Grief is a fickle thing. It hardly ever manifests in exactly the same way. It often ebbs and flows with a confusing mix of emotions from crippling sadness to raging anger. There is also no universal way of coping with grief, though there is a lot of good advice. Don’t bottle it up. Lean on your support system. It’s okay not to be okay. We’ve all either received this advice or given it before after the loss of a loved one, but what to do when the grief already starts before the death occurs?
Grief before death
There are times when we know that death is coming. Old age catches up with our parents or grandparents or a loved one might be diagnosed with a terminal illness. Whatever the reason, we have to face that our reality is going to change permanently and that person will no longer be a part of it. There is little we can do and often our loved one relies on us for support or to take care of them.
This knowledge of impending death and the added responsibility places a unique type of stress on an individual that is often also accompanied by anger and immense sadness – it sounds a lot like grief, doesn’t it? It is grief in anticipation of the loss you will experience. There is anger at being forced to accept the coming change, a sense of helplessness because you cannot change it, and sadness at seeing your loved one change and possibly suffer. When that loss comes, it can be accompanied by an unusual relief that you might feel guilty about. The thing is that this type of grief is far less understood and often more difficult to articulate and deal with. On the one hand, the individual you are mourning is still there; you can still see them, but on the other hand, you know very well that time with them is limited and that they will be gone soon.
It really is okay not to be okay
It is never easy to accept that a loved one will pass away, and it is not for nought that the poets say: “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” When we are placed in such a situation, we are forced to face extreme emotions and how we do that is different for everyone, but there are some very important things to remember.
- It’s normal
The grief and emotional turmoil we feel at the anticipation of a loved one’s death is completely normal and there shouldn’t be a need to have to justify or explain it. Unfortunately, we are also expected to continue as normal. We still have our normal work and family life that continues, and somehow we have to find a way to cope with our grief and normal life.
- Find your support
It is crucial to lean on your support system during this time. It can be a friend or a partner that understands what you are going through. If they don’t fully understand, at least they are a safe haven where you can freely feel the emotions you have. They will listen to you with care and love while you try to come to terms with what is happening. Seeking out grief counselling can also be very helpful as you deal with your anticipatory grief and the grief once the person has passed.
- Acknowledge it all
There are several things you need to acknowledge. First of all, it is important to acknowledge that the person is going to die. It seems obvious, but if you don’t consciously acknowledge it, you run the risk of living in denial until it happens and then struggling even more when the death occurs. Acknowledge that you are grieving. You cannot cope with an emotion you have not acknowledged. Journal, create art or practise mindfulness. You also need to acknowledge the fact that you do still have some time with your loved one. If it is possible, you can have the important conversations that you won’t be able to have in future. If not, you can create precious memories of time spent with them. You might find yourself ingraining the feel and look of your grandmother’s hands or something similar.
- Go through the motions
Feel the anger, sadness, and helplessness that is part of your anticipatory grief. Feeling these emotions and dealing with them is part of coming to terms with what is set to happen. If you feel some relief when the person passes, that is okay too. After months or years of anticipating this event, feeling relief when it happens is perfectly normal. You shouldn’t feel guilty about it.
Remember to keep looking after yourself and keep checking in with your support network. It’s crucial to be in touch with what you are feeling and why you are feeling it. Communicate it to the people helping you through it so they, and you, know what your mental and emotional state is. Then you can cope with it in a healthy way. Always remember that the Sonja Smith Funeral Group is available to chat day and night and can be contacted at 079 895 4414.