The Holidays, often touted as “the most wonderful time of the year,” can be an emotional roller coaster for caregivers and their families. The inner struggle between the mind’s desire to carry on with holiday family traditions and the profound sadness weighing heavy on your heart can add more stress to an already stressful time of the year.
Beautifully decorated Christmas trees, Hannukah candles, the glow from the fireplace, the scent of holiday spices wafting through the air can all shine a spotlight on the loneliness and sorrow of spending a final holiday season with a terminally ill loved one. You may feel as if the holidays, and your life, is in a state of limbo; that place between where you are now and were you will be soon.
There’s actually a term for the time between when a loved one is diagnosed with a fatal condition and when they pass on. It’s referred to as “anticipatory grief.”
From the US National Library of Medicine:
Anticipatory grief (AG) refers to the process of experiencing the phases of normal bereavement in advance of the loss of a significant person. t encompasses the mourning, coping, planning, and psychosocial reorganization that are stimulated and begun, in part, in response to the awareness of an impending loss (usually death) and in the recognition of associated losses in the past, present, and future. In the context of dementia family caregiving, anticipatory grieving may extend over many years while family members witness deterioration in the affected person’s cognitive, social, and physical functioning. Family caregivers also face changes in their roles and level of personal freedom while they contemplate the care recipient’s inevitable incapacitation.
The anticipator grieving process can last anywhere from a few weeks to many years. The duration depends mostly on the nature of the illness and a caregiver’s connection with the patient.
Unlike grief following the sudden and expected loss of a loved one, anticipatory grief gives the family and friends more time to slowly get used to the reality of the loss. Even with this time it does not mean that your grief is going to feel different after the death as it did before the death. Grief has no set time frame and will not be the same experience for everyone, nor will anticipatory grief shorten the after death grieving time.
If this is your first holiday without your loved one, there are things you can do to help you through the holiday season.
Some people feel the need to share their emotions with others who are experiencing a similar loss. Hospice of the North Coast provides bereavement support groups, facilitated by professional grief counselors, and meet on an ongoing basis.
HOPE Bereavement Center Groups are customized by family and caregiver need. Individual counseling is available on an appointment basis. For registration and general information, call our Hope Bereavement Center at 760.431.4100.
There’s no right or wrong way to celebrate the holiday season after the loss of a loved one. However, the most helpful way is to get support from others when you need it.