When you find out someone you love is going to die - no matter how distant the horizon - you'll begin to grieve. And when they pass you'll grieve again. This is a normal and natural part of the end of life experience. Intense emotions ranging from anger to depression, as well as physical symptoms like tiredness and difficulty sleeping are all part of the grieving process.
'Bereavement is a darkness impenetrable to the imagination of the unbereaved.'
- Iris Murdoch
Before someone you love dies you may experience a kind of anticipatory loss - a grief for who they were and the loss of their future hopes and dreams as well as a sense of loss of your identity and future without them. It's important to acknowledge this grief and allow yourself to feel it - grieving for someone before they've died doesn't in any way mean that you're giving up on them.
After someone you love dies you may experience a sense of relief. Caring for someone who is dying can be mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting. This sense of relief is a natural reaction and doesn't in any way diminish your love for the person.
The stages of grief
Although everyone grieves differently there are five overarching stages of grief that most of us will go through - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. You may experience them in any order and often many times as you slowly come to terms with your new reality.
Often the first emotion you'll experience is a state of shock. You may feel numb, disoriented, or overwhelmed - things may feel 'unreal'. The world can become meaningless and overwhelming - life makes no sense.
This form of denial is a natural defense mechanism - your body's way of buffering the shock rather than trying to deal with all of your emotions at once.
There is a grace in denial. It's natures way of letting in only as much pain as we can handle.
As the initial shock begins to ware off and the pain of reality reemerges it's common to feel a sense of anger. This may be a general sense of anger, or a more direct anger towards doctors, family & friends or the person that's passed.
Again this is a normal reaction and is just another manifestation of the pain you are experiencing. Often when you are still too vulnerable to fully face your grief the pain will instead come up as anger as a defense mechanism.
Try and remember that this is a normal and necessary part of the healing process.
Before your loved one dies you may find yourself bargaining with yourself, doctors, the world - 'i'll never be angry again if you just let them live' etc.
After they pass you may begin to find yourself asking 'what if?' questions - thinking about all the things you could have done or said differently - replaying things in your mind.
You have lost someone you love, and as you begin to accept your new reality you will probably feel depressed. You may feel as if you're in a fog of sadness and want to withdraw from day-to-day activities. It's also common to experience physical symptoms such a tiredness, lethargy, loss or increase in appetite and difficulty sleeping.
Experiencing depression is a normal and necessary part of the healing experience. There is no set time limit for how long your depression may last but if you're already prone to depression or you feel like you've been depressed for a long time seek the help of a therapist.
Acceptance doesn't mean feeling ok about what's happened, it's more about accepting the reality that your loved one is physically gone and that this new reality is permanent. Finding acceptance might initially just be about having more good days than bad ones. You'll probably never like this new reality but you will learn to live with it. Slowly overtime you will feel happy again.