When we think of grief, we often conjure up an image of someone feeling deep sadness after the death of a loved one. We imagine the funeral, the wake, sitting shiva, spreading ashes, observing important anniversaries and so on. But for many people, grieving begins long before the death of a loved one. This process, called anticipatory grief , often coincides with terminal illness and aging, but can occur in any situation where loss is possible. So what is pretribulation? This blog will explore three main issues related to pre-tribulation. First, we’ll look at how it looks. Next, we’ll discuss how it can be beneficial. Finally, I’ll offer some tips on how to make the most of it when it comes up.
Prelude to loss: signs and symptoms of pre-grieving
On the surface, anticipatory grief looks a lot like any other form of grief. You may have physical symptoms such as exhaustion, tearfulness or physical illness. You may experience emotions such as anger, sadness or relief. Overall, it will probably be difficult to go about your daily life. There are also some issues specific to anticipatory grief that you may encounter depending on your situation.
First, caregivers face a unique challenge. In this condition, grief is often combined with the exhaustion of dealing with a loved one’s health concerns. Beyond the usual sadness and loneliness that often accompany bereavement, there is a concern for the well-being of the loved one. Also, there is often stress from the responsibilities of meeting their needs. Grieving the loss of a loved one’s ability to function (physically or cognitively), independence, or safety can be uniquely painful. You may also mourn the loss of your own independence and sense of identity. Caregiving brings both the task of accepting the death of a loved one while watching the gradual fading of life.
Also unique to anticipatory grief is heightened anxiety and alertness. Like an animal watching for a predator, the anticipation of a loved one’s death can lead to hypervigilance. You may feel preoccupied with the safety of your loved one or yourself. As a result, you may be more likely to panic before your loved one’s doctor’s appointment. Or you may find yourself watching closely for signs of improvement or deterioration.
Especially for prolonged illness, anticipatory grief can also include feelings of relief and guilt when death finally occurs. All of these feelings are a normal part of the grieving process. However, they can be uncomfortable and even annoying to experience.
Read more about the grieving process
Anticipating loss: the purpose of anticipatory grief
Pre-grieving can be quite uncomfortable. With this in mind, it’s easy to wonder how it can be helpful to those experiencing loss. One advantage of the anticipatory period of mourning is the opportunity to adjust to the impending loss and find closure. During this time, the dying and their caregivers can make plans for end-of-life decisions. You may also have the opportunity to deepen your relationship with your loved one. Sharing stories, seeking forgiveness and reconciliation for hurtful interactions, and finding ways to say goodbye can be incredibly important. For example, a former client of mine once talked to me about a long-standing tradition in their family. Loved ones would gather shortly before a family death to exchange gifts related to the dying family member. This exchange of gifts allowed the sharing of stories that deepened relationships with the dying family member and among the surviving family.
Some research suggests that pre-grieving can help us cope more easily with post-loss grief. In a way, it’s like rehearsing for a play. You are able to have exposure to a wide range of emotions and experiences that follow death while still being able to connect with your loved one. Although feelings after death can still be overwhelming, they can be more familiar since it is not the first time they have surfaced.
Preparing for loss: making the most of anticipatory grief
With anticipatory grief, the usual recommendations for grief management apply. This includes self-care and making space for grief to be expressed. Additionally, there are some things you can do if you are grieving the future loss of a loved one to make the transition easier for you and your loved one.
Learn more about your loved one’s condition
Whether impending death is the result of illness, injury, addiction, or something else, the lead-up period is a time to educate yourself about what to expect. Learning about what may be in store for you and your loved one can help you better manage the challenges that arise in end-of-life care.
Use sadness to motivate preparation
All emotions, including those associated with grief, are your body’s cue for action. With anticipatory grief, your body tells you to prepare for the loss by connecting with loved ones and planning. Take this time to work through unresolved issues between you and your loved one and, if they are well enough, make plans for end-of-life wishes.
Enjoy your time with your loved one
End-of-life preparation isn’t just about making amends and planning for the worst. It can also be a wonderful time for you to spend time with your loved one . A client of mine was watching old movies with her mother while they spent time together in the hospital. This allowed for much laughter and storytelling, and this remains one of her favorite memories of her care.
Seek support to balance your life
Even though caregiving is a stressful endeavor, it doesn’t mean you have to put everything on hold. Reach out to family and friends for help managing the logistics of caregiving. Allowing yourself to take breaks will make the grieving process more manageable. It will also leave you with more energy to care for your loved one in the long run.
Talk to someone
It can be helpful to talk to someone who understands. Fortunately, there are many support groups and professional resources for caregivers. Finding space to share your grief with someone who understands can be incredibly comforting during a time full of demands and frustrations.
As you navigate the impending loss of your loved one, you may experience a variety of emotions, all of which are normal and can help you grow. This period of adjustment provides an opportunity to connect with your loved one as you prepare for the end of your life, and help is available to process the uncertainty and emotional turmoil that accompanies this time in your life.