering from anticipatory grief. Though you might feel that you will be hardest hit by the impending loss, there are surely others who are going through a similar journey as you. Reach out to these people and lean upon one another. It’s also a good idea to talk about your feelings with people who will be relatively unaffected by anticipatory grief – unburden yourself over coffee with a friend you know will listen without judgement.
3. Be prepared to carry the burden
Unlike grief that comes with loss, anticipatory grief can last for much longer, so it’s important that you find a way to handle the feelings in a way that works for you. If you’re struggling, then consider seeking out professional help in the form of counselling or therapy. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but one of immense strength.
How have you faced anticipatory grief in your life?