I still remember him. We were not from the same university, but we were friends. Because both of us loved discussing philosophy. Sometimes, he preferred writing long letters to me and used to post them at my address.
His personal life became full of complications because of strained relations with his father, who wanted him to run his home business, which my friend refused. It ended in a trace of bitterness with his father, who disavowed him one day. It caused severe depression in his life, which continued for a year.
One day, I came to know that he was in a hospital, struggling for his life. No one reached from his home. Doctors told me he attempted suicide by taking a massive dose of pills. They tried to save him, though there were minimal chances. His blood circulation system had entirely gone in the grip of that dose he took. Three days, I waited anxiously in the corridors of the hospital, preparing myself for the bad news reaching me anytime. An inevitable end, but it came.
We have all seen death, in our homes, in hospitals and in places where we did not want to see. We do not find sudden death as piercing as the one approaching from behind because it involves waiting.
We hate waiting for death, especially for our loved ones.
Waiting draws such a dynamic emotional graph, the peak of which may occur in an indefinite time.
How painful it is to wait in a hospital’s lobby for days and seeing grim faces of the doctors all the time.
Sometimes doctors look like a messenger of death when you interact with them. They are the only people who reach you from that side of the invisible wall where every breath is being measured, and you may not pass over certain boundaries.
Even when we know that we are all going to die someday, waiting period for an inevitable death is a strange time.
We Grieve in Anticipation
Psychologists recognize that grief can be anticipatory. According to them, it is a normal mourning process when someone is awaiting death. It includes everything like personal, emotional and intellectual engagement to the imminent death and socio-cultural aspects attached to it.
It takes shape in your mind when doctors pronounce a terminal condition of a person you care. As you reach to the conclusion that you have no control over this impending loss, the grief seeps in. We recognize death on the horizon, and the fear and sadness of losing our loved one take us in its grip.
First, anticipatory grief hits us silently. We hallucinate our beloved’s deaths before their actual deaths. Our minds do not contemplate how to process it wholly. We start negotiations with facts and fears at an emotional level long before the end arrives.
According to doctors, symptoms of anticipatory grief are roughly the same as post-death grief. It includes depression, sadness, powerlessness, hopelessness, anger and loneliness when these emotions happen all at once and exhaust the person.
Anticipatory grief can again cause anxiety. We sometimes grieve the loss of a loved one’s abilities, his or her loss of cognition and hope, their future dreams. We also grieve loss of security, loss of identity and our own sharing with them, and many other things we could never recover.
Our grief is not just about accepting the death which is coming, but of parallel losses already taking place as an illness progresses.
What to Do and How to Grieve in Anticipation
Don’t Feel Guilt–There is no guilt in thinking about the imminent death of the parent or a person you love and who is undergoing a terminal illness. It is a harsh reality, and you are not responsible for that. You continuously feel weary of the burden of waiting, which is fine and not unusual. Instead, be focused on the care of your loved one.
Acknowledge that You will Lose–Your parents are part of the grand life cycle of nature, and they have to leave in time. Accept that there will be a time soon when your parents will not be there with you. And this soon can be anytime. Understand that this acceptance is of the loss of the person you already knew and the future you imagined with them. Simultaneously, this is the acceptance of death, the natural event.
Management of Grief is not Desirable–Accept this. Some outside factors can’t manage it. It is you who can process it. Your grief is unique. The nature of every loss has different meanings and values. It cannot have the same outcome as others: everyone experiences and process grief in their way. Your positioning towards grief is too different. So, please do not ask for instant comfort. Soak it in and process gradually.
Prepare in Advance–Once you know the terminal illness, you have got a limited time. Now is the time for preparation. This is two-fold, emotional and financial. Both aspects will be vital to you as you proceed. Next is spending time with the terminally ill person you love. If it is possible, you may discuss plans and wishes if he/she has any. Because only in the crisis, we open ourselves. This planning will again ensure that your loved ones’ wishes will be met.
No Negative or Heart-breaking Issues–Avoid all communications that open the possibility of spats like a family feud, old discords, money matters that break the harmony of the family.
Relief is not Abnormal–When someone dies, it creates a sense of comfort into the mind of near and dear ones of the person. When you fight with illness in continuity, it exhausts you physically and emotionally. When it reaches a dead end, it leaves a pang of guilt and relief both. Here, we need to remind ourselves consciously that the relief does not change the deep love we had for the person; Instead, it is a natural reaction to the monster, i.e. the illness.
Channelize Your Emotions–You can use your emotions towards that person in some creative way like writing a diary, painting or keeping a photo journal of the last days. This may be in the form of a daily memoir or a journal where you can pour all your feelings. These emotions wrapped will help you cope with the tormented present and will pave the way for your future.
Record–Yes, record memories if possible. Liking-disliking, favorite lines, events or anything that has value for you. It is so important because you will never be able to replicate the primary shared memory with your loved one. Encourage him or her to reminisce.
Anticipatory grief can prolong itself for months and sometimes years. It can exhaust anyone whoever is part of caregiving and support providing mechanisms because it is stressful. But there is no rigid rule getting over with it. It can unfold itself before and after the death of a loved one. Also, anticipatory grief can cause mild emotions following death, but psychologists term it normal.
We tend to imagine our futures with our beloved without any possibility of death. It hurts when one day death arrives silently, and dismantles all those foreseeable futures. They are irredeemable, but we have a choice to save a bit of the present, in grief.