Anticipatory Grief and its Power

I was my mother’s family caregiver for nine years. She had dementia and, day by day, I witnessed her decline. My mother seemed to be dying right before my eyes and there was nothing I could do about it. Being her caregiver sparked an interest in anticipatory grief, a feeling of loss before a death or dreaded event occurs, and I studied it for a dozen years.

After my mother died I wrote a book about anticipatory grief. Dr. Lois Krahn, a Mayo Clinic psychiatrist, was my co-author. A year after the book came out Dr. Krahn called me. “Before we wrote the book I didn’t know much about anticipatory grief,” she said. “Now I realize it walks into my office every day.”

The last few days I have been living with anticipatory grief and exerienced its power again. On Sunday my husband’s aorta dissected for the second time. The dissection was below the Dacron aorta that Mayo Clinic surgeons installed 10 years ago.He had emergency surgery and all seemed to be well. When I visited him the next day the medical team was thrilled with my husband’s progress. He seemed to be a miracle patient.

But the next day the medical team realized that one of the two stents that had been installed was leaking. An x-ray reavealed that large amounts of blood were flowing into his chest. My husband had emergency surgery again. He came through the surgery pretty well, but chest fluid built up and had to be drained.

Now his life is touch and go. Thankfully, he is able to move one foot and has minimal movement of the other. I call the Intensive Care Unit often to check on his progress. My life is touch and go as well. What will happen to me if my husband dies? How will I cope with all the loose ends in my life? How will I handle the loneliness?

Anticiaptory grief can be more powerful than post-death grief and I have found myself sobbing unexpectedly. I cry with wrenching sobs and finally get myself under control. Once I’ve calmed down I think about my husband and the happy years we have shared. I think about the man who tells me he loves me every day. I think about the excellent physician he became and all of the patients he helped. I think about his profound kindness and his respect for me as his wife.

You understand my feelings if you are experiencing anticipatory grief now and the sorrow I am feeling. Self-care is extremely important at this time. I’m trying to eat right and hope you are too. I’ve checked my support system: family members, my church, organizations I belong to, and close friends. As I’ve done before, I’ve turned to my occupation as a freelance writer for comfort and healing.

Anticiaptory grief is powerful, so powerful it may surprise you. Please take care.

Harriet Hodgson

More Articles Written by Harriet

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit www.harriethodgson.com.

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  • Oh, my dear Harriet, I am SO sorry to learn this awful news, and I cannot imagine how very frightened you are. Please know that you and your dear husband are at the very top of my prayer list, as I hold you both so gently in my heart. Please keep us informed, and know that we are thinking of you.
    Sending love and light,
    ~ Marty

  • Thanks so much Marty. Life hangs in the balance on the Intensive Care Unit, and right now my husband is holding his own. He has so many tubes hooked up to him I can’t count them, and is breathing on a ventilator. His right leg and foot work well, but the left doesn’t. I’m hoping for another miracle.