I taught school for a dozen years and loved every one of them. But the day came when I realized I had done everything I could with my job and had no more to give. To keep myself creative I started writing articles for educational magazines and several were published. The idea of becoming a writer intrigued me, so I gave the school several months notice and quit my job to pursue this new career.
Quitting teaching was a hard decision — a grieving decision — and every time I drove past the school tears welled up in my eyes. Now I understand that I was going through anticipatory grief, a feeling of loss before a death or dreaded event occurs. One career had ended and the other was uncertain. Though some may not identify it, everyone goes though anticipatory grief.
You may have feelings of loss long before your child leaves for college. An impending divorce may cause emotional upheaval and grief. A job transfer to another city may cause you to grieve for the home and community you have come to love. Anticipatory grief is powerful, so powerful it can literally change your life. What are the symptoms?
Denial is one of them. Even if you sense you are grieving, you may push sad thoughts to the back of your mind. Nervousness is another symptoms and you are on constant alert. This nervousness may develop into anxiety and dread. Long-term anticipatory grief can lead to crying spells, mood swings, anger and depression.
Anticipatory grief does not arrive at the door like an isolated package. While you are grieving, you may also be dealing with a variety of issues, such as getting ready to move. No wonder you are forgetful. Because you are swamped, you may eat on the run or snack instead of eating balanced meals. Sleep problems keep you awake at night and your days may become a study in fatigue.
Anticipatory grief differs from post-death grief in several ways. One difference is the inability to predict when it will end. Another difference is the mixture of sorrow and hope. You feel sorrow, yet continue to hope things will turn out all right.
Meghan O’Rouke writes about “The True Nature of Mourning” in an April, 2009 issue of “The Week.” As common as grief is, O’Rouke notes that it is difficult to confront it. In a culture that tends to hide grief and lacks mourning rituals, she says, “We want to achieve emotional recovery.” Fortunately, there are things you can do to help yourself.
Be alert to the symptoms of anticipatory grief. Eat balanced meals and go to bed at the same time each night. Whether they are spoken or written, express your feelings with words. Share your feelings with a trusted relative or friend. Slowly, step-by-step, work on building your healing path.
Painful as it is, anticipatory grief helps you to discover your true self. Indeed, you may evolve into a new person, someone you did not know before and want to know better now. You are a work in progress and so is anticipatory grief.
Copyright 2009 by Harriet Hodgson