When a loved one becomes terminally ill it is not uncommon to begin grieving whilst they are still alive. This is known as anticipatory grief, mourning the person they were, the life you had together and all the changes in life that their diagnosis may bring about.


The prognosis for terminal illness will vary greatly but it may be that there is a prolonged period where the person is living with the knowledge of impending death. Sometimes referred to as the ‘Long Goodbye' where the individual and their loved ones have to find a way to live with that knowledge. 


This can significantly impact life and family life. It could lead to you becoming a carer for your loved one, giving up or reducing work, maybe even moving house to a more accessible home. Many changes can take place that you have not prepared for and this can put a great strain on all involved.


You may experience a whole range of feelings, denial, anger and depression. Your daily life could alter beyond recognition and be hard to navigate. Having said that you may consider it a privilege to be able to care for your loved one and spend time with them. It could be an opportunity to spend quality time together, fulfilling wishes and dreams. There is no right or wrong way to feel or respond but talking can be helpful to process some of those feelings. 


Experiencing anxiety around the illness, treatment and setbacks is common, it is also common to feel guilt or resentful, questioning why me, why us. There can be a lot of upheaval, completely new routines, new roles and responsibilities in life and this can be hard to cope with in itself. If you can find support in friends and family then do not be afraid to ask and share your feelings and concerns. 


Seeing the person you love decline is heartbreaking and you may feel that you have no choice but to keep going and put on a brave face for them. When they die you could be left bereft, empty, drained and exhausted. You may feel relieved that their suffering is over and then guilty for feeling that way. It is a lot to navigate. There is support available, your GP may be able to advise you of any local support groups.


It is a time of great uncertainty and fear. If you can, try to break things down into more manageable chunks, seek support from family, friends and try to remember your own physical and mental health and look after yourself through this.


Whether you are struggling with anticipatory grief or your loved one has died and you are now coming to terms with their loss, talking can really help. If this resonates and you are considering seeking counselling please get in touch and we can discuss how this could help.