Anticipatory grief—a feeling of loss before a death or dreaded event—is a powerful mix of emotions. It is also a unique form of grief. Perhaps the most unusual aspect is sorrow mixed with hope. While you are grieving, you hope the doctor misdiagnosed your loved one’s illness or a miracle drug will suddenly appear.
Hope is your lifeline, but for now, all you can do is wait.
The waiting is hard and just keeps getting harder. Anticipatory grief follows you like a black storm cloud. If you feel this badly now, how will you feel after your loved one has died? Your thoughts jump around from past, to present, to future, and back again. You may think you are going crazy.
Finding a moment of peace is impossible. The longer anticipatory grief lasts, the more vulnerable you become, and nobody wants to feel vulnerable. Not you. Not me. Vulnerability is the pits.
I know these things because I have experienced them before and am experiencing them now. Though I am holding myself together, my anticipatory grief is so acute I started planning my husband’s memorial service. To my surprise and shock, I also started planning for life as a widow. Am I a cold, unfeeling person? No, I am a practical person, one of God’s realists.
Grief expert Therese A. Rando, in her book How to Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies, describes anticipatory grief as a “golden opportunity.” Really? When I read these two words I was startled. But Rando goes on to explain that anticipatory grief gives you chances to do things to help your loved one and yourself. For some, it is a chance to make wrong things right.
I am a bereaved mother, daughter, sister, daughter-in-law, niece, friend, and pet owner. Anticipatory grief has taught me that each moment of life is sacred. My husband and I talk about things we haven’t talked about before—paying taxes without his help, continuing to care for family, and how our love keeps growing.
“I love you more today than yesterday,” I keep telling him.
“I love you to eternity,” he replies.
Being realistic has activated my coping skills. My previous experience with grief has given me a wellspring of strength I can tap again and again. I love to write and will continue to write when I am a widow. Maybe I will write more books about grief healing and hope. I have a new hobby, doodle art, a mixture of doodles, cartoons, and folk art, and will keep doing it.
James E. Miller writes about a future without a loved one in his book, One You Love is Dying. Caring for someone who is dying is one of the most stressful tasks of life, according to Miller. “Go easy on yourself,” he advises. Miller thinks people who are experiencing anticipatory grief need to pace themselves and adjust their expectations. “It’s hard but you can do it,” he says. “You really can.”
And we will. Love will be our strength and guide us forward to a new life.