Life Changes

Dealing with anticipatory grief

Many people experience anticipatory grief, yet may not be aware there is an actual name for these uncomfortable, often quite complicated, times in life.

Today’s column is meant to validate and support those experiencing an anticipated loss. This also includes those who have actually been experiencing it for a lifetime, due to an early childhood loss — without clearly knowing or acknowledging its impact on their life choices.

What is anticipatory grief? It is the type of grief that people may experience, who are facing the eventual death of a loved one, themselves, or an unwelcome transition through loss. It can often trigger memories of grief from the past.

Anticipatory grief can become more consuming than many scenarios we might typically “worry” about. While both include the feelings of concern and anticipation, grief includes varying levels of emotions revolving around certainty of loss — and the uncertainty of what might take place afterwards.

This type of grief impacts individuals, couples, family, friends and communities. Children are often overlooked, as part of the population of those grieving, by assumptions of resilience — or underestimation of an impact to a child. Unresolved grief can effect a person for a lifetime.

Many of us can relate to anticipatory grief when a loved one transitions to have increased dementia, an escalating health problem or a diagnosis of hospice. Whether you are the person with the diagnosis, or a loved one, there can be fear and despair.

One prominent researcher, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, identified 5 stages of grief as: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. While her research is helpful in “naming” emotions, admittedly, it is not a path that most will experience chronologically.

Instead, it may feel as if there is no safe place to find solace. Although it may seem beyond one’s capacity right now, my prayer is that each person, in their own time, will find their answers — and their new normal.

What impact might anticipatory grief include?

Here are some results of various studies I researched: sadness and tearfulness; fear; irritability and anger; loneliness; a desire to talk; anxiety; guilt; panic; lack of security; isolation; regression; confusing roles: physical problems; depression; feelings of loss; regrets; expanding compassion; resentment; loss of sleep; inability to self-soothe; and overwhelming preoccupation or concern.

Anticipatory grief can be experienced in any number of life scenarios.

For those facing the loss of a beloved pet — I recognize you are losing a family member. He or she has been your constant, loving companion.

Parents becoming empty nesters, with children moving away, often experience feelings of grief in their transition. Your children may be experiencing it as well.

Medical professionals, first responders and military personnel are not excluded from the impact of this type of grief. Because someone works in a chosen profession, does not mean human emotions are compartmentalized.

Yet no matter how much one anticipates, or practices in their mind what they will do after loss, unfortunately, it does not guarantee any lessening of later grief. So with all compassion extended, what might we do to help ourselves now?

One starting point is to talk with your primary care medical professional. Grieving can impact your health, vitality and outlook on life. It’s an important conversation to share.

It can be extremely frustrating if family members or trusted friends might not be emotionally available for this conversation. Respectfully, everyone will have a different reaction; maybe even surprising to them. But you do not have to experience this alone.

Offer yourself compassion to seek out guidance from a place of worship, a counselor, a friend or other resources focused on transitions and healing. Inner transition and peace can come in multiple ways, yet with no clear timeline.

The importance of your self-care is critical.

I wish I could offer the perfect questions to consider, or answers to certainty; yet everyone is different. I do believe that talking can help. And there are many more reasons for anticipatory grief, than I had room to write about in this column. The important thing is if this resonates with you.

I can offer one specific opportunity. There is a group titled “Navigating Life Changes” that meets every third Tuesday of the month, from 5:30-7:30 p.m., at the Akasha Center for Holistic Medicine.

I coordinate this group with different workshop presenters throughout the year, offering tools for self-care. The group is focused on those dealing with trauma or loss (past, present or anticipated). Our next meeting is Oct. 16. If you are interested in attending, please contact me directly to register for this free program. My email is langley.1188@comcast.net.

My heart is with you, as I understand the complexities of anticipatory grief. Create and hold some sacred space specifically for your personal needs. I wish you comfort and compassion from unexpected places — today and throughout all your times of transition.

Langley is the author of “Life Changes … “ Her column is published the first Sunday of every other month in the Lifestyle section.

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