Sunday 25 April 2021

Nerd Church - Anticipatory Grief: Mourning Before Death

(Warning: this post discusses Coronavirus/ Covid 19, grief, mourning, bereavement, death, dying, and last illnesses)

People don’t talk about anticipatory grief.

Which means either they’ve never been through it, or they’re too mixed-up with the shame and the hurt to talk about it.

Which sucks. Because this is hard enough as it is, without pretending that it isn’t happening.

'Anticipatory Grief: Mourning Before Death' with flowers in the background

Disclaimer time:

I am not a counsellor, therapist, or other mental health, or medical, professional.

I am a chick with a blog who has been through some sh**.

If you need help, please seek it in the appropriate places. You're amazing, and you matter.

When someone you love is ill – like, the kind of ill where you don’t expect them to get better – it’s hard. It’s really hard.

And one of the things that’s hard about it is that you start grieving while the person is still with us. Maybe even planning things – running through funeral details in your head.

And that makes you feel like a worm.

Because the way your brain goes to the after makes you feel disloyal af, as if you’re somehow bringing about the end just by thinking about it, like you’ve given up on this person and therefore are a sh**ty human being. (You aren’t.)

Or worse, that you actually want them to go. (You don’t.)

It’s actually a really natural thing to feel – it’s a coping mechanism that your brain uses to try to process your situation, and potentially lessen the blow when the person does pass away.

And through it all, you’re still hoping that the person will be OK. Somehow, in some way. And maybe they will. Stranger things have happened and continue to happen every day.

Anticipatory grief does not mean that you’ve stopped hoping that everything will turn out OK. And you all know that I’m a big fan of hope.

But this kind of hope has a scorpion-ish sting to it that is unique to the situation; this kind of hope has an inherent expectation that it won’t be fulfilled. And that hurts.

I’ve been through anticipatory grief a lot. Sometimes the person has died. Sometimes they’ve pulled through.

None of it is easy – if they die you get the ‘normal’ grief (if grief can ever be called normal,) which is goddamn hard; and if they don’t then you end up with the whiplash of the emotional roller-coaster you’ve just been through, and are possibly still on.

Since the beginning of the year, anticipatory grief has become a part of my day-to-day life.

The affect of Covid has seriously and possibly irreparably damaged my Nan’s health, and pushed her further along the path of progression of Parkinson’s disease, which is degenerative.

At the beginning of the year the threat of losing her was more imminent – sharper. And the highs and lows of her health came in quick-fire succession.

Now she’s in less immediate threat, but the anticipatory grief remains – albeit less urgent. Because she’s still fading in front of us, just at a (hopefully – God, hopefully,) slower pace.

Like I said, this is not the first time I’ve been through this.

My Grampa’s last illness was not so much an actual illness, more of a dying in slow-motion. Every day he was a little less here, until he wasn’t here at all.

(...And even now I’m tearing up, thinking of crying alone by his bedside while he was in his increasingly deep slumber, not really aware that I was there and my heart was breaking.)

The anticipatory grief for my other Nan was all-consuming.

As a family, we were mourning her before she left us, because she slipped into a comatose state, and we were told that even if she came back from wherever it was she had gone, she would likely never be the same again.

There’s something uniquely surreal about knowing you have lost a person that’s still physically here.

And the guilt and the dreadful anticipation is truly awful. You don’t know how to begin to mourn – but you are anyway.

She died four days after my Gramps, her husband, died suddenly. He’d been ill, but he was stable and recovering, so we weren’t expecting it.

The days between his death on Christmas Eve and hers four days later were some of the worst of my life.

Why am I talking about this?

Aside from the fact that I’m still dealing with anticipatory grief trying to deal with it, day by day, without letting it consume me – I’m aware that the last year or so has been difficult, and continues to be difficult, for so many people.

So I want you to know it’s OK. 

It's natural. You're not a bad person.

It's OK to struggle. It's OK to feel things which you 'shouldn't.' It's OK to not be OK.

Grief feels how grief feels – it has never cared about ‘should,’ there is a reason why grief is described as a wave, as an outpouring, as a flood.

Grief is the flowing of a river – a force of nature. 

It can be calm or rough, low or high. 

But you can’t stop it.

Anticipatory grief?

It doesn’t always feel the same way grief feels, but its nature is the same.

It is a river, running through your heart. 

You have to let it run its course.

Have you been through this?
Had you heard of anticipatory grief before?
Talk to me! 💖💬

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  1. I've definitely been through this when my grandmother died of cancer. She was still physically alive but she was in end of life care and I just remember feeling grief before she died. I was worrying all the time. When she finally passed of course I was still sad, but I also felt relief knowing that she wasn't in pain anymore.

    1. *Hugs* it's hard af.

      And relief is v. much apart of the whole anticipatory grief thing - human brains aren't fans of uncertainty, on the whole, and of course we also don't want our loved ones to be in pain. That's the consolation with my grandparents - they all went peacefully, more or less in their sleep.


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