Sooner or later, we all experience anticipatory grief—a feeling of loss before a death or dreaded event occurs. Unfortunately, many people do not realize they are going through this process, and think something is wrong with them. You may be experiencing anticipatory grief now. Nothing is wrong with you; it is a normal response to life events.
Anticipatory grief and I are well acquainted, too well acquainted. My mother had progressive dementia and I was her caregiver for nine years. Every day, I felt like she was dying right before my eyes. When my daughter (mother of my twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother, and twin’s father died in 2007, I had anticipatory grief again. “Who’s next?” I wondered. In 2013, when my husband’s aorta dissected, my anticipatory grief was so acute I started planning his memorial service.
Do you think you are going through anticipatory grief? You may be, if you have these symptoms.
- Your thoughts jump around from past, to present, to future.
- Every day is a day of uncompleted loss.
- You are constantly stressed because you don’t know when the end will come.
- Days are filled with suspense and f ear. Will this be the day my loved one dies?
- Anticipatory grief puts limits on your life.
- Fear is tempered with hope. You hope a miracle drug or surgical procedure will save your loved one.
- You are constantly waiting for the endpoint.
I write articles about anticipatory grief, give talks about it, and co-authored a book about it with Dr. Lois Krahn, a Mayo Clinic psychiatrist. Before she collaborated on the book Dr. Krahn said she wasn’t too aware of anticipatory grief. “Now I realize it walks into my office every day,” she noted. One of my goals as a health and wellness writer is to increase awareness of AG. Why should you know about it?
Identifying AG can ease your worries. Some of the people I’ve talked with told me they thought they were going crazy when they experienced AG symptoms. Acute stress prevented them from identifying the symptoms, which prolonged their grief and made it worse.
Knowing the symptoms is the first self-care step. Figure out how many symptoms you are experiencing and gauge their intensity. If your symptoms are acute you may want to seek help. Contact a physician, grief counselor, or support group leader.
Awareness of AG may help you prepare for post-death grief. Anticipatory grief can be an emotional rehearsal for what is to come. You may discover which emotions are the hardest for you. The awareness of anticipatory grief may help you find new ways of coping.
Anticipatory grief has made me more aware of the miracle of life. I am grateful for this miracle and try to live each day to the fullest. Developing an awareness of anticipatory grief has made me a more empathetic person. It may do the same for you. Hard as life may be right now, make the most of this day, for it will not come again.