In some cases, we are given the opportunity to see death coming. Some see this as a blessing in that it allows us to prepare. Others may see it as a prison forcing us to prolong the inevitable. This blog will cover the similarities and differences experienced with an expected loss.
For more information on other types of grief please see: Grief Part 1 – Sudden Loss and
This post is dedicated to those who have lost their fight to ovarian cancer or breast cancer and to those who still fight.
September is Ovarian Cancer awareness month
- 1 in 78 women will develop ovarian cancer over their life.
- Over 14,000 individuals will die to ovarian cancer this year.
- Often has no symptoms but abdominal pain can be a warning sign
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.
- 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer over their life.
- For a man, the chances of developing breast cancer are approximately 1 in 1000.
- Over 40,000 individuals will die to breast cancer this year.
- Some things to look for include breast pain, swelling, or lumps.
Early detection is important to survival, so know the signs and get checked often. For more information:
Ovarian Cancer: https://ocrfa.org/
Breast Cancer: https://www.breastcancer.org/
What is Expected Loss
An anticipated loss is an event where the person is aware they are going to die. In these situations not only may the person who is going to die experiencing grief, but so are those affected by the impending loss. Terminal illness is the most common form of anticipated loss.
Who is Involved in Expected Loss
There are three different divisions of expected loss:
- The dying – This person will be dealing with coming to terms with own mortality. They may wish to make memories before death and will be concerned with what they are leaving behind. Based on the reason for impending death these individuals may experience physical or mental changes that make the end of life relationships difficult.
- The loved ones pre-death – These are the ones being left behind. These individuals will first be faced with coming to terms with the impending death. These individuals may find the physical or mental changes of the dying to be difficult. They may grieve for the person they used to be or have a difficult time preparing for the death.
- The loved ones post-death – The second part of the grieving process comes after death has happened. These individuals are now grieving the actual loss. Regret may be present for any unfinished business.
Expected Loss and Children
It can be difficult to explain to a child what death and sickness looks like and what it means for them. Some tips for navigating this discussion (can be applied to Sudden loss as well):
- Age is not as important as you think: Children as young as 3 can understand sickness an death.
- Be Honest: Children have a right to be brought into the conversation whether the expected death is their own or a loved one. It is ok to use the illnesses name and explain what to expect. It is important, to be honest if death is likely and to make sure they understand the hard truth that death is forever.
- Inform: As long as the language is age appropriate a child of any age can understand. It is important that real information is given. Children need to understand that sick as in cancer is different than sick as in cold.
- Follow Up: One conversation will not be enough. Children will have questions, so it is important to make time for that. Also, children forget, so conversations about what to expect should happen frequently.
What Grief Looks Like
Grief is one of the most complicated experiences a person will ever face. The emotions and process are unique to every individual and can change suddenly and frequently. I’m sure we have all heard about the stages of grief including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Although these are all emotions an individual may experience, it is false to believe any person will move through them in any fluid fashion. Instead, a person will bounce between these emotions and more (guilt for instance). A person may bounce back and forth between denial and anger frequently for weeks or even months. Another may live in acceptance for a while before reverting back to depression. Some important things to remember:
- There is no time frame to grief – Many people may take 6 months to a year to even start grieving. This can be due to denial, dealing with the aftermath of a loss, or obligations helping another through grief. From there it can take months or even years to fully process.
- Grieving is personal and unique – Each loss is unique and each person experiencing the loss is unique. Whatever you feel is okay.
- Grief is fluid – Emotions can change and change frequently
Getting Through Grief
Unfortunately, there is no magic button to fix grief, it is simply a process. Eventually, a person learns to live with the loss, they may move on or find happiness in memories. Some things that may help or hinder an individual through grief may include:
- Support system – Who is helping you? Are you having to be strong for others or are you allowed to be vulnerable?
- Religious beliefs – What does your religion say about loss or why bad things happen? Are there any stigmas (example: about suicide)
- Coping skills – Do you practice self-care? Do you have unhealthy coping such as substance use?
- Family History – What are the family beliefs about dealing with loss? Is emotional expression considered improper or it is accepted?
Some advice for helping a person grieve: Everything you think you are supposed to say is wrong. It’s harsh but true. “Everything happens for a reason”, “They are in a better place”, “It was their time”…to the people grieving this is not true. To a grieving person, it shouldn’t have happened and the person is better with them. Instead, offer words of support such as “I’m sorry you are experiencing this” and show love in the ways you can. Be a shoulder to cry on, pick the kids up from school or run to the store for them. These are little acts that give the person time to cope and let them know they are not alone.
If you or someone you know is experiencing grief and in need of support I encourage you to seek help from a counselor. You do not have to go through it alone.