Acute Anticipatory Grief: What a Surprise!

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Anticipatory grief isn’t new to me. I’ve studied it for years, written articles about it, and co-authored a book about it. That’s why I was surprised when I burst into tears sparked by anticipatory grief. The attack, if it can be called that, happened just before surgery.

For three months I experienced odd symptoms. Because I’m my disabled husband’s caregiver, I paid no attention to the symptoms until they couldn’t be ignored. Fortunately, I was able to get an appointment with my doctor and undergo tests. The question: Did I have uterine cancer? The question alone was enough to cause anticipatory grief, only this time it was for myself.

A surgical appointment was made for me. Things were getting serious and became more serious. My husband had just been dismissed from the hospital after treatment for pneumonia and pleurisy. The first day home he did fine. The second day home he was so weak he slid to the floor. I felt anticipatory grief for him. Where would he stay while I was in the hospital? My husband’s primary care physician was helpful and, with help from a social worker, my husband was given a room at a rehabilitation center. He would go there four days before my surgery.

The night before surgery, as were about to eat dinner, I turned to my husband and began, “Neither of us knows how long we will live. All we can do is cherish each other and savor every day. Although we will die alone, we won’t be alone, and will be surrounded by each other’s love.” I hugged my wheelchair-bound husband and sobbed. He hugged me back and sobbed to. So this is what acute anticipatory grief feels like, I thought to myself. Damn, it’s powerful. But we were glad we experienced anticipatory grief because it brought us even closer together.

As I was wheeled into surgery I felt my husband’s love. The surgery took more than four hours and I spent four hours in the recovery room. When I awakened I saw smiling family members and they were giving me “thumbs up.” It turned out I had stage one uterine cancer, had surgery for it, and needed no additional treatment.  Anticipatory grief–a feeling of loss before a death or dreaded event happens–is extremely painful. Yet this form of grief can be beneficial. The anticipatory grief I felt before surgery taught me, again, about the preciousness of love and life.

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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