What happens when anticipatory grief hits?

I have written about anticipatory grief before (https://mywifehascancer.blog/archives/387), but wanted to put down some words on how what I can only describe as an episode can come along. I am trying to put my head in a better place, through exercise and journaling, but this morning, after doing my bike ride, I felt overcome with emotion taking a shower.

I got waves flowing into my brain, all at once, overwhelming me. It is impossible to focus and concentrate on one item, there is so much coming. Thoughts about what my wife has lost, the pain she is constantly in. The never ending issues she faces on a daily basis.

Thoughts about we have lost as a family, and what we are going to lose. Thoughts about how my children cope now, and how they will cope in the future when the inevitable day comes.

Thoughts about what I have lost, the lack of a partner, the loss of someone I love to just hold and be held by. The hole in my heart that cannot be filled, whatever I try to do.

The overwhelming kindness and support from friends and family that can never be repaid. The pointlessness of getting up in the morning, when everything you had worked for, everything you wanted can so easily and painfully be taken away.

How unfair life can be when someone who would only be there to help people, to look after people, is reduced to a husk of what she once was, reliant on people for so many tasks, fearful of eating regular food, fearful of any small bruise and ache and pain being a sign of the end coming. The way cancer has destroyed her body, wasting away until bones poke through, her swollen stomach and dark bruises.

This will all come along at once, overpowering my mind. If it happens in the shower, I can almost cope, tears joining the water running down my face, but if it comes along in work, there is very little option to escape. My focus will be destroyed for the day, my mind struggling to clear the thoughts and emotions away, unable to easily compartmentalise what is going on. Impossible to comprehend.

I have lost so many working days to being unable to focus, which I then make up at another time, adding guilt to my feelings of grief, so that all that goes round my mind are negative thoughts and feelings. Many days and nights can be spent in a downward mental spiral.

Nothing can resolve these feelings, the root cause is not going away any time soon, but I try to utilise coping mechanisms. However, these incidences are becoming much more frequent, as the stress and strain of the last 8 years starts to toll.


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Stuck in a moment that you cant get out of

Despite my shortening attention span I was reading the following article – https://www.psycom.net/eleven-phases-grief, which is well worth reading if you get a chance. Stay here first though. The article is about watching a loved one die, and the unspoken phases of grief associated with it. Two parts struck me in particular.

The first was the feeling of being stuck. They describe how the author felt unable to make short term plans because they didnt know if they would have to drop everything. I have been through this, and am still going through this, maybe even on a greater sense recently. The inability to commit to things, such as meeting with friends. We have had a few occasions (many mentioned here previously) where we have had to pull out of meeting people at short notice.

I struggle to commit to speaking to friends, which is an extreme example of this being stuck. I know what I need to do, however cannot do the right thing. I feel inferior in some way, stuck in the moment that we are living. This might explain my listening to alot of music from my youth, trying to regain feelings of the happier times.

On a longer term basis you start to make sure that all bookings are refundable. We have had to cancel holidays and things of greater expense in our journey over the last few years. The knowledge my wife is worse than at those times makes you very wary of doing anything. Add in the mental impact of building up to something only to have to cancel, and it is easy to see why you become a recluse.

I feel that we are stuck in a loop. I watch friends and family moving forward with their lives, while we repeat the same cycle over and over. Despite wanting to break through, I know that we will always be dragged back to the situation. We know that we will have more hospital trips, and we know that her disease will only get worse. Having that knowledge means you have to fight harder just to keep your lives the same, let alone advance to something different. The saying one step forward and two steps back fits perfectly here. We may feel we are moving on, but right now are always pulled back again.

The second part of the article that hit home talks about relief. I think this can be seen as an expected emotion to everything that goes on when dealing with a terminally ill loved one. You experience such immense mental struggles, having to operate at high levels of stress for so long, constantly worrying and being on edge, that the feeling of relief will be inevitable when the end finally comes. Relief that the suffering of your loved one has ended. Relief that the cycle of pain you are experiencing has ended. Relief tinged with immense survivors guilt.

As a caregiver you go through so much alone. Thats not for lack of support at times, but just the very nature of what is happening means that other people are not aware. I am going to share a quote from the article here, which really does ring true.

“Watching someone you love go through treatments and not have successes… to see the tubes, the setbacks, the lack of dignity in the dying process… others do not picture how painful that experience is,” says Nathan. “And often, we do not share it.”

That is true. I have friends who know and understand what we have gone through to a certain extent, but even my closest confidants do not have any idea what is is like to sit and watch a loved one struggle for breath at 3 in the morning, or observe as tubes and pads are connected to keep her alive, hearing the beeps and the sucks of the machinery that surround her bed and operate as her bodily functions.

Some experiences we dont share because the true extent is too much for us as caregivers to fully comprehend let alone for someone who wasnt there to understand. Couple that with not being able to articulate properly what has happened, and blocking out things from your mind subconsciously to avoid reliving the more harrowing details. I lived through so many experiences that I wold not want to remind myself of, and plenty of things that I wouldnt want my children to remember.

So I fully understand how relief can come. A sense that the horror wont be continuing, and that the pain from that stage has gone. I am fully aware though about what will rush in once the relief has faded, dont get me wrong.

I have again said this before, but I am in the horrible position of wanting this situation to end, but dont want to lose my wife. I am sure the children would feel the same. They want to have a normal home life, without one parent asleep on the sofa with crippling stomach pain, or without a stock pile of drugs in the high kitchen cupboard. They would love to have two loving parents doing things they see their friends parents do, going out together, or sitting down for a family meal they can all eat.

It isnt much that we need as a family, apart from a normal life. We are stuck in the routine we are in, waiting for the relief of the end.


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