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Understanding a Parent's Preparatory Grief

You’ve just been dealt an emotional blow: Your parent has an incurable, terminal illness. Although most adult children are aware their likelihood of outliving their parents is more common than not, it doesn’t ease their emotional turmoil at the thought of losing their mother or father before they’ve had a chance to say a proper goodbye. While you are suffering from a phenomenon known as “anticipatory grief,” or grieving someone who has a terminal illness, your parent is also grieving through preparatory grief, knowing they will miss out on important life events in their children’s lives after they pass, not to mention they will dwell on missed opportunities they had not taken when they were physically healthy.

Like conventional grief, a parent who has learned the news they are dying goes through a grief cycle that includes shock, anger, depression, and acceptance. These steps are not necessarily in order, and grief is a cyclical process that may come and go from one phase to another. Dealing with the bad news that their disease is terminal can take up their thoughts at all hours of the day and impact both their physical and emotional energy, leaving them depressed and withdrawn. How your parent will react depends on many factors, from their prognosis and treatment plan through their cultural or religious beliefs.

Questions You May Ask Your Parent Before They Die

Although you likely feel overwhelmed and unsure of how to react, it’s important to ask questions and tie up any loose ends. In this way, you’ve been given the opportunity to say a meaningful goodbye. Ask your parent questions about their views on how they think their disease will affect their future and how they think about the future. The goal is not to break them down or force them out of denial. Rather, it’s a good place to start and allows your parent to vent their frustrations, which may include losses that any terminal illness brings, such as loss of function and independence.

Reflect on your parent’s situation by acknowledging their situation. You can tell them you see they are sad and express your empathy by telling them you realize it is hard for them to cope with the news of their eventual death. You can talk about your grief and how you plan to cope after they are gone. Remember to validate their experience and tell them that their grief, even depression, is normal. Another way to keep your parent in a better state of mind is to celebrate the moments of their life they have lived and recognize any tasks they still want to complete before they die.

Finally, you should tell your parent they don’t have to “battle” or “fight” their terminal illness – which implies that their unavoidable death means they had given up such a fight. It’s impossible to beat an illness with willpower and positivity alone. Express your grief, but keep in mind you are not abandoning your parent or giving up on them. Make sure they’re aware you will stand by them throughout their illness, especially if you are their primary caregiver.

Contact At Home Healthcare

If you have a loved one who needs in-home caregiving near the end of their lives, At Home Healthcare can help. We are an in-home care agency with compassionate, empathetic in-home caregivers and aides who can help your loved one age in place and keep as much independence as possible while fully maintaining their dignity.

To contact At Home Healthcare, please call (877) 959-9093 today.

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