The stages of grief you may experience before the actual death is known as ‘anticipatory grief’. Anticipatory grief is what happens when you know there will be a loss, but it has not yet occurred. Those of us who have had a terminally ill loved one, know all too well how devastating anticipatory grief can be. It impacts every part of your life with no closure. The closure will be death.
You may grieve for a month, several months, a year, or more. The slow decline of a loved one is a heavy burden. It wears you down and the anticipatory grief gets harder with each passing day. You feel hopeless… helpless, even though you are doing everything possible to buy more good moments. All your efforts can feel so in vein as you constantly lose your grip.
I thought I was just going crazy when I would find myself so overcome with grief, even though Niko was still alive. It could make it difficult to enjoy and cherish the time we did have left, no matter how hard I tried to focus on the positive. A friend printed out an article for me that she found called Strength for Caring – A Place for Caregivers. It was human focused, but it translates. You can find the full article HERE.
Anticipatory grief is normal, but life is far from normal if you’re going through it. You may have bouts of crying, or be exhausted just from keeping yourself from crying. I personally, was not able to keep myself from crying. I had many wonderful moments with my sweet Niko, but I also cried so much knowing that we had very few left ahead of us. I slept very little, and I watched his every breath as he slept. I stroked his fur and wondered how he was feeling…. did he know the end was near?
Symptoms of anticipatory grief are quite similar to those of grief after loss, including denial, mood swings, forgetfulness, disorganized and confused behavior, anger, depression, feeling disconnected and alone. You may have health symptoms, too, such as weight loss or gain, sleep problems, nervous behavior, and general fatigue.
You may find few people understand that you are already suffering from the stages of grief. They don’t understand how you can feel this way when your loved one is still there with you. If you have not been a caregiver for an elderly or terminally ill loved one, you may not understand this type of grief at all. You may, in theory, ‘get it’ after learning more about it, but it is again one of those things you need to go through to fully grasp the magnitude.
Because Niko was an older boy, and I had done so much for him throughout his life to get him to this ripe old age in such good shape, I didn’t feel as much anger as someone with a younger terminally ill loved one might feel. I am thankful for that.
The worst part about anticipatory grief for me was worrying about the timing. I hated that I didn’t know when this horrible ride would end. On the flip side, you don’t want it to end, because that means death. That is another thing that you can only understand when you are walking this line. I learned that first hand. Death is not a ‘relief’ you are waiting for, despite how it may look to an outsider looking in. When Niko came out of remission, I knew we had very little time. My anticipatory grief shifted from complete anxiety to just sadness. While I still worried about making ‘the call’, I knew now it was close.
Some people will say not to cry in front of your dog. Stay positive and happy around them, because they will sense when you are upset. That’s just it though, you cannot hide your true feelings from you dog. They know you like no one else, and put on a smile all you want, it won’t fool them.
I cried every day in front of Niko. It was a release, and it never seemed to upset him. I felt better after wards, and we could enjoy our time. We had nice walks together and nice grooming sessions. He seemed at ease. That is what mattered to me. We had no secrets.
A friend from the LymphomaHeartDogAngels group, wrote a wonderful post about her journey through anticipatory grief, and on feelings after ‘the end’. It’s full of raw emotion, and some things that not everyone openly discusses. I related to much of this post, and my hope is that others will too. Relating to other people’s feelings always helped me feel less alone. Check out the post here: Of Grief and Relief – When the End of the End Doesn’t End
Some good articles on Anticipatory Grief:
WHAT IS ANTICIPATORY GRIEF? (Link from above, in case you missed it)