When Family Members Are in Declining Health- Anticipatory Grief During the Holidays

Holiday gatherings give us a chance to see loved ones that we may not often see. Usually this is a warm and happy occasion but sometimes it can lead to stark realizations of their state of health.

Last weekend, a cousin and I were helping sour grandparents perform some maintenance on their home for the holidays. As we left, my cousin remarked to me, “Wow, Grandpa really isn’t the same. He doesn’t remember things I tell him and repeats himself. It’s really sad to me.” I agreed and reminded him to focus on the positive and try to enjoy the time that we have left with Grandpa.

When I related this experience to Dr. TJ Hawkins, Director of Program Operations for Bridgeway Hospice, he told me that my cousin and I were experiencing a phenomenon known as “anticipatory grief.”

“Grief can come from a variety of factors, including loss of life, relationships, finances, health, communication, and others,” he says. “It is not an isolated process, there are many steps.”

Oftentimes we think of grieving as the process we go through when losing a loved one, but as Dr. Hawkins explains, we can be grieving the loss of our relationship with them, their health or even the simple act of communication with that loved on­—even if they are still physically with us.

Fortunately, there are some concrete, blanket strategies to address grief, in all of its forms. These “3 Pillars” form the foundation of acceptance and healing of grief.

Photo by Catherine Zaidova on Unsplash

Pillar Number 1: Identity

All grief is also partly an identity crisis in some form. Loved ones, and our relationships with them, inform our sense of self. Stay aware. Acknowledge your feeling but also try to understand them. Focus on the positive: the good memories you have or the ones you can still make. Don’t neglect yourself in all of this.

Pillar Number 2: Accountability

Along those same lines, find someone that you can talk to. You need to speak with someone who will listen and be nonjudgmental. These feelings of grief and identity should be released to someone who can empathize with you but remain strong.

Pillar Number 3: Community

In addition to listening ears and people to ground you, you need a place for expression. This may be a support group (Bridgeway offers 8 different groups throughout the Metro Atlanta area) or it may be volunteering.

Essentially, you want to find a positive and constructive way to externalize the internal grief. This may be through helping others, it may be through a support group or it may be simply through talking one -on-one with a strong loved one.

Grief is a process and it takes time to heal. Remember to always focus on the good and to acknowledge and address your feelings.

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