Enduring the grief that comes before you grieve

When a loved one receives an end-of-life diagnosis it is profoundly shocking. This is not only for the person, but also for family, carers, and friends. However, there are many services available for people caring for someone who is terminally ill.

When a loved one receives an end-of-life diagnosis it is profoundly shocking. This is not only for the person, but also for family, carers, and friends. However, there are many services available for people caring for someone who is terminally ill.

There is help available both before and after the passing, and it’s important to reach out. These difficult journeys don’t have to be lonely ones.

The road to death is difficult and strange, and the specific path people take is deeply personal. It’s a road different for everyone. One of the few constants, for both the dying and their loved ones, is grief.

But grief itself is a shifting thing, with many faces.

When they find out someone they care for is dying, many people experience what health professionals call Anticipatory grief. We normally think of grief as something that occurs after a loss, but a life-limiting diagnosis for a loved one can bring up strong emotions while they are still alive.

These include shock, sadness, fear, anxiety, anger, blame, guilt, regret, numbness or even denial. Depression, despair and, perhaps most confusingly, relief are also common.

Anticipatory grief is not as well-known as the grief we feel after a bereavement. However, research indicates that people who have high levels of it often find it more difficult to cope with loss when it finally happens.

It's important, then, to seek help, and to take care of yourself through this period.

And that means self-care should be a high priority. This can include diet, exercise, and limiting alcohol or caffeine. Relaxation exercise and meditation can help. Talking to people – friends, family, counsellors or psychologists -- is important too. There are also free anonymous services, such as Griefline, with specially trained staff who can talk through the issues. Keeping a journal can also help manage the feelings you have for the person you are going to lose.

Another important aspect of the end-of-life journey for the families, friends and carers of someone who is dying is ‘unfinished business’.

What this means is, of course, incredibly personal, but can include unresolved conflicts, missed apologies, or the chance to tell someone how much you love them. Research shows that unfinished business often leads to serious psychological issues for those left behind.

Families with unfinished business are more likely to encounter abnormal or ‘complicated’ grief. This can transform into a mental health issue.

Clear communication is important. The dying need to say what they need to say, and family, friends, and carers need to resolve any unfinished business they may have. Family counselling may be able to assist.

Seeking out services such as the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement can help in many ways. This includes with emotions during the end-of-life journey, plus with feelings after your loved one has passed. The Centre offers counselling, support groups, events and much more.

Many similar services, such as GriefLink or Life Supports, cater for a wide variety of people and circumstances. They can be found through this website by using the search field or by navigating to the Services menu on the main page.

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