Sexual Bereavement

— A Challenge That Few Talk About

By

When Sarah’s husband died of cancer at the age of 50, they had been married 25 years. An accomplished man, active in their community, he was deeply missed and Sarah’s circle of friends joined forces to help her through her mourning. Support and succor were offered, but after eight years, when one friend suggested she try to help her create an online dating ad, she remarked that no one had even brought up the subject in all that time. “I know everyone accepted that I deeply loved my husband, and that was part of it,” Sarah says. “But it was as if my life as a woman died along with him in my 50s.” But she had been lonely for the intimacy she had shared with her husband, and was very relieved when someone finally brought it up.

This problem is one that Dr. Alice Radosh, a neurobiologist who lost her husband, terms:

” ‘Sexual bereavement,’ which she defines as grief associated with losing sexual intimacy with a long-term partner. The result, she and her co-author Linda Simkin wrote in a recently published report, is ‘disenfranchised grief, a grief that is not openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned and publicly shared. … It’s a grief that no one talks about. … But if you can’t get past it, it can have negative effects on your physical and emotional health, and you won’t be prepared for the next relationship,’ should an opportunity for one come along.’ ”

Most adults retain sexual feelings as they age and statistics show that they are sexually active, despite popular misconceptions. The New York Times reports: “In a study of a representative national sample of 3,005 older American adults, Dr. Stacy Tessler Lindau and co-authors found that 73 percent of those ages 57 to 64, 53 percent of those 65 to 74 and 26 percent of those 75 to 85 were still sexually active.”

Older adults are often embarrassed to make their interest known, fearing ridicule or disapproval. Even health care professionals routinely fail to inquire about their older patients’ sexual health. Widows have the added burden of feeling, in some cases, that finding a new partner is disloyal to their lost loved one. Some, interested in intimacy but not necessarily remarriage, are ashamed to be associated with what they see as negative social stereotypes of sexually active older women. Despite considerable progress in our attitudes about sexuality, there is still a great deal of discomfort surrounding this topic.

The Times wrote about a recent survey that found:

“Even women who said they were comfortable talking about sex reported that it would not occur to them to initiate a discussion about sex if a friend’s partner died.” The older the widowed person, the less likely a friend would be willing to raise the subject of sex. While half of respondents thought they would bring it up with a widowed friend age 40 to 49, only 26 percent would think to discuss it with someone 70 to 79 and only 14 percent if the friend was 80 or older.”

Younger widows also feel the “disloyalty” factor when experiencing sexual longings. But older women face another common obstacle to re-entering the romance arena: the older they are the longer they are likely to have been out of “circulation.” There are a few common issues that tend to worry these women. One is that they feel intimidated about starting up a new romance with an unknown person after so many years of marital intimacy. Another major factor is worry about the “baggage” that they bring to a new relationship, usually in the form of children and their problems. No matter how grown-up, our children tend to be central to our lives, and worry that a stranger may not accept them or vice versa is common.

Complete Article HERE!

How Anticipatory Grief Differs From Grief After Death

by Lynne Eldridge, MD

Anticipatory grief, or grief that occurs before death, is common among people who are facing the eventual death of a loved one or their own death. Yet, while most people are familiar with the grief that occurs after a death (conventional grief), anticipatory grief is not often discussed.

Because of this, some people find it socially unacceptable to express the deep pain they are experiencing and fail to receive the support they need. What is anticipatory grief, what symptoms might you expect, and how can you best cope at this difficult time?

As a quick note, this article is directed more to someone who is grieving the impending loss of a loved one, but preparatory grief is also experienced by the person who is dying.

Hopefully, this article (as well as another on how to cope with anticipatory grief later on), will be helpful to both those who are dying and those who are grieving a loved one’s imminent death.

What Is Anticipatory Grief?

Anticipatory grief is defined as grief that occurs before death (or another great loss) in contrast to grief after death (conventional grief). Rather than death alone, this type of grief includes many losses, such as the loss of a companion, changing roles in the family, fear of financial changes, and the loss of dreams of what could be.

Grief doesn’t occur in isolation. Often the experience of grief can bring to light memories of other episodes of grief in the past.

Differences From Grief After Death

Anticipatory grief can be similar to grief after death but is also unique in many ways. Grief before death often involves more anger, more loss of emotional control, and atypical grief responses.

This may be related to the difficult place—the “in-between place” people find themselves in when a loved one is dying. One woman remarked that she felt so mixed up inside because she felt she kept failing in her attempt to find that tender balance between holding on to hope and letting go.

Not everyone experiences anticipatory grief, and it is not good or bad to do so. Some people experience very little grief while a loved one is dying, and in fact, find they don’t allow themselves to grieve because it might be construed as giving up hope. Yet for some people, the grief before the actual loss is even more severe.

A study of Swedish women who had lost a husband found that 40% of the women found the pre-loss stage more stressful than the post-loss stage.1

For those who are dying, anticipatory grief provides an opportunity for personal growth at the end of life, a way to find meaning and closure. For families, this period is also an opportunity to find closure, to reconcile differences, and to give and grant forgiveness. For both, it is a chance to say goodbye.

One person related that the night their grandmother died they were lying in bed with her. She turned to them and said, “We’ll miss each other,” and hugged them. It was her goodbye gift.

Family members will sometimes avoid visiting a dying loved one. The comments they make include, “I want to remember my loved one the way they were before cancer,” or “I don’t think I can handle the grief of visiting.” But anticipatory grief in this setting can be healing.

One study found that anticipatory grief in women whose husbands were dying from cancer helped them find meaning in their situation prior to their husband’s deaths.1

Though anticipatory grief doesn’t necessarily make the grieving process easier, in some cases it can make death seem more natural. It’s hard to let our loved ones go. Seeing them when they are weak and failing and tired makes it maybe just a tiny bit easier to say, “it’s OK for you to move on to the next place.”

Does It Help Grieving Later On?

Grief before death isn’t a substitute for grief later on, and won’t necessarily shorten the grieving process after death occurs. There is not a fixed amount of grief that a person experiences with the loss of a loved one. And even if your loved one’s health has been declining for a long time, nothing can really prepare you for the actual death.

Yet, while anticipatory grieving isn’t a substitute or even a head-start for later grieving, grieving before death does provide opportunities for closure that people who lose loved ones suddenly never have.

Symptoms

The emotions that accompany anticipatory grief are similar to those which occur after a loss but can be even more like a roller coaster at times. Some days may be really hard. Other days you may not experience grief at all.

Listed are some of the typical emotions associated with anticipatory grief. That said, keep in mind that everyone grieves differently:

  • Sadness and tearfulness: Sadness and tears tend to rise rapidly and often when you least expect. Even small things, such as a television commercial may be a sudden and painful reminder your loved one is dying; almost as if it is again the first time you are aware of your impending loss.
  • Fear: Feelings of fear are common and include not only the fear of death but fear about all of the changes that will be associated with losing your loved one.
  • Irritability and anger: You may experience anger yourself, but it can also be difficult coping with a dying loved one’s anger.
  • Loneliness: A sense of intense loneliness is often experienced by the close family caregivers of someone dying from cancer. Unlike grief after a loss, the feeling that it’s not socially acceptable to express anticipatory grief can add to feelings of isolation.
  • A desire to talk: Loneliness can result in a strong desire to talk to someone—anyone—who might understand how you feel and listen without judgment. If you don’t have a safe place to express your grief, these emotions can lead to social withdrawal or emotional numbness to protect the pain in your heart.
  • Anxiety: When you are caring for a loved one who is dying, it’s like living in a state of heightened anxiety all of the time. Anxiety, in turn, can cause physical symptoms such as tremulousness, palpitations, and shaking.
  • Guilt: The time prior to a loved one’s death can be a time of great guilt—especially if they are suffering. While you long for your loved one to be free of pain, you fear the moment that death will actually happen. You may also experience survivor guilt because you will continue with your life while they will not.
  • Intense concern for the person dying: You may find yourself extremely concerned about your loved one, and this concern can revolve around emotional, physical, or spiritual issues.
  • Rehearsal of the death: You may find yourself visualizing what it will be like to have your loved one gone. Or if you are dying, visualizing how your loved ones will carry on after your death. Many people feel guilty about these thoughts, but they are very normal and are part of accepting the inevitability of death.
  • Physical problems: Physical problems such as sleep difficulty and memory problems. Learn more about the physical toll of grief.
  • Fears of loss, compassion, and concern for children: One study found that fears about what was going to happen and how they would be cared for were very strong in children who are facing the death of a parent or grandparent.2

While you may have heard of the stages of grief and the four tasks of grieving, it’s important to note that most people do not neatly follow these steps one by one and find that they wake up one morning feeling they have accepted what has happened and have recovered.

Instead, any of these stages may be present at any one time and you may find yourself re-experiencing the same feelings of shock, questioning, or despair many times over. As noted above, there is no right way to feel or grieve.

Treatment and Counseling

Anticipatory grief is a normal process in the continuum of grief. But in some cases, this grief can be so intense that it interferes with your ability to cope. It’s also common for people to develop depression when faced with all of the losses surrounding grief and it can be difficult to distinguish grief from depression.

Coping With Anticipatory Grief

It’s important to express your pain and let yourself grieve. Finding a friend or another loved one you can share your feelings openly with is extremely helpful, just as maintaining hope and preparing for death at the same time is difficult.

It can be even harder as people may wonder why you are grieving—even become angry that you are grieving—before the actual death.

Keep in mind that letting go doesn’t mean you have to stop loving your loved one—even after they die. During this stage, some people begin to find a safe place in their heart to hold memories of their loved one that will never die.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is anticipatory grief?

    Anticipatory grief is a sense of deep sorrow that occurs before someone’s death, as you’re anticipating what will happen.3 Your feelings can be very confusing and may leave you lonely and anxious on top of feeling great sadness.

  • Why do I feel guilty about my friend dying?

    Guilt can be related to many emotions. You may have a sense of relief that a person who’s been ill is at the end of their suffering, but that feeling comes with guilt that you’re “happy” they’ll die soon. Sometimes, guilt comes from unresolved issues you may have had with the person who is dying.

  • Complete Article HERE!

Grief-induced anxiety

— Calming the fears that follow loss

By Jessica DuLong

Millions of Americans are grieving loved ones taken by Covid-19. Yet even outside of a pandemic — with its staggering losses of lives, homes, economic security and normalcy — grief is hard work.

“The funny thing about grief is that no one ever feels like they’re doing it the right way,” said therapist Claire Bidwell Smith, author of “Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief.” But there is no right way, she insisted. The only “wrong” way is to not do it.

What often trips people up is misattributing the sensations of grief-related anxiety to some unrelated cause. “Probably 70% of my clients have gone into the hospital for a panic attack following a big loss,” Smith said.

After doctors rule out physical illness, clients come to her for counseling, frequently struggling to understand the link between their physical symptoms and bereavement.

This becomes especially problematic in grief-averse places like the United States, Smith explained.

With over 4 million reported Covid-19 deaths reported worldwide since December 2019, grief and loss have touched an untold number of hearts and minds. Smith recommends connecting the dots between loss and anxiety as a critical first step toward healing.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

CNN: How are grief and anxiety related?

Claire Bidwell Smith: When some big change comes seemingly out of nowhere and disrupts life, we realize we’re not safe, things aren’t certain, we’re not in control.

All of that is true all of the time, but loss is a huge reminder. The life changes and emotional upheaval are so much bigger than most people understand. Grief, which is the series of emotions that accompany a significant loss, can drop you to your knees. That feeds anxiety.

Grieving people can begin feeling anxious about their own health or the safety of other loved ones. Sometimes, they don’t even realize what they are experiencing is anxiety or is in any way related to their grief.

Anxiety, a psychological condition that causes fear and worry, can present with many physical symptoms. These can be misleading, making you think you have heart palpitations, a stomach issue, a new sweating problem, headaches, insomnia. Many people think they have a medical problem and not an emotional one.

CNN: How do you help people ease their grief-related anxiety?

Smith: My first job is to help people connect the dots between their loss and their fears by tracing their anxiety on a time line: When was I last anxious? How were things before my loved one died?

If the loved one had a long illness, the anxiety might begin before the death. After a sudden death, the anxiety might start right away. Usually if someone’s going to veer into anxious territory, it’s something that happens quickly following loss.

Some people I see, who have never had anxiety in their lives, suddenly begin to have panic attacks right after the death of a loved one. Others, long familiar with anxiety, see symptoms really ratchet up after a loss, or maybe take on new manifestations.

CNN: What coping strategies can people use?

Smith: Seeking out support is really vital. There are so many more support groups and grief therapists available right now. And because of the pandemic, many are available virtually. You can often find support online and start tomorrow. If the therapists or groups you find are booked, get on a wait list. It’s never too late to work through your grief.

If people don’t seek out help to untangle their emotions, they get stuck in anger or guilt. Those play out in substance abuse, depression and anxiety, in relationship issues and in trouble at work and school. So, the domino effect of trying to muscle through and not seeking out support isn’t good.

CNN: What advice do you have for those resistant to formal mental health treatment?

Smith: Self-guided online courses are one option that many therapists provide. Even reading articles or books or listening to a podcast about grief can normalize your experience and help you give you more permission to mourn. You can feel like you’re going crazy, like something else is wrong with you, when really, it’s grief.

Social media offers so many grief resources. A simple search on Instagram for #grief can help you find solidarity with others. Even just reading about other people’s experiences through their posts and comments is valuable because it can help you realize you’re not alone.

CNN: Because of the pandemic, so many people have been unable to be with their dying loved ones. What impact might that have?

Smith: We will see more complicated grief, with extended periods of grieving where people may get stuck in a loop of guilt or regret or anger. That comes, in part, from the feeling that a lot of the losses were preventable, and because people were forced to say goodbye to loved ones over Zoom and FaceTime with nurses wearing masks and face shields. Those kinds of endings can lend themselves to complicated grief.

Clients I’m working with who have lost a loved one to Covid-19 are feeling anger as they watch people get vaccinated — or choose not to get vaccinated. Everyone’s posting reunion pictures. Someone who lost a parent to Covid a month ago is painfully aware of just how close they were to not having to go through this loss.

Initially, they have to work through shock, anger and guilt. Then we can begin to find new ways to say goodbye. That can look like doing self-compassion exercises or speaking with a pastor, minister or rabbi to work on absolution of guilt. It can involve finding spiritual connections to someone they have lost by writing them letters. I urge people to embrace their own sense of ritual and perhaps even hold memorials.

CNN: What role do meditation and mindfulness play in healing?

Smith: When we are grieving, and when we are anxious, we spend a lot of time dwelling in the past and fretting about the future. Meditation and mindfulness help bring our awareness to the present moment.

Meditation also helps us to understand our own thoughts, and how we can learn to detach from negative ideas and irrational fears.

CNN: You write that imagination can be another powerful tool. How?

Smith: I wasn’t there the night my mother died. Even today, I imagine myself crawling into her hospital bed and holding her and saying the goodbye that I didn’t get to. I’ve found catharsis in envisioning what I would have done, had I been able. But it took me years — definitely more than five — to get to that point.

Just like when athletes envision a course the night before, imagination can almost give your body a sense memory, which can be soothing. But it’s not something that people are ready to do right away.

CNN: What role does story play in coping with grief and loss?

Smith: People carry around stories of loss and death, but they often feel like they are suppressing them because they haven’t found good places to share them. How we hold a story is very indicative of how we feel emotionally. When we are holding a scary story, an uncomfortable story, a story of regret for a long time, it plays out in our day-to-day life.

Healing comes from finding outlets to explore a story and possibly find ways to reframe it. We can do that in therapy, counseling, support groups, online grief forums and grief writing classes, among other places.

CNN: You’ve come to believe that staying connected with our lost loved ones can be more healing than letting go. What does that look like?

Smith: That looks different for everyone, and it isn’t something most of us can do right away — we often just want our person back in front of us. But once they are ready, I encourage my clients to call upon their loved ones, continuing to be in conversation with them internally. There used to be this emphasis on letting go and moving on. Now, I feel it’s more important to move forward with the person you have lost.

For example, pondering: What advice would my dad give me about this job offer? What would my mom think of my new boyfriend?

Developing and fostering a relationship with our person can include sharing stories about them, taking on certain aspects of work they did or doing things in remembrance.

CNN: You quote Hope Edelman, author of “The AfterGrief,” who has said the crux of grief work is making meaning out of loss. Is there a way to foster the meaning-making that can have such lasting value?

Smith: In some ways, that stage comes naturally. However, we can’t get there until we work through guilt, regret and anger that stand in the way of our ability to make meaning. If we’re angry with our loved one or a situation that happened, a lot of people will hold onto that anger because it’s a very powerful emotion.

But I’ve never seen a grieving client who hasn’t questioned life in a new way. Where’s my person? Can they see me? Will I ever see them again? Why am I still here?

It’s really hard to go through huge loss and not have those questions. Those inquiries lead to finding meaning and transformation.

Complete Article HERE!

How to Grieve the Death of a Pet

How best to cope with the loss of a furry friend

Chances are good that you live with a furry friend. According to the 2021-2022 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 90.5 million homes — that’s 70% of U.S. households — own a pet.

Although people choose to have a pet for many reasons, the important role these animals play in our daily lives can’t be overstated, says clinical health psychologist Amy Sullivan, PsyD.

“Many times we adopt pets because we’re struggling ourselves, and we need that companionship. During the pandemic, or during other difficult times in your life, you often hear, ‘This pet got me through such a difficult part of life.’ That emotional connection to your pet is so vital.”

Dealing With the Loss of a Pet: Why Is It So Painful?

Given how much comfort pets bring, it’s understandable that losing them can be emotionally devastating. “Our animals become a part of our family,” says Dr. Sullivan. “They provide unconditional love and support, which is something that people don’t get from a lot of different places.”

As an example, she cites how excited pets often are to see you when you return home after being away. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve been gone for two hours or two days, the way that they greet you is just so beautiful,” says Dr. Sullivan. “It’s like you’re their world.”

Losing this unconditional love is understandably very difficult. “As humans, we need to feel that love and connection and to know that something views you in such a special way,” she adds. “That’s why it becomes so painful when we lose our animals.”

Grieving a pet after euthanasia

Understandably, it’s perfectly normal that grieving the loss of a pet from euthanasia can be much more difficult. “We want to see a pet death occur naturally, when they are at a ripe old age,” she says. “But part of the problem is their lives are so short. You never get enough time with your pet.”

Euthanasia is often the right decision for your pet, so they’re no longer hurting. But knowing a health decision you made led to their death can add extra layers of guilt and exacerbate your pain and grief.

“You certainly don’t want to see your pet suffer,” says Dr. Sullivan. “But there is that grief that’s associated with that guilt, and questioning yourself: ‘Am I making the right decision?’ That’s why it’s important to make that decision with your trusted medical professionals and other family members.”

Is grieving a lost pet different than grieving a human?

Sullivan stresses that grief isn’t “one size fits all” after a death. In other words, it’s impossible to compare your reaction to losing a cherished pet versus losing a loved one. “For some people, grieving a pet is more difficult,” she says. “For other people, grieving a human is more difficult. For some people, both are very, very difficult. But I don’t think a pet death causes less grief than a human one.”

However, because a pet is such a treasured member of your family, it’s not out of the ordinary to feel a death very deeply. “It depends on your relationship with a pet,” adds Dr. Sullivan. “Pets are a part of your life. They provide that additional support and love, and they’ve gotten you through some very difficult times. And so in some cases, grieving a pet is even more difficult than grieving a human being.”

How to Grieve a Pet

As with grieving a loved one, dealing with the loss of a pet takes time. Here’s what to keep in mind:

Realize your grief is valid

Dr. Sullivan says being an emotional wreck after a pet dies is completely OK. “There have been times when patients have been in my office absolutely more devastated by the loss of their pet, or by having to make the decision to euthanize a pet, than about anything I’ve ever seen them upset about,” she notes.

This extreme reaction to loss goes back to the idea that pets are part of our family. “They may be the most important thing to a person, honestly,” says Dr. Sullivan. “We have to have to normalize that this grief is real.”

Recognize that grief looks different for everyone

Experts often explain grief using the Kübler-Ross model, which outlines five different phases you go through: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. (Dr. Sullivan prefers to use “adaptation” over acceptance: “Acceptance is more passive, whereas becoming more adaptive is more active. It lets us ask, ‘What can we still do?’”)

Still, your journey through these phases can be different, even from one day to the next. “There’s no consistent way that you approach grief, denial, anger, bargaining, or any of those phases,” Dr. Sullivan explains. “Each person moves through these stages at their own unique time and in their own unique way, and they can go back and forth. It’s not a linear phase.”

“What’s important is that we recognize that people are experiencing these feelings, and we support them and guide them in each of these different domains of emotion,” she adds.

Create physical memorials

Physical memorials are one of the easiest ways to remember a pet. When Dr. Sullivan’s family lost a beloved Yorkshire terrier, Reiley, the vet sent them sympathy cards and gave them a printout of the dog’s paw and muzzle prints alongside a poem called The Rainbow Bridge.

Dr. Sullivan also put together a memorial photo book, and she still keeps the terrier’s collar and tags hung in a special place of honor in her house. Her family also created a special place in their backyard near where he’s buried. “We have a space set up with a special flower that blooms year after year for him, and it has a little statue with his name on it, so we can go back there and look at it,” she says.

Join a support group

Some people prefer to grieve privately, out of the public eye. However, for those who find solace in talking to other people, Dr. Sullivan says joining a support group can be helpful. These can be social media-based spaces for grieving or even in-person groups.

Make sure your entire family is supported

Losing a fuzzy buddy affects everybody in your household. Dr. Sullivan says you might have to comfort your other pets, as they are also feeling grief. “If you have multiple pets in the household, they’re going to grieve the loss of their companion.”

Kids might also need extra support, as losing a pet might be their first personal experience with death. “This may be their first opportunity to really lose somebody,” says Dr. Sullivan. “We have to make sure that we help support them in situations of grief, death and dying. It’s very new to them, and it can be very scary to them.”

Above all, keep in mind that coping with the loss of a pet takes time. You may not get another pet right away — and, even when you do welcome another pet into your family, things will still take an adjustment period. “In the end, you realize your pet wants you to be happy,” says Dr. Sullivan. “I don’t think you ever move on — you move forward, and the relationship you have with each pet is different. No one’s going to replace that.”

Complete Article HERE!

How to Use Transitional Objects as a Way to Process Grief

Everyone has their own coping mechanisms, and this one may be worth a shot.

By Elizabeth Yuko

There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Everyone process a loss in their own way, and on their own time. Grief is also very sneaky: You may think you have dealt with it, only to find that a certain song, scent, or memory causes you to experience the sting of loss all over again.

As it turns out, some people have found that having a transitional object may help them grieve a person who has died, while still holding part of them close. Here’s what that could look like.

What are transitional objects?

Transitional objects come up most frequently in the context of kids—particularly those who may be dealing with separation anxiety. Here’s how the concept was described in a 2018 Lifehacker article:

If a child has a tough time leaving you, a transitional object such as a stuffed animal or favorite toy can be helpful. For younger kids, it allows them to maintain a sense of comfort and consistency.

So what do transitional objects look like for adults? Like the rest of the grieving process, it’s highly personal. While some people may find comfort in photos or videos featuring an important person in their life who has died, others respond more to a tangible item, and find that having something that belonged to the person they lost makes them feel closer, according to Lisa Kanarek in an article for Well+Good.

How do transitional objects help people process loss?

Let us start by saying that some people don’t find transitional objects comforting at all, and, in fact, find it easier to avoid the deceased’s personal belongings altogether. But for others, they’re an integral part of their grieving and healing process.

“For a lot of people, it’s evidence that the person existed, especially if the death was unexpected,” Megan Devine, LPC, psychotherapist and bestselling author of It’s Okay That You’re Not Okay told Well+Good in an interview. “Even when the death was expected, sometimes there’s that unreality like they were here, and now they’re not.”

Complete Article HERE!

How My Son’s Tantrum Helped Me Grieve My Pregnancy Loss

By Isabelle FitzGerald

Two months after the baby I was expecting died in utero, I was late to pick up my kindergartener. We lived in Brooklyn, but Henry’s school was in Manhattan, and our evenings were often rushed. I took the school’s front steps two at a time, my whole body an exhausted ache. I longed to tuck my two children into bed and attempt, once again, to sleep.

In the lobby, Henry raced over to me, chattering about something he’d made in art class that he wanted to show his dad. I wasn’t listening. I was too busy wrestling his parka onto his wiggly body, my patience thin as a blade. His backpack flapped open. Homework sheets scattered across the floor.

Don’t snap, I thought.

Since the miscarriage, insomnia left me frayed. My fatigue was even more intense than after my children’s births. Technically, I was postpartum again, but instead of tending to a newborn, I was awake nursing a visceral sadness.

I hurried Henry outside. He stopped in the middle of the sidewalk.

“I forgot my paper airplane in the art room.” He demanded we go back. I said no. He protested. “It’s going to be thrown out!”

So that was what he wanted to show my husband. We were already late for dinner. He needed food, and I needed rest. We were not turning around for a folded piece of printer paper. “I’m sorry,” I said. “We have to go.”

He started wailing. I gripped his wrist, kept walking. Pedestrians stared. I reached for words to end the tantrum before we squeezed onto a crowded train. Our home across the river felt like an ocean away.

I know!” I said. “Let’s make another airplane.”

My suggestion only made him cry harder. “But I loved THAT airplane.”

Recognition struck my core: My little boy was grieving.

Fifteen weeks into my third pregnancy, after my husband and I announced our news, a routine ultrasound revealed ghastly stillness. Before, there’d been the steady flicker of a heartbeat, the bright outline of a baby sucking her thumb. Now a grey orb bobbed in darkness.

After a procedure to complete the miscarriage, the surgeon instructed me to lay low. My body recovered quickly, but my heart remained raw. In bed, all I could think about was the baby. I was eager to return to my routines, hoping they’d help me heal.

A week later, I went to a spin class. I imagined sorrow flowing out of my legs and into the pedals of the stationary bike. Afterward, a friend spotted me in the locker room. “How’s pregnancy going?” she asked.

“It’s actually not going,” I said, but the thumping bass obliterated my voice.

She made a sly joke about my fertility. “Three kids.” She winked.

“The baby died,” I shouted over the music.

Her jaw fell. The gazes of curious strangers prickled my back. Condolences tumbled from my friend’s mouth. My skin burned with the nauseating realization that wherever I went, I’d end up in this conversation.

Most people responded to me compassionately. Friends sent thoughtful texts and bouquets of flowers and a spread of smoked salmon and bagels. A few acquaintances admitted they had no clue what to say. I appreciated their authenticity. The most meaningful exchanges were with women who shared similar experiences. Grief pulled me along in its dark tide, but their stories glowed, lanterns along the shoreline that might eventually guide me back to land.

Yet for everybody who responded graciously, there were others whose reactions made me wish I’d never ventured outside. They glossed over what I was telling them like they were attempting to ignore an off-color joke at a dinner party. They minimized the loss: “At least you already have two kids.” They bypassed it: “You’ll get pregnant again.”

I don’t think they meant harm, but I walked away hot with anger, even shame.

Shame around miscarriage is incredibly common, but what I experienced wasn’t the shame I’d heard other women describe, the feeling that my body was defective. It was social shame. My misfortune made people squirm. Their responses suggested that my grief was intolerable – not for me, per se, but for them.

Weeks passed, and I expected to feel less tender. Instead, I stared at the backs of my eyelids each night, desperate for sleep, fretting over who I might run into the next day, what thoughtless thing they might say.

On the subway platform, Henry kept crying. By suggesting he make another airplane, I’d said the equivalent of: “You can try again.” Not only was I unable to make his sadness disappear, but my attempts to quiet him implied that I found his feelings burdensome.

My shoulders softened. I knew what I needed to do.

On the train, Henry nestled on my lap. I stroked his hair, resisted the urge to shush him, cheer him, offer solutions. Anguish doesn’t need to be fixed. It needs to be seen, heard, held. Every so often the sobs lulled, but then he’d shudder, and they’d start again. His tears didn’t peter out until we pulled into our stop.

Brooklyn was quiet. For several blocks, we walked in silence. I started thinking about the baby, about the women who’d also lost babies, and the solace I’d taken in their stories. An anecdote I thought he might appreciate popped into my head. “When I was younger, I lost something I was proud of, too.”

“What did you lose?” he asked.

“My computer crashed. Every paper I’d ever written was gone.”

He looked up. “What did you do?”

“I was so sad that I didn’t write for a long time,” I said. “Eventually, I started again. I still miss what I lost, but I’ve made other things that make me proud.”

Henry asked a few more questions about the computer before launching into a story about recess. His brightness had returned – for now. He slipped his hand into mine. We turned the corner for home.

I used to believe grief was innately isolating. Now I understand it is an opening, if only we are willing to see others in their distress and allow them to see us in ours. Eventually, the process of spreading my news would end. A day would come, sooner than I imagined, when I’d only have to discuss the miscarriage with people who wanted – or needed – to hear about it. I would light my own lantern, a beacon offered to other suffering women. In the meantime, moving forward meant releasing my concerns about how my loss made others feel. I was so hurt by a handful of tactless remarks that I’d shut out not only insensitivity but also genuine consolation.

When my husband got home, Henry realized again that he’d never get to show the airplane to his dad and his tears returned. I fought my urge to placate him. A paper airplane was a minor thing, but a child learning to grieve in a society where grief is relentlessly shunted aside was not. As I noticed the effort it took to hold my tongue, my anger toward the people who’d offended me began to dissolve. Sitting with my son’s pain was, in fact, painful. I was not a perfect witness, either, but I would keep trying.

“Tell me what you loved about your airplane,” I whispered while I tucked him in. He described the green teeth zigzagging along the fuselage, the second set of wings.

I wrapped my arms around him. Soon, his breathing steadied, and he drifted off to sleep.

For the first time in months, I did, too.

Complete Article HERE!

You Can Feel Anticipatory Grief Before a Loss

—Here’s How to Cope

Anticipatory grief is not only possible, but common and normal.

By Sara Gaynes Levy

Grief is easily one of the most complex human emotions. Experiencing grief can mean intense sadness, rushes of anger, periods of numbness, difficulty focusing, and more—and it all comes and goes in waves that can last for years after a loss. While we traditionally associate the feeling with the death of a loved one, we experience grief for all kinds of things— periods of time that are coming to a close (like a baby’s newborn phase or graduating from college), relationships that have ended, or places that no longer exist as they once did. No matter what causes grief, it is a hard feeling to sit with. And, notably, the loss doesn’t have to have happened yet to cause these grief-fueled emotions—you can feel something called anticipatory grief as well.

What is anticipatory grief?

Anticipatory grief is grief for an ending we know is coming, but has not yet occurred. “We would say it is the grief that starts any time we’re aware that a death or another type of loss is imminent,” says Litsa Williams, MA, LCSW-C, co-founder of whatsyourgrief.com. “It doesn’t have to be short-term—it can be a long-term thing—but it starts when we have awareness.

Anticipatory grief is different from post-loss grief because the loss isn’t concrete yet, so there is guesswork and questioning happening in our minds. “Our brain is trying to imagine what the world will look like and feel like after this loss occurs, which is, of course, very different from living in the reality of the loss,” says Williams. So the approximation may not be close to how the loss really plays out, as grief is such an incredibly complex emotion. “Grief is so different for each person, whether it’s pre- or post-loss,” says Kriston Wenzel, LBSW, CT, a grief specialist at the Hospice of Red River Valley in Fargo, N.D.

Why do we experience anticipatory grief?

Anticipatory grief is hard, but it is not without purpose. For those who experience a sudden loss, they haven’t been able to “plan” (so to speak), or process, for the way their life changes in the same way that someone who’s sat with anticipatory grief has. “With anticipated losses, we can imagine that this person won’t be able to fill the spaces and roles we’ve gotten used to having them in, and we can think about what we will do and how we will fill these spaces,” says Williams. (This goes for other types of losses as well, not just deaths.) “Unexpected losses are far more destabilizing because we haven’t been able to accommodate the possibility of loss,” she explains.

However, it’s a common misconception that anticipatory grief somehow eases or lessens the feelings of grief when the loss does occur. “People will think they have emotionally prepared themselves because they have imagined the loss, but what happens is usually the opposite. They realize it’s different or worse than they envisioned,” which can be difficult, says Williams. Wenzel recalls a friend whose husband died of Lou Gerhig’s disease after a long battle with it: “She told me [near the end of his life] ‘I’ve already grieved. I’m done. I feel like I’ve gone through everything I have to.’ And then he died. She called me and said, ‘I guess it wasn’t quite that easy, was it?’ None of us know what we’re going to feel.”

What are the signs of anticipatory grief?

While anticipatory grief precedes post-loss grief, the signs and feelings are very similar: bouts of crying, anger, anxiety, depression, fear, and poor concentration can all be indicators you’re experiencing this feeling. You may not even be able to make the connection yet between your feelings and the grief you’re experiencing. It can sometimes be a more abstract connection than with post-loss grief, since it can be harder to let yourself admit that grief is what you’re feeling when the loss hasn’t occurred.

“And anticipatory grief may not mean you are feeling sad about the death specifically,” says Wenzel. “It can also be sadness about the fact that you’re never going to get to do something with that person again, or sadness about the first wedding anniversary without them [on the horizon].” Anticipatory grief can also cause intense feelings of guilt, explains Williams. “People often feel like they should be maintaining hope at all times, and it can feel like a betrayal of that hope if we’re starting to imagine the world without that person,” she says. But it’s important to understand that it is not—all of these feelings are very, very valid and normal.

How can you cope with anticipatory grief?

First, don’t beat yourself up. “You can feel two things at once! You can be hopeful and still be realistic,” says Williams. “Anticipatory grief doesn’t mean you’ve given up.” And that means letting yourself really feel the grief. Even though it’s painful, trying to avoid it will only make it more difficult in the end.

“Try to create a space for this grief,” says Williams. “A lot of people find it really helpful to set ‘grief time’ aside and write in a journal, create art, or just spend time with that person.” Creating this space can not only help you avoid feeling numb or disconnected, it can also help if the opposite is true, when the grief seems overwhelming. By setting aside time to experience your feelings, says Williams, if you feel a wave come over you at work, you can acknowledge it while remembering you’re going to give yourself time to journal about it that night. “Having a space set aside helps you feel some sense of control—something we don’t have much of when we’re grieving,” says Williams.

You can also work on your grief “plan,” so to speak, says Wenzel, if you’re the kind of person for whom that would be healing. “Start thinking: What are your plans? How are you going to honor this person’s life? People feel like it’s going to be so hard, I don’t know what I’m going to do, I’m not going to be able to get out of bed. But if you can reframe it in the sense of ‘what are you going to do to honor the life that they lived?’, that can be very helpful for people,” she says.

These kinds of questions can also be helpful if you’re anticipating the grief of an upcoming move, a pet, or even a part of your life. “Loss is something we all have to face, whether it be the loss of a relationship or friends or jobs or money,” says Wenzel. “Grief is grief. But if we can face it in a way that’s more positive, it might not be as overwhelming to us.”

Complete Article HERE!