Anticipatory Grief: The In Between

Check out this post by Emily Threatt author of Loving and Living Through Grief

Everything seems to be up in the air. Each morning when I wake up, I question what will happen now.  Questions fill my thoughts about all the people getting sick and maybe dying in the pandemic, people demonstrating because of people dying at the hands of the law enforcement who is supposed to protect us, and people dying who do not have access to adequate medical care because of the pandemic. And on top of that, the people I know who are dying right now are because of cancer. In all these instances, we as a culture right now are dealing with Anticipatory Grief. What does that mean, and what can we do?

Anticipatory grief comes before a death or a great loss. When you discover that someone you love has been given a terminal diagnosis, that anticipatory grief starts right then. Anticipatory grief can also occur when you just think of something that may happen. My dear Black friend who has four sons has bouts of anticipatory grief when she just hears about George Floyd or Elijah McClain or Rayshard Brooks, or way too many more Black men killed by police. Or it may happen when you look in your elderly mother’s eyes and you wonder how much longer she will be with you.

When you deal with anticipatory grief, you are likely to have a constantly shifting range of feelings which keep you off balance so that you never quite know what is actually happening. Before Ron died, he lost 37 pounds in one week and became very weak, yet when I looked at him, I saw the handsome strong man I had always loved.  I was shocked later when I saw a picture of him taken at that time which showed a weak, emaciated man, not my Ron. We tend to see what our hearts want to see. I dealt with my anticipatory grief by staying so busy with his care that I didn’t allow myself to think that soon I would no longer have those tasks to keep me busy. I vacillated between holding on and letting go.

One thing that is certain is that more grief will enter your life. The experience you are having now may help you prepare for it, or it may have the opposite effect of terrifying you at the thought of having that experience again. Recognizing when grief may be coming can allow you to start deal with it before the situation is acute. The most important two things to deal with at this time are spending the best quality time possible with your loved one and take the best possible care of you.

Ron and I did very well by always focusing on the present moment. We would talk or meditate or just sit together.  He was given a book for his birthday a month before he died. He really wanted to read it, but his eyes just didn’t work very well, so I read the whole book to him. That time together was so precious. Take time to say everything you want to say, ask everything you want to know, forgive anything that is left hanging, and be sure you know your loved one’s wishes about everything important.

Take very good care of your physical and emotional health. Seek out others in similar situations and hear their stories. Often, we think we are the only one to experience something like this and that no one understands how we feel, yet that’s not the truth. Your experience is unique to you, but there are lots of people out there with similar experiences you can learn from. Join Facebook Groups or Death Cafes or support groups. Read good books or blogs. Be sure to bathe. I remember one time Ron insisted that I take a shower. I was shocked at the moment, then realized that I really did need to. That I needed to pay attention to me. I also would forget to eat, and I had two bad falls that slowed me down because I was just moving too fast. Take a deep, hard look at yourself and discover what is most important to you and focus on that.

You also can help others whom you see entering this territory. Just letting someone know that they have your support and that you are looking out for them can give them so much comfort.

Together we form a family of love, care, and support for each other. In these shifting times, let us focus together on how we ca help more, give more, learn more, and love more. I love you, my friend.