Is it possible to fully grieve in advance? Only you can truly answer that. This preceding part of the grieving process has been clinically labeled as “Anticipatory Grief”. Perhaps it isn’t as simple as it sounds. How do you anticipate what will happen to you? Some may think that if their loved one is ill a long time they have even more time “prepare”.
It may be that you expect and accept the loss of a loved one. That is a form of preparation. It’s good to say goodbyes or do things that help all involved to come to grips with the impending loss. It’s a good time to organize and prioritize many tangible aspects of loss. Plans and arrangements and last wishes are better dealt with prior to loss than in sudden devastation. Again, it feels as if you are prepared when all the saying and doing is said and done.
Yet, deep in the human psyche and neuroscientific brain functions, as long as someone is technically alive, we maintain a sense of hope. It is not false hope, it is hope in its purest form. It is hope in the face of the enemy of death. It is a brave kind of hope. It is that kind of hope that believes in miracles. There is a reason they call it keeping your hopes UP!
However, when the miracles don’t arrive, and death becomes more imminent, our physiologic symptoms can be more intense, hypervigilant and reactive. We check and recheck obsessively to see if life is still there. When it is, for brief moments, grief is momentarily suspended. The postponement can be sadly frenetic and emotionally consuming.
The best way I have heard the difference between grieving in advance and post grief is that the former is emotional. The latter is more physical.
ADVANCE “EMOTIONAL” GRIEF
Going through emotional cycles of pain and memories
Panicking when you are away from your loved one
Rumination about the things you wish you could say or convey
A need to withdraw and be away from everyone or everything
Inability to concentrate or care
Intense bouts of irritability
Frantically doing, thinking, care-giving and worrying
AFTERMATH OF PHYSICAL GRIEF SYMPTOMS
Thinking and having sensations the person is still with you
Saying “no” to social invitations
Inability to eat or sleep
Attempts to “get back into life” but don’t know how
Physical illness and exhaustion
You may be attempting to grieve in advance for a loved one now. If that is you, my sincere and heartfelt condolences are sent to you. You most likely can add your own list of things you’re feeling to the one above.
Remember, you are the only person who feels like you do and ever will. No matter how many times someone may say, “I know how you feel,” they don’t. We all say it. We all mean it to be kind. It simply isn’t true when it comes to grieving in advance or the aftermath for anyone. We are all unique. Grief doesn’t fit into categories or lists. It is your pain and need not be influenced by the opinions of others. Make your own list. Know that your feelings and physical reactions are sacred and need to be processed in your way in your time.
Do you best to prepare for grieving but also honor the future space for residual and unexpected things. Go easy on yourself.
It’s okay not to be okay. Don’t let anyone tell you any different.
There is something in the moment of passing that provides a grief/relief response. Its duration is different with everyone.
Advance emotional preparation is natural. We are fighting the final moments with what we think will help us avoid some of the pain on the other side of loss. To some extent we can but it is a complex process. We can’t fight what happens in our natural bodies when death descends as our loved ones make their transition. We are all going to go “there”. Listen to yourself and grieve in advance and the aftermath in ways that honor your truth and who you are and what your real relationship was like with that person. We tend to romanticize people when they are gone. It is okay to be real about relationships.
Allow yourself generous and loving time for self-care.
I have always said that if someone were capable of selling time back to us they would be the richest person on earth. Time is the most precious and priceless commodity we have. We can waste it and spend it, but we can’t buy it back for any amount of money. You may not be able to fully grieve in advance, but the time can help you learn live your life in a more authentic and fulfilling way. Think about how you want your future to be when someone is gone. When you allow yourself to think about yourself, it isn’t selfish at all. Loss is one of the greatest ways to gain personal perspective. It isn’t to be avoided or embraced, just processed with authenticity.
A simple rhyme helps, like a mantra to make it easy through hard times.
Have reverence for the severance.
When you give yourself time to grieve in advance and afterward you can move forward, better able to have compassion for yourself and others.