Navigating Preemptive Grief: Preparing for the Death of a Loved One
We usually associate the grieving process with a loved one that has already passed away. Their absence leaves a hole in our lives we struggle to adjust to, as we certainly can’t fill it. Yet, there are times we can start to experience grief prior to death. If a loved one has transitioned to hospice care or has reached a clear end-of-life period, you may find yourself experiencing preemptive grief.
While this is not unusual, it can certainly be an emotionally turbulent and confusing time. After all, you’re experiencing certain feelings you associate with loss while your loved one is still with you. So, let’s take a look at some approaches you can take to navigating preemptive grief.
One of the most difficult aspects of preemptive or anticipatory grief is it can often feel isolating. People tend not to discuss this form of grief or the emotions involved because it seems socially unacceptable to do so. You might find that talking to your loved one or other members of your family about the sensations of loss you’re experiencing might upset them at such a delicate time. However, staying silent doesn’t tend to make the situation any better.
It’s important to recognize those around you are also navigating difficult emotions about the situation. Indeed, your loved one who is approaching death is likely to be experiencing symptoms of anticipatory grief of their own. By taking the time to keep communicating with one another, you can break the apparent taboos on the subject and share in one another’s emotions. Keep listening to one another’s thoughts and fears. Talk about your mutual needs and do what you can to meet these, even if it’s just to be present for each other at a difficult time.
It’s certainly important to be available to spend time with your loved one before they pass away. However, you should also be open to prioritizing your self-care needs. It can be easy to neglect some of your basic necessities like adequate nutrition or exercise. Self-care activities are not selfish at this time. Rather, performing routines to keep you psychologically, physically, and emotionally grounded can prevent you from burning out. You’ll also find it can make you more present and functional when caring for your loved one.
Your self-care during this grieving process could take various forms. You may need to create a quiet and calming space to meditate in. Many people choose to engage in journaling to express their feelings about the situation or to celebrate the life of a loved one. You might find getting out into nature or engaging in some gardening can help you deal with the difficulties of death by surrounding yourself with an abundance of life. The important thing is to give yourself permission to take this time regularly and attend to your needs.
Seek External Support
While it’s good to share feelings of preemptive grief with your family, it may not always be practical or preferable to do so. Indeed, there may be some emotions or thoughts you don’t feel comfortable discussing with someone connected to the situation. This is where engaging with external support systems can be a positive resource.
Grief counseling is a good tool here and is not restricted to those who have already lost a loved one. Sessions provide you with time dedicated entirely to exploring and expressing your feelings, thoughts, and fears. You’re also working with an experienced professional who can offer guidance and healing techniques.
Over the last couple of years, virtual therapy has become more accessible, reducing many barriers to quality mental health care. You can arrange to have appointments with a therapist or counselor over a video call, meaning you don’t have to travel and can talk about your feelings in a space you feel most comfortable. From a preemptive grief perspective, it also means you can schedule sessions more conveniently around visits with your dying loved one and attending to any practical matters. Most importantly, it ensures you’re getting the professional help you need at this difficult time.
Plan the Practical Elements
A lot of people find one of the issues with grief is that they feel a lack of control over the situation. One approach to navigating this is to focus on the practical elements you can affect. For instance, if spending time with your loved one means you have to spend a long period away from home, you can be methodical in making sure your home is secure before you leave. Make a checklist to ensure all windows and doors are locked and that your mail has been redirected. Unplugging electrical items and turning off the water supply can also prevent damage in your absence. This is not only a good tool to maintain control, but it can also reduce any potential stress while you’re attending to your loved one.
Perhaps the most important way you can make a practical impact is by helping your loved one plan for their last days and the funeral. This needn’t be a morbid issue. Indeed, talking with your loved one about these matters can help relieve a significant amount of worry they have during this time. Indeed, they can gain a little emotional peace by knowing that their affairs are in order and all they need to do is focus on a positive and peaceful end of life surrounded by family.
Grief is rarely an easy process, particularly when it occurs preemptively. It’s important not to keep your emotions bottled up, but keep communicating with your friends and family about one another’s feelings and needs. Remember that practical matters can be a good focus for your energy at this time. Whatever tools you use to navigate this period, give yourself permission to go through the grieving process in a way that is most positive and healing for you.
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