Anticipatory grief is not a way to complete your grief prior to the death of the individual. Rather, it is a response to losses of both the person who is ill as well as caregivers and others who are close to him or her. Each experiences anticipatory grief from their own unique frame of reference.
Many times when we think of a loss we think about the death of a person, but there are many other losses. These include tangible losses such as physical limitations and intangible losses such as the loss of hopes, dreams, dignity, motivation and many others. With life limiting and chronic illnesses, both the patient and the caregiver experience anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief not only includes future losses but also past and present losses.
Here are some considerations for managing anticipatory grief:
Adapting to the new and ever changing environment can be very difficult for many individuals depending on their expectations and cognitive abilities. Understanding the loss and finding ways to adapt can bring meaning and fulfillment back into the griever’s life. For example, a person with memory loss may no longer be able to drive to the store, but he still can shop independently once at the store. It is important to focus on the remaining strengths or the capabilities.
Communication between individuals can be difficult even when things are good. Many things impact effective communication such as individual characteristics, family systems, style and cultural norms. Learning how to communicate feelings is very important. It is through communication that we can learn what is meaningful for an individual and why they are responding in a certain way. It is important to communicate without hurting those you care about.
Other ways of managing anticipatory grief are through legacy and reflection techniques. Remembering and telling old stories, old pictures and music can often touch the person who is ill. Long term memories, significant events and feelings of significance can be triggered. Good memories can be fuel for conversation, and stories can be passed on from generation to generation, keeping the spirit of the person alive for future generations. In addition, reminiscence can provide feelings of meaning and purpose for both patients and their loved ones. These reflections and legacies are a gift to those left behind.