Q. My mom has been living with metastatic breast cancer for about 8 years and she's at the end of her life now. She has started hospice care and her prognosis is that she has about 4-6 months left. I don't feel particularly sad because I've kind of prepared myself for this along the way and my family has always been good about informing me at each step in my mother's care. Also, I'm worried about how I will feel about her loss after she's passed and worried that the grief might come all at once. What do you think?

A.

I appreciate your honesty in raising this important issue. The concern you are experiencing over whether or not your grief might come all at once is commonly voiced by people who are expecting the death of a loved one and/or are bereaved.

Although we may discover ourselves anticipating a loved ones death and therefore beginning to grieve, the actual death of our loved nonetheless is traumatic and can lend itself to our feeling overwhelmed. Feeling “prepared” that is, cognitively for a loved ones death, does not necessarily mean that at the same time we are fully “prepared”, emotionally. This is normal; though I have to admit it can be disconcerting at the same time and feel quite unpleasant. Many people who have shared their stories with me have often described themselves as being on an emotional roller coaster. You may experience many feelings such as disbelief, anger, sadness, and confusion either individually, or perhaps all at once. It is important to remember however that everyone grieves a loss in their own way and in their own time. There is no set way in which to grieve. Although the literature and others around us may paint a landscape for us of what grief may look like, there can be no blueprint or roadmap for the grief experience. Remind yourself that the emotions you may be experiencing in the moment, no matter how palpable they may feel, will not last forever. As with the changes and movement of the tide, there will be days when you may feel good about yourself and life and days when you may not feel this way. Once again this is normal. As time progresses the moments when you feel good about yourself and life will begin to take precedence over those moments of grief and uncertainty. And, last, it can be helpful to view the grief experience as an important part of the healing process as well. Although the grief may be intense at times and the range of emotions you may be experiencing may feel consuming, simply allow the experience to be what it is. Try not to judge the process nor be critical of yourself. This is the body’s way of re-grouping and attempting to heal itself after a traumatic event. Learn to trust and honor the body’s wisdom.

In addition to validating your emotions and grief, I would encourage you to reach out to people who are supportive of you. Surrounding yourself by people who are nurturing and life affirming can help strengthen your capacity to cope with your loss and ensure the healing process.

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