For 2 1/2 years, I’ve been experiencing intense emotions involving my mom’s diagnosis of stage 3 brain cancer. Her illness impacts my life. It does have a profound influence on my health, my writing career, and my stress levels.
The hardest part about having a loved one’s health slowly diminish is that we feel their loss. The loss of their ability to drive. The loss of their independence. The loss of their participation in our lives. The loss of their memory. The loss of their hobbies, such as gardening, reading, sewing, or taking walks outdoors. The loss of their physical, emotional, and cognitive health.
What no one ever told me in advance is that my mom’s cancer journey will take me down dark valleys where I have never traveled. To a pit of despair. To lose control. To fear that I will sink into a serious depression in which I don't know how I will cope.
To feeling a dozen different emotions and physical symptoms ranging from sadness, anxiety, confusion, anger, irritability, sleeplessness, fatigue, forgetfulness, brain fog, lack of motivation, hopelessness, desperation, and moments when I’m numb.
There’s countless other issues that I’ve wrestled with for over two years. Plenty of times when I don’t understand myself, the way I respond or overreact, especially in stressful situations, and when I turn inward to process my pain.
In an attempt to work through this challenging season in life, I started researching anticipatory grief to better understand what I’m going through. It's quite educational, informative, and encouraging. Talk about self-growth!
Most people only know about or focus on after the loved one passed away. They don't consider how we feel and what we experience before our family or friends imminent death.
This isolates people, including myself. We receive little to no emotional support. There is no spiritual support other than asking for prayers.
Most of my friends and family avoid talking about how I manage my emotions during my mom's cancer battle. Discussing terminal illness and death can make folks uncomfortable, which can directly result in my own loneliness.
Anticipatory grief isn’t what I signed up for. Yet, as I read about it I’m relieved to know that my whirlwind of emotions are normal. Under the circumstances, it’s to be expected. Most importantly, I can give myself permission to feel however I feel.
Many articles shared that it’s very common to experience intense emotions, including sadness, anxiety, forgetfulness, and anger during anticipatory grief. The articles mentioned that it can be lonely because our society doesn’t usually consider the stages people experience before their loved ones imminent death.
Of course, reading about it doesn’t make it easier; it just helps me understand my own self better. And it confirms that my anticipatory grief is real.
As I learn more, it makes so much sense. No wonder my emotions are like a roller coasters! This explains my crying at the drop of a hat. My sleepless nights. My anger when some friends and family say things that rub me the wrong way.
Yesterday, a relative said, “Dig deep. Have faith! “
Seriously? What’s she actually saying to me? That I don’t dig deep? Is she referring to my emotional pain? And why on earth do Christians tell grieving Christians to have more faith? How much more faith does it take to heal from heartbreak and grief?
Even on some of my Facebook posts, people have written “Christianese” phrases that disturbed me. It may not have been intentional. They may think it was helpful.
NEWS FLASH: It did not help me, comfort me, nor lift my spirits. Instead, it led to a tsunami of negative emotions in which I had to log off Facebook because I couldn’t read one more “well-meaning” religious comment that criticized my faith.
It’s these “Christianese” phrases that take me over the edge. Keep in mind that anger and irritability are a BIG part of grief, a common stage of grief, including anticipatory grief.
These well-intentioned words by some believers actually hurt me and upset me. When I cannot tolerate their ridiculous faith-shaming. Or when their insensitive words basically say that I am not a good believer and that I lack trust in God.
For starters, I may be losing my precious mom in the future, but I am NOT losing my faith or trust in Christ. If anything, my faith and trust is growing stronger in the dark, in my pain, and in my backbreaking battle to come to terms with the fact that my mother will not be here much longer.
Second, despite how tempted you are to tell a grieving Christian (or non-Christian) that they need more faith, please refrain from doing so. Instead, just listen to them. Be extra sensitive because they are deeply hurting. Have compassion. Offer warm hugs, friendship, kindness, love, and grace.
Sometimes, you don’t have to say anything. Just be present. Be non-judgmental. Let them cry, scream, or be silent.
Understand that there’s no right or wrong way to grieve, including anticipatory grief. It’s like the ocean. It ebbs and it flows. There can be moments of calm. Out of nowhere, it can feel like you are drowning.
For those struggling with anticipatory grief or conventional grief, know that there’s no timetable. It can last months, years, or longer. Give yourself permission to take however long it may be to fully heal from your loss.
Have patience when you experience the five stages of grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Understand these stages are not always in chronological order. You may bounce from one to another. You may only go through a few. Or get stuck in one stage.
Grief is messy. Give yourself extra TLC. Carve out quiet time for self-care. Truly, it's not selfish and you need it.
Lastly, I thank each of you who have offered me kindness, sensitivity, compassion, encouragement, thoughtful prayers, and sharing your own grief stories with me. From the bottom of my heart, it means the world to me.