Pre-Grieving: A Terminally-Ill Loved One
Dealing with a loved one’s terminal illness can be overwhelming and exhausting. Many people experience a sense of pre-grieving, an emotion similar to but separate from bereavement, in the lead-up to a loved one’s death, which can be as difficult to process as grief itself. However, there are things you can do to ease your own and your loved one’s emotional pain. Here are a few simple things to remember in order to ensure you make the best of the limited time you have left.
Understand Anticipatory Grief
Grieving isn’t something that just happens after death. In many cases, when a person is diagnosed with a terminal illness, grieving begins much earlier for their loved ones. Anticipatory grief, or pre-grief, is the emotion you feel when you know a loved one is going to die soon.
This type of grief is about more than just loss. The death of a loved one can have much more tangible impacts, such as financial difficulties, complications with child-rearing, or simply the loss of shared dreams and ambitions. Anticipatory grief encompasses these more practical anxieties as well as the stresses of caretaking for an increasingly dependent person.
Don’t Feel Guilty
Many people experience feelings of guilt when pre-grieving. After all, your loved one is still there, and having to deal with arguably a scarier reality than yours. However, it is important to understand that anticipatory grieving can be genuinely useful.
According to Cancer.gov, sudden, unanticipated loss is more overwhelming and much harder to adapt to. Studies have shown that pre-grieving gives you the time to prepare for and process the loss, and to adjust your life accordingly.
Be Patient and Kind
The weeks or months leading up to someone’s passing can be a trying time for everyone involved. You may, despite your best intentions, find yourself frustrated with your loved one, who may be unresponsive or difficult to talk to. At all times, remind yourself to be exceptionally kind, patient, and sympathetic to their struggle.
As HomeAdvisor notes, “After all, that’s what it’s all about: caring for your loved one and treating him or her as you would want to be treated. As long as we show kindness and compassion to our loved ones throughout the process, they will be able to say goodbye with the dignity they deserve.”
Take Care Of Yourself
When dealing with any sort of grief or depression, it can be difficult to remember to take good care of oneself. When you compound that with the anxieties of pre-grieving someone who is still around, many people let themselves go.
However, it is important not to do this, both for your own sake and for everyone else’s. Try to remain physically healthy with adequate sleep, exercise, and a healthy diet. Consider counseling, or if you prefer, meditation and mindfulness; these can help you acknowledge and process your emotions in a healthy way.
Accept That You May Feel Relief
Most people could not imagine feeling relief after the passing of a loved one, and those who do feel it can feel extremely guilty. However, according to psychologist and family therapist Barry Jacobs, relief is normal, particularly if you are in the position of a caretaker.
Taking care of someone who is dying is a mentally exhausting task, one that involves putting most of your life on hold. Overwhelming feelings of helplessness, frustration, and sadness are normal; relief once it is over is a natural reaction to the end of a difficult time.
Honor Them After Their Passing
Ultimately, the only thing you can do after a loved one dies is to honor their memory. This applies to practical issues, like funeral and inheritance arrangements, but also to the way you choose to live the rest of your life. You may want to write down your memories of your loved one so you can pass them on, or you can find a connection with them through an activity they enjoyed. Remember and honor them, but also remember that they would have wanted you to live a happy and full life.
Losing a loved one is an incredibly difficult experience, but it can seem even harder when you have to see the death slowly approaching. When dealing with terminal illness, the most important thing is to accept and acknowledge your emotions while doing your best to make their remaining time on earth as comfortable as possible. Once they have passed, honor them by respecting their wishes, celebrating their life, and allowing yourself to heal.
***Written by Sara Bailey for Meridian Counseling
After losing her husband Greg, Sara Bailey created TheWidow.net to support her fellow widows and widowers. She is also the author of the upcoming book Hope and Help After Loss: A Guide For Newly Widowed Parents.