Anticipatory grief about the end of a loved one’s life can be an overwhelming experience. So many complex emotions. Such a sense of powerlessness. Subconsciously, the family and friends of the dying person will seek order and predictability at a time when there just isn’t any.

Anticipatory grief often leads to decisions made or words spoken that inadvertently cause hurt feelings, misunderstandings, and conflict. Anticipatory grief is different for everyone, just as everyone’s relationship with a person dying is unique.

Try to connect to compassion over judgment during times of anticipatory grief, to create space for each person to have time, ritual, acceptance as they prepare to say goodbye. Family dynamics can be challenging on a good day. Everyone has their own way of processing their anticipatory grief. There is not one way, one need, one experience.

Some need to be present, to sit vigil, to recall memories, to make amends, to say their goodbyes. They experience this time as gifted time. Others wish to remember their loved one as they were prior to end of life and choose not to be present at bedside. There is no right or wrong way. Love is love. How you love, how you choose to be or not be during end of life, is personal and not a reflection on your relationship or the love you feel. Communicate your needs, your perspective, in a proactive, non-judging, and direct manner in order to avoid misunderstanding. Accept that your way may not be the way of others.

If you find yourself overwhelmed and stuck in judgment, guilt or, conflict: Do not engage. Instead, take a break:

● Go outside

● Go for a drive

● Take a shower

● Journal

● Call a supportive friend

● Go for a walk or run

● Meditate, repeat a calming prayer or mantra

● Listen to music

● Breathe in calm, acceptance, love, comfort. Breathe our hurt, anger, disappointment, judgement

● Seek counsel

Think beyond the moment you are in. Do not react, engage or make what could be a permanent decision about a temporary feeling. When the fog of deep grief begins to let up, when a new normal without your loved one becomes familiar, you may long for the relationship that was so fragile during anticipatory grief.

Remember, compassion over judgment. Self care. Honoring your loved one by remembering them well.

Jennifer Stern

Jennifer Stern, LISW, graduated from the SSA Master of Arts program at the University of Chicago and has worked as part of private practice for over a decade. Her areas of focus include working with individuals and families on grief, loss, bereavement, and difficult life transitions resulting from illness, marital conflict, divorce, and other complicated, fractured relationships. Her focus as a cognitive behavioral therapist is to empower individuals to take meaningful and purposeful action to create desired change in their lives. She teaches clients about the power of choice, wise minded thinking, and productive communication strategies as stepping stones to healing and transformation.

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