What is Anticipatory Grief?
When your beloved pet is first diagnosed with a terminal illness or when you know that your aging pet is experiencing changes and could soon be gone, you may have wondered what it would feel like. At this time, the reality of the loss of your pet begins to be felt emotionally. This is anticipatory grief.
Anticipatory grief begins when we, as pet parents, know without a doubt that we are now faced with being bereaved from our beloved pet. Often we think of experiencing grief only after a loss however, we know that the grief journey and the roller coaster of emotions that come with it starts far before the actual loss occurs. Anticipating loss, especially at the time of a terminal diagnosis and throughout treatment is very real. Anxiety and fear can intensify when we know that the loss is imminent whether it be months or weeks away. And, you may begin to ask yourself things like: “How can I go on?” or “Is it my fault?”
Furthermore, during this time your pet may experience good days and bad days which can complicate your anticipation of your loss because it can bring with it confusion in knowing when the right time is to say goodbye. The good days often give us hope that our pet may indeed be rallying however, we know that the prognosis hasn’t changed.
Just like on our grief journey after loss, how we cope with our anticipatory grief prior to loss can vary for each individual. Some can experience symptoms that can affect them physically, emotionally and even spiritually. Anticipatory grief can be show symptoms of overwhelming sorrow and anxiety which is normal. Reaching out for suuport is vital to your anticipatory grief journey whether it be for emotional or physical symptoms. Note: Touching base with your family physician can often be a good option should you feel your symptoms of sleeplessness or anxiety are adversely affecting your quality of life.
Caring for YOU. Anticipatory grief often comes in the form of emotions including sadness, depression, anxiety, anger, physical distress and more. Often, it brings a combination of these feelings and even glimmers of peace which is normal. Be sure to give yourself permission to feel what you are feeling. And making time for self-care is vital not selfish.
Living in the moment. Often times, we can be so overwhelmed with caring for our pet that we miss living in the here and now. This may be a time to create special lasting memories with your pet. Creating memorials such as scrapbooks, special photographs and the alike can give us an opportunity to direct our grief into something we can control in an uncontrollable situation. Finding ways to channel our anxiety can help provide balance during a time when we feel otherwise overwhelmed. While it is important to acknowledge your deep sense of sadness about saying goodbye, it is also important to make sure your sadness doesn’t “take over” and prevent you from living in the moment.
Planning ahead. When death is unanticipated, it is normal to feel overwhelmed with the decisions you are unexpectedly facing and often regret decisions when forced to make them without preparation. When we have time however during anticipatory grief, we are provided with an opportunity to make end-of-life plans such as where they would like to say goodbye and who we’d like to have present during that time. Planning and making decisions about end-of-life care once again allows us to gain a sense of control in an uncontrollable situation, it helps to ensure that we have our pet’s end-of-life experience is the way we desire, and it allows our final memories with our pet to be as peaceful as possible.
Find and utilize a support system. Whether it is a significant other, a friend, a pet related support circle or a professional counselor who specializes in grief, it is important that you find someone you can turn to for support. When people ask “how can I help”, let them know honestly what they can do to help you.
As with all grief, should you feel you need support while navigating your anticipatory grief journey, remember to lean on those around you whom you trust, and reach out to YOUR Day By Day team if you’d like to speak individually and/or more extensively about what you are experiencing. Grieving, both before and after a loss, is hard work!