Few of us want to think about it and fewer want to talk about it, yet we all understand that death is an inevitable life cycle. As we get older, anticipated grief becomes inescapable as a loved one’s death becomes anticipated.
Most anticipated grief is understandably normal. Recently, a conversation was had where a man in his 70’s received “the call,” that one of five siblings had died. I was struck by the honesty and realization expressed as he explained how now, later in life, he feels a bit anxious knowing that a call can bring the news of others gone before him.
Another woman, also in her 70’s, expressed the same anxiety. Youngest of six, she speaks with her siblings regularly and usually around the same time of day, of every week. Anticipated grief began when the eldest wasn’t well and became progressively worse to find she had a terminal illness. “I don’t want my phone to ring. I get nervous every time thinking ‘this is it,’ she died.” Here, another example of anticipated grief, as the woman explained how, within a split second, her body became overwhelmed with emotion until she realized her greatest fear did not materialize.
Her honesty too, was a parallel to the first example. “As I get older,” she says, “so do my friends and family.” She explains how it could be any one of them now. She also admitted, “I’m getting older too. They may soon get the call that I died.”
This anxiety seems to be the “new normal” as one gets older. After all, death is often understood to be something only for the elderly to ponder. However, terminal illness in our young can also trigger this same anticipated grief. When someone you know is not going to get well, the alternative suggests, they are going to die. It becomes a matter of when. It would be no surprise that anxiety strikes when the caller ID suggests, it could be that call.
This anxiety over the “anticipated call”, as suggested is quite normal. However, there are times when this anxiety can become so overwhelming, anticipated grief stifles our ability to go on with our day-to-day lives. If you or someone you know is overwhelmed with a sense of fear and helplessness anticipating a loved one’s death, it might be time to seek out a health care professional, support group or someone who will listen and offer support.