Dementia may gradually change the personality of your loved one.
Anticipatory grief occurs when someone questions whether this “stranger” who is living with dementia is the same person they know and love. The changing personality of the person living with dementia could be difficult to accept, especially if you have had a special bond with them.
Though they may appear different, remember that your loved one is still the same person despite all the challenges they now have in communicating and expressing themselves.
Here are some things to remember when dealing with anticipatory grief:
Accept that anticipatory grief is normal
You are allowed to feel this type of grief when an eventual loss is approaching. This is a common phenomenon that has been documented for nearly a century. You are not alone.
Acknowledge your losses
It is okay to grieve even though your loved one is still alive and there are other things going well for you. Consider having a creative outlet to express emotions of resignation, fear and depression. Explore mindfulness as a way of being present and aware of the many emotions going through you. Connect with others.
Anticipatory grief is common among caregivers. Unfortunately, you may feel alone and isolated if you had devoted all your time to caregiving. Seek out caregiver support groups either in your area or online so you can connect with others who understand the challenges you are facing.
Remember that anticipatory grief doesn’t mean you are giving up
As long as you are there to support and care for your loved one, you are not giving up on them. It is important to acknowledge that terminal illnesses are not within our control. Instead, focus on what you are doing and shift your energy towards creating peaceful and meaningful moments together.
Reflect on the remaining time
Spend your remaining time together in a way both parties would find meaningful and fulfilling. This is the time to really do something together that you will never be able to do with them again. If your loved one is open, you may also want to discuss practical matters, like advanced directives and funeral arrangements to ensure that you are able to honour their wishes.
Anticipatory grief is different for everyone. Expect that everyone in your family may be experiencing and coping with anticipatory grief in different ways, so keeping an open line of communication to support and understand one another. Consider involving close family and friends in your loved one’s remaining moments.
Take care of yourself
Taking care of yourself is easier said than done. However, it is important, and is achievable. Remember the old cliché: You can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself.
Tap on your support network
Caregiving and anticipatory grief can be a long and difficult road. Assess and map out your support network so you’ll know who may be able to help you out.
Seek professional help if necessary
People need a place to process complicated emotions and have some time for themselves. If ever you feel overwhelmed with feelings of anticipatory grief and other emotions, seek professional help.
Relief is normal
When someone dies, experiencing a sense of relief is a normal response. Although this sense of relief can also create feelings of guilt, remember that feelings of relief arising from an anticipated death does not mean you love the person any less. It is a natural reaction after a stressful and overwhelming time in your life.
Do not assume you will not grieve
Just because losing someone was anticipated, do not assume this will either speed up or slow down your grief after the death. Remember that everyone grieves differently.
Do not hesitate to see your doctor or visit a counsellor if you continue to experience five or more of these symptoms 12 months after your loved one has passed on:
- You feel that your grief is making you unhealthy or sick
- You feel that you have been grieving for much longer than
you want to
- You keep thinking about harming yourself or ending your life
- You are worried that you might hurt others
- You are hallucinating about things that aren’t really there
- Your behaviour or routine suddenly changes
- You have felt hopeless and unable to cope with life for more than two weeks at a stretch
- You cannot function at home, work or school
- You just cannot get over a feeling of guilt
- Your speech functions and body movements have become
slow and tired
You may find these services for caregivers helpful for you.