It seems like there’s an ebb and flow of people I know going through various illnesses or deaths of loved ones. They speak of the difficulty of knowing what to say, or even if to say some things, and that sometimes they feel frozen and unable to talk at all. Many feel like they are drowning, and search for any kind of buoyancy in the sea of grief.
I remember the days before and after my mom and dad passed away. When illnesses began to worsen, some part of me put blinders on to shield myself both from what I saw and what I felt. Simultaneously, I had to put one foot in front of the other and take care of what needed to be done. So often I wanted to ask a question or discuss what was happening, but there was an elephant in the room, and I still couldn’t speak.
The emotion we experience in the weeks and days just before a loss is referred to as anticipatory grief. It’s a period where we are lost in a storm of feelings and reactions because we are facing the death of a loved one. We are confused and heartbroken as we watch the people we love decline, but we also feel disbelief, and even anger. On top of that, we are afraid to converse with them about what’s happening, and when we push through that fear we often stumble for the right words.
However your feel during that time, it’s essential that your honor those feelings, rather than ignoring them or stuffing them down to deal with “later. You’ll likely go through shock, denial, and acceptance at some point. I say the latter with a grain of salt – you may accept but at different emotional levels and at different times. Being patient with yourself is key.
From my own experience and things that I have learned from many experts in this area, talking not only to yourself (journaling is a powerful resource here) but also to your loved one, and with a peer group of support is important. Truth is a powerful opening to conversations, and they are necessary. Silence is a killer – both for you and your loved one.
Speak with them about their fears and desires and let them know yours. That may seem complex, but not doing so leaves you wondering afterward. I remember looking at my mom at one point and saying, “I’m scared, and I don’t know what to do next,” and then becoming almost silent in her final days – choking on the grief that was, in turn, swallowing me whole. I encourage you to have those conversations – stumble through them if you must – but have them. This is a time when regrets cannot be undone.
In the ocean of life, your attitude becomes your lifesaver. What will you/can you shift to allow yourself to become more buoyant?