Grief is knowing life will no longer be the way you remember it; it will never be the same and feeling certain that it cannot get better as the absence of your loved one is loud—louder than his/her profound existence.
The grief that is known to overwhelm us when we lose a loved one is brutal and well known;
It is popularly talked about and depicted in books, movies, and music.
On the other hand, anticipatory grief is seldom discussed. This blog is not one that will suggest how to overcome grief or move on. Rather, it is a heart-to-heart capture of anticipatory grief, shared in the hopes of spreading awareness for those grieving the coming loss of a loved one in silence.
A grief that pulls on the strings of your heart every moment of everyday, it keeps you from living, and occupies your mind—front and center—for years, although you can bravely mask it from others.
The grief that is painful, overwhelming, the kind you suffer in silence when you have no choice but to watch your loved one lose strength, deteriorate, wither away, and ultimately turn to dust. You have no choice but to witness this as it kills every bit of strength within you, yet simultaneously strengthens you somehow.
It is the kind of grief you experience while the world does not know because to the world, your loved one is still alive, while you’re pretending to appear alive on the outside.
Anticipatory grief is when you are screaming, crying, bleeding inside while convincing yourself to remain hopeful and things will get better. Yet, deep down inside, you know you’re kidding yourself—but you’re willing to see the light at the end of the tunnel because what other choice do you have?
Anticipatory grief is when you smile at your loved one, trying to be a good sport, cheering him/her to be strong, validating their heroism and telling him/her how beautiful s/he looks, yet you’re both communicating something else with your eyes.
Anticipatory grief is hanging up each phone call with your loved one knowing that it could be your last, yet really hoping it isn’t—it’s ending the call with a type of goodbye that is beyond an ordinary one and hugging extra tight when you’re together and have to go for the day.
Anticipatory grief is looking around, hoping you never have to lose anyone else, and its wondering in fear who may be next.
It is feeling defeated day in and day out. It is answering phone calls with “what happened?” and waking in the middle of the night to check your phone, hoping your notifications are of any other regular day.
Anticipatory grief is feeling the trauma of it all actively rewiring your brain. It is the sleepless nights, the nightmares and the heaviness in your chest that keeps you from breathing easily every day. It’s the heaviness in your chest that comes with life transitioning to adjust with the coming turning point.
It is the boiling pot, with a lid on, but it’s overflowing with bleeding love that has become pain, with immense uncontrollable pressure to remain closed, it overflows as you try to keep it together on the outside. You hope for a lid that can halt the pain, to no avail but convince yourself to remain optimistic.
Yet, there is no relief from this kind of love, as when the actual ‘real’ grief comes and the world recognizes your pain and stands with you, you realize the only relief you have now is in believing your loved one is no longer suffering. Yet, you realize now the pain is unleashed—wild and free—the lid of that pot has ruptured off and it spills all over. You have no choice but to allow it because your loved one has passed on to the next form of life.
Your loved one lived with agonizing pain, and now the pain is yours to live with as you feel all the love you have for this person gush as there was still so much unspent love you have for this him/her, and it overwhelms your heart in the form of grief.
The hope you’ve been trying to believe in for so long shatters and your inner child feels exposed and unprotected because no one can save you from this inevitability.
Grief as we know it— ‘popular’ grief that is, is sigh after sigh- tears after cries- wiping them away then starting all over again—and trusting in time that one day you will meet your loved one again. But for now, you try to muster the strength to love and live until that day comes, while continuing to honor your loved one by keeping him/her alive in your heart.
To anyone struggling with anticipatory grief, you may wish to open about what you are going through, yet feel the heaviness of opening up about this to a friend or therapist is too much to bear. You may fear that sharing it will make it more real.
I understand that and feel that struggle. Know that opening up about your grief is not going to bring the worst closer or harm your loved one. It will not jinx the circumstances. You can try to open up about your struggle in a text message if in person or on the phone are too difficult. Just know that there is a breath of fresh air in releasing some of what agonizes your heart.
Therapy, for sure, can help you deal with this form of grief, as well as any type of grief. However, the first step is being okay to open up about it with someone you feel safe with, maybe a parent, sibling, friend, partner, mentor, if not a therapist. Just start somewhere because you need to breathe as you go through this for your loved one.
With much care and a sigh of understanding,
Norehan Aly, MA.