Many think about grief as something that happens after a death – but grief often arrives with a variety of losses or impending loss, especially when one is diagnosed with a life-limiting illness. At first, there may be shock or fear. There may even be a curious calmness with the news. But, once one begins to fully understand that the end of life is near, it is natural to begin grieving. This grieving reaction is called anticipatory grief. Although different than the grief after the death of a loved one, anticipatory grief carries many of the same symptoms such as depression, anger, regret, guilt, even forgetfulness and fatigue.
It is important to accept this anticipatory grief response as normal and allow the feelings and expressions of loss and grief without judgment. Although anticipatory grief is common with caregivers, it is also common with the person who has been diagnosed with the life-limiting illness – and there is support for both including support groups and counseling services. Most important is to prioritize what things need to be done and what needs to be let go – in other words, say what is needed to be said, do what is needed to be done and make as many moments count with loved ones.
Remember, just like the grieving process, anticipatory grief is an individual process and it is a natural part of adjustment to living with loss.
If you or someone you know is living with a life-limiting illness, please know there are resources available. Ask your doctor about hospice care or palliative care services, or call The Elizabeth Hospice toll-free at 800-797-2050 or visit the website at www.elizabethhospice.org for more information.
By Donna-Marie Terranova, Staff Counselor
Center for Compassionate Care of The Elizabeth Hospice