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Understanding and Overcoming Anticipatory Grief

2023-08-04 | 4 Mins Read

Understanding and Overcoming Anticipatory Grief

It is only human for us to miss and grieve our loved ones once they have passed away. However, in some cases, we find ourselves grieving deeply even when our loved ones are still alive. This usually happens when we find out that they have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and have a limited amount of time to live.

The constant and definitive thought of them leaving us is as painful as them having actually left us. Simply put, the grief we feel as we anticipate our loved one’s imminent demise is known as ‘anticipatory grief’.

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So many people go through this without ever recognising it or fully understanding it. If you, or someone you know, are going through this then below are a few ways that can help you deal with your pain–

1. Acceptance — As hard as it is, accepting what is going to happen and what you’re feeling is the most powerful way to transcend your situation. When we’re too busy fighting fate or our emotions, we push ourselves into a loop of denial and suppression. Initially, this may seem like the easier way to cope but in the long run, it only postpones our process of grieving and often makes the loss hit harder. Accepting your grief or sadness will not make it go away but will make it more bearable and allow you to not get paralysed by it.

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2. Taking One Day at a Time — Our anticipatory grief gets magnified and starts to overwhelm us when we’re constantly thinking about the future and the day our loved one will leave us. The strongest antidote to this is to take each day at a time and live in the present. This will help you focus more on your loved one and their current needs rather than what awaits them.

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3. Practising Gratitude — The imminent demise of a loved one usually fills us with so much anger that gratitude is the last thing on our minds. It may even seem impossible to be grateful when you’re constantly thinking about how unfair God or the Universe is. However, if you begin to recognise that not everyone even gets the opportunity to say a proper goodbye to their loved ones, then you do start to value the time you have left together.

Additionally, if you write down all the memories with your loved one for which you are grateful then you sometimes come to celebrate what a full life you’ve lived together and it makes letting go a little easier.

4. Making Most of Your Time Together — As painful as your situation is, the silver lining is that your loved one is still with you. Don’t let your thoughts about something that you can’t control ruin something that you can. Make the most of your time together so that you have no regrets once the inevitable happens. Say everything you’ve ever wanted to tell them and make beautiful memories together so that you can deeply cherish them even while you’re grieving.

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5. Planning — Not everyone is able to let go of the future so easily and that is completely alright. If, in spite of trying everything else, you still find yourself fixating about the future then do so constructively. When our loved ones leave us suddenly, we can only speculate about what they would have wanted after their demise. Your loved one is still with you so you can divert your entire focus on planning their legacy according to them. Furthermore, planning tangible things like assets or charity will help you feel some sense of control in an otherwise helpless situation.

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