Why Don't We Talk About Anticipatory Grief?

by Harriet Hodgson
Author of "Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief"

I know anticipatory grief - a feeling of loss before a death or dreaded event occurs - far too well. My mother suffered from probable Alzheimer's disease and I was her caregiver for nine years. As time passed she lost the ability to reason, track numbers, read a book, understand TV, create sentences, and finally, the ability to speak.

Every time I was with her I wanted to cry.

Anticipatory grief is a hard journey and nobody can take it for us. Some experts think anticipatory grief is worse than post-death grief because we're always on alert, waiting for the end to come. Grieving people wear black arm bands in some cultures. I wish I was wearing an arm band when I saw a friend at the grocery store.

"Hi Harriet, how are you?" she asked. Had I been truthful I would have said I felt awful. But I didn't say that I said, "Fine, how are you?" Why don't we talk about anticipatory grief? There are lots of reasons.

- Most people have never heard the term, so we would have to stop and explain it.

- We fail to see the anticipatory grief in our lives or the power it has over us.

- If we shared our feelings we would break down and sob.

- Our family culture prevents us from being open with others.

- People may think we're weak and lack "backbone."

- Funny stories are what people want to hear, not sad ones.

- We're afraid people will avoid us.

Some years ago our family was struck by one crisis after another. My husband and I became known as the sad news couple. Many people didn't want to hear our news for fear they would catch it like a bad cold. In their minds anticipatory grief was a contagious disease.

But I'm a grandmother now, older, wiser, and more resilient. Life experience has given me the courage to say, "I'm having an anticipatory grief day."

Chances are you've had anticipatory grief days, too. Maybe you're grieving for a child with chronic illness, a job shift, moving out of the home you loved, your retirement date, a dying pet, or a parent in hospice. I hope you'll learn from my experience and tell people you're going through anticipatory grief.

We grieve because we care. Anticipatory grief shapes our lives, helps to define who we are, and who we were meant to be. Let's talk about it.

Copyright 2005 by Harriet Hodgson. For more information on her work please go to www.harriethodgson.com.

Harriet Hodgson has been a nonfiction writer for 26 years and is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists. Her latest book, Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief, is written with Lois Krahn, MD. Hodgson is hard at work on her next book, Doctor in the House: An Inside Look at Medical Marriage.

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