Grief May Start Long Before the Actual Loss
You may assume the debilitating sorrow of loss can’t set in until your loved one actually dies, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Especially when someone you love has been in hospice in Santa Clara and elsewhere for a while, grief can set in long before their passing. This is because you’re mourning their loss in small, agonizing ways prior to their death. You’re mourning their loss of independence, perhaps their inability to remember who you are, the way they use to protect YOU and not the other way around, the loss of routine and of comfort. Bereavement services can help you through it.
You may be going through this for so long, that once they actually pass on, you find yourself somewhat relieved. You may have watched them suffer so much and for so long that their passing is almost a blessing. Your grief may have started a long time ago, and no, it won’t magically disappear after the actual loss, but it’s important to know you have indeed been mourning all along: you just didn’t realize it till now.
It’s Called Anticipatory Grief
When you start going through the grieving process before your loved one even passes, this is called anticipatory grief. Essentially, it’s a type of grief that takes place before death, in contrast with the process of grieving after their death, which is called conventional grief, points out Very Well Health. Dreading the impending death of a spouse, partner, child, or parent is often associated with fear of losing a beloved companion. It can also be associated with fear of impending changing roles in the family, financial changes, and social changes.
Grieving prior to death often involves many emotions, from anger to loss of control — even atypical grief responses. They can all be experienced at the same time, in that “in-between place” where you may yourself mourning the loss of a person who is still technically with you. In this instance, it’s even more difficult to keep up a strong and happy facade because you’re striving to strike a balance between letting go and desperately clinging to hope.
The key is to embrace these feelings and find an outlet for them. Have coffee with a close friend and just let it out. Attend a support group and discuss your feelings with others who are in the same boat. Express your pain and let yourself grieve, even if it’s before your loved one’s passing. One thing to keep in mind: when you let go, this doesn’t mean you’re quitting on your loved one or have stopped loving them. At this in-between stage, you will begin to open up a safe place in your heart where you can hold and cherish memories that will never die.
Caregivers especially are often placed in an uncomfortable situation where they feel they have to make changes in their circumstances or in the circumstances of their aging parent or other loved one, including how to afford the care, where to live, and how to maintain positive relationships; this stress can all be compounded when coupled with the fear of the unknown, says the Family Caregiver Alliance.
Facing multiple losses, even with one being an impending loss, makes us feel very overwhelmed. It’s no wonder our powerful defense mechanism of avoidance kicks in at this time. This is your body’s natural way to cope in the short term: avoiding feelings, being in denial, and experiencing a shock. When your body becomes overloaded with multiple losses or impending loss, for instance, this avoidance method allows you to maintain your daily tasks and activities. When loss gets to be cumulative, and we have other family members such as children who are depending on us to care for them, you are forced to start facing the reality of the loss, according to What’s Your Grief.
- Carve Out Time for Yourself: Even if it’s just for a couple of minutes at a time, take time for you. Go for a walk, plant some flowers, take a yoga class, read a book, or ring a friend. You have to keep resting, eating well, exercising, and maintaining social contact with others.
- Pace Yourself: Baby steps! Prioritize caregiving duties, focusing on daily tasks while setting realistic goals and breaking large tasks into smaller bits.
- Reach out for Help: Depression can set in when you withdraw into yourself and don’t ask for help. Muster the courage to ask for help from support groups, family members, neighbors, and friends. It’s also wise to hire in-home caregivers to help with your loved one.
- Sit in on a Support Group: You may feel weird attending a support group when your loved one hasn’t passed yet, but you will soon see you are not alone. Consider it a safe place where you can share feelings, lean on others for emotional and moral support, and speak with others who share your frustrations.