Anticipatory Grief

Hi all,

I am new to the community and I have decided that I need to reach out for some advice. I have already tried to self-refer myself for NHS grief counselling, however I anticipate that this will take some time. I’m sorry if this is a long message, but this is the first time that I have written some of these feelings down, and I’m ever grateful if you make it to the end. This is the first time that I have experienced, or will be experiencing, the death of someone very close to me. I am 27 years old and a veterinary surgeon, so I have a highly stressful job and I euthanise pets several times a week which is difficult, but these feelings are something I have not experienced before.

My aunt was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer just over a year ago. She has had various types of cancers since she was in her 20s, and her view is that she hopes god gave them all to her so her family don’t have to get them. She became very poorly, had part of her lung removed, and started a cancer treatment, which has helped for around a year. Unfortunately, the cancer has spread significantly to her liver, bowel and stomach, and they have given her a few weeks to live now. The oncologists have decided to give her a course of chemo (she had 13 hours worth just <2 weeks ago now), but unfortunately she couldn’t tolerate the final and possibly most important chemo drug on the day. So at the moment she is in the midst of feeling awful post-chemo. She had a possible heart-attack episode a couple of days ago which apparently can be a side effect, which isn’t helped by the fact she has atrial fibrillation, heart failure and had heart surgery within the last year too for fluid around her heart!

She is the closest person to me beside my parents. I grew up with her, and her daughter (my cousin) has always been like my big sister. Luckily, me and my cousin can talk frankly about my aunt (her mum’s) health, because of the relationship we have, and because we are both medical minded (my cousin is a paramedic and I am a veterinary surgeon). This does help me rationalise and understand things to an extent, but I’m not sure if this is a blessing or a curse.

Initially I was in denial about her prognosis and felt ‘fine’. However I felt that to cope I needed to see my aunt as often as I could, even though I knew she would start to look very unwell. I felt selfish, as she had to turn other family away for her own health (due to being immunosuppressed from chemo), but she was happy to have me around because we have a very close bond. I accept that she may only be up to a 15 minute visit.

Since I visited for the first time since her prognosis was given, I feel I have been experiencing anticipatory grief. I feel I am on an emotional rollercoaster, and I feel I am grieving her already, or grieving what is going to happen. I go from numb, to sad, to angry, and I feel I am taking this out on my boyfriend too. He is not a typically emotional person usually, so this is a difficult time for him and I feel he doesn’t know what to do. I don’t know what I want from him either. I desperately wanted him to visit her with me, and said this was all I wanted from him in terms of support, and I became angry because he did not seem to want to come with me. It was my aunt who reminded me that he may feel awkward because of how poorly she looks, unable to dress fully etc. I wanted him to see her for my own benefit before she dies for reasons that I struggle to fully understand. In the end he didn’t come with me when I saw her last week, because my aunt wasn’t up to a second visitor that day. My boyfriend, on asking, did express that he did feel awkward, and he didn’t want to make my aunt feel uncomfortable by him being there when she didn’t know him as well as she knows me. I felt frustrated at myself that I immediately jumped to thinking he was being horrible and not wanting to visit her with me.

Sometimes I am angry that she will be leaving me. Then I am stricken with guilt for thinking that. Then I feel guilty for not making better chance of the opportunities I have had over the years to see her (even though I saw her regularly). Then I feel waves of sadness and cry endlessly. My boyfriend has no idea what to do. One minute I don’t want to talk to him. The next minute I am angry at him for not supporting me and I tell him that he doesn’t understand me and isn’t being sensitive. The next minute he is trying to support me and lighten my mood with jokes (the way he knows best), then I am telling him he isn’t taking it seriously. I feel he cannot win, but I don’t know what I want from him. I don’t know what I want from anyone. All I know is that I do not want my aunt to die, but there is nothing I can do about that and I have to cope with it somehow.

Is this something that is normal to experience prior to someone passing, and is it normal to experience these feelings with those who are closest to you?

If you have gotten this far then I am immensely grateful.

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Hi @AishaVet
What you are experiencing is normal, my husband was given a life expectancy and the last few months looking back now I was grieving for I knew what was coming. I would often wonder how I would manage both emotionally and financially when he was gone, and would then feel guilty for even thinking that.
It was still a shock when he died and I will never forget his last 24 hours, I often replay it in my head.
Just be there for your aunt, make the most of the time you spend with her and take one day at a time.
Sending love
Debbie

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Aisha please know that you are experiencing all the phases of grief. Every emotion is normal. I lost my daughter in March & it feel like my world has ended. I had so many plans for her & us which now will never happen. I hope you have people around you that understand that you will feel overwhelmed & possibly suffer some anxiety. Be kind to you

Hello. Yes, it is normal (self-preservation). X

Hi Aisha. Thank you. I only joined this community area a few minutes ago. Mainly in the hope that there might be something here relating to anticipatory grief - as I hadn’t found it in menu on the public part of this Sue Ryder site (which I only encountered an hour ago - so maybe it is in the menu and I failed to spot it). So many grief related websites and articles seem based on grief that follows bereavement; I am still (probably) weeks away from losing my wife to cancer, and like many in similar situations, my own grieving, and that of other family members, began some time ago and progressively worsened. Every activity that is deleted from my wife’s life feels like a further blow that deepens the level of sadness for her and for each of us. Like the grief is being cruelly ratcheted. And this is all happening while my wife is alive - so recognizing the increased inevitabilities feels like something we need to play down in some gentle way rather than looking increasingly saddened. Almost as if I am not entitled to feel this way in the company of people whose grief arises from having lost someone already. I am aware that the anticipatory grief experienced by others is harder still. For your post to be the first one I’ve read in this forum, gives me hope that this is indeed a place that I and my family can benefit from being part of. Thank you.

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I lost my Nan to lung cancer a week ago and was with her for her final breath but I felt like I was grieving for what I was expecting before she left and now grieving her actually being gone. This is the most hardest thing I have endured and I too am filled with sadness and anger regarding it, I felt like I was reading my own situation - sending love x

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