The time before death is unique. So many torrential emotions flooded my mind as I traversed the biggest loss I had ever experienced, the loss of my life partner and husband Willis.
It took a short 9 months for him to travel the path from seemingly healthy persons with a full life, filled with hopes and dreams to death.
Before this experience, I had experienced the loss of business enterprises, a divorce and relationships, friendships, identities, and dreams. Each one of them brought a period of challenge, emotional pain, intense learning, and the opportunity for personal growth.
But that’s the philosophical view, during this period I experienced anger, frustration, resentment, guilt, helplessness, confusion, self-doubt, insecurity, and overwhelm, to name a few.
In my work, I understand that grief is one of five emotions that get stuck in our consciousness. The others are hurt, sadness, anger, fear and guilt. And you may notice how they overlap? And it is said that all other complex emotions fold inside these five.
I notice that many people grieve but may possibly not even understand that they are grieving. People that leave the workforce and had a strong identity attached to their role. The “I am” I am a CEO, I am an engineer, I am representing identity and when change happens, we could grieve the loss of identity, and wonder who am I now, without the title?
In divorce, we may have many overlapping emotions mixed with grief, anger, hurt, sadness, guilt, along with loss of identity, a name, security, hopes and dreams. The loss can be enormous and can interfere with future happiness if left unattended.
The time before death offers us an opportunity to let go of resentment, to reconcile differences and to forgive. To demonstrate and open oneself up to unconditional love, to have empathy and compassion as you learn to say good-bye and gain closure. This period can help us cope for the grief that will follow.
There is grace, knowing that someone you love is dying, you get time to express and share deeply, where an accident may not offer friends and family this time. Neither one may shorten the process of grief, but I have found things that do.
I struggled, anxious feelings in my stomach were common. Sleepless nights followed by tearful days, exhaustion and feeling bad about it. Time where energy lagged, where confusion and loss of my ability to make decisions was normal.
But this was me, I could only imagine how he was coping, losing his life.
For both of us, I noticed other emotions along with sadness and tears. Questioning things we knew so little about and had never really spent much time trying to understand. But now we talked about it. We talked about it all. What it would mean to die
If there was fear of death, feeling crappy all the time and possibly irritability, loneliness. I remember feelings of guilt afterward he died. I wondered if we should have had one more test, done one more therapy, did I do everything possible? And I worried about afterwards
What happens then. After his body was taken away, and it wasn’t graceful. Two people appeared at the bedside and our daughter and me took his arms, and they took his feet. And he was heavy, and it was awkward and horribly un-graceful, and we hefted his body only a gurney. These are the things I recall and also grieve.
There are things that helped.
Acceptance of what was happening and that we had no ability to change. What we could have control over was our emotions and humanity. I encourage you to stay in this space, gratitude, compassion, empathy, love.
Talk about the future:
Have a deep conversation about death, your loved one is also processing their loss. If this is too painful then find someone that you can both talk to. Reframe as many feelings as you can, find the positive.
For example: Yes, as they are dying, and it is in many cases very painful. Death can offer a relief from the pain, they will be free of pain, no longer suffering.
There may be a period of shock, at the beginning of diagnosis, setting yourself up for coping begins with grounding.
Grounding is a process of balancing yourself. It will bring stability and calm to all aspects of your being. Grounding can be reached through breath and visualization. Find a comfortable place to sit and relax, where you know you are not going to be disturbed for 10 minutes. Begin by focussing your attention on your breath and move through a sensory exploration of breath.
IE: what it looks like to breath, what it sounds like to breath, feels like to breath. Lengthen the time it takes to inhale and exhale. Count 1-2-3-4 on the inhale and by closing your mouth and exhaling through your lips you can slow your breath out 4-3-2-1. Then lengthen both inhale and exhale time
Next visualize. Imagine a bright white beam of light starting 18 inches above your crown and directed downward through the center of your body and exiting through the souls of your feet, then expand each end, upward to the heavens and downward into the earth.
The act of balancing our body, mind and soul through grounding, has scientific benefits for more than our mood. It has been shown to decrease stress and therefore inflammation and pain. The simple act of grounding can improve cardiovascular health, immune function and help repair musculature and chronic pain, anxiety, depression and improve your sleep!
There are other ways to feel grounded, walking in the forest, and bare feet is even better. Plant your feet on the earth. Swimming in the ocean or a lake, sitting on the sand can also help. Of course using all your common sense and keeping yourself safe.
There are many more things that I did to bring myself back into a state of peace and calm and the last one I will share today is to stay in gratitude. There are so many things that I am grateful for and I keep my focus on these, and so my mind and my experience reflects my focus.
If you are experiencing anticipatory grief, I am here to support you and your loved ones. Connect with me here or ask me about an upcoming retreat. I offer intimate retreats for you and your family, so you can find the peace and comfort you desire, even in life’s most challenging times