Grief. It’s a multi-faceted word, isn’t it? It instantly puts us on guard–expecting our hearts to be pained and our brains left trying to figure out how to make it through the grieving process. It is true; grief is a process, though not one that necessarily has a clear-cut starting and ending point. Grief is more like an ocean, ebbing and flowing with beautiful days peppered with torrential storms, or a circle where you seem to go through the steps throughout different seasons in your life. 

Grief is difficult to describe, as it’s a unique process for each individual and includes a lot of introspection and endurance as you look for ways to muddle through the hard and appreciate and enjoy the good when it comes. Perhaps one of the most challenging facets of grief may be struggling with ambiguous or anticipatory grief. This is just as it sounds–grieving what you ‘may’ lose (or are in the process of losing) even though there is uncertainty in just what that means. This grief often brings guilt and shame as you may not even believe you’re entitled to your feelings.

That’s where radical forgiveness and self-care are necessary for you and what you’re grieving.

Grief: A Universal Emotion

We’re not unfamiliar with grief. We all grieve or have grieved something–the loss of beloved friends or family members is life-changing. The same could be said for losing jobs, relationships, businesses, or even incomes. Grief often walks hand-in-hand with changes simply because humans are creatures of habit. We like what we like, and we love what we love, and most of us aren’t likely to make waves and change our comfort levels. 

When something happens–when changes occur–even if there is excitement about the change, it’s wise to consider there may be grief in the process too. 

A new job may be a fantastic opportunity, but it may be hard to leave your amazing coworkers, and you’ll mourn those relationships. Your child getting married may bring tremendous joy, but you may mourn the change that this will bring to the relationship with your child. 

This is human nature, and we need to permit ourselves to grieve the changing connections and life circumstances. A myth perpetuates the idea that if you’re sad, you’re sad. If your happy, you’re happy–and the two don’t often overlap. 

That’s just not true. Don’t berate yourself for grieving the changes in our lives. People and patterns matter in our lives, and when something happens to shake that up, the grief can be real. It doesn’t have to negate joy. Believe it or not, allowing yourself to feel happy and sad is self-care. When it comes to grief, especially forgiveness, we have to normalize the existence of different emotions existing and shaping us simultaneously. Particularly in the last two years–there have been so many changes for us. There’s been much loss, but many have found new paths and journeys and growth. 

Ambiguous Grief: Life Changes–But So Do You

As a forgiveness coach, I’ve learned a lot about how forgiveness is self-care, and I’ve been able to share that concept with others to help them grow and take care of themselves. 

This is important because self-care often takes a back seat when grieving. The thing is…when it comes to ambiguous grief or anticipatory grief, we may not even realize we’re in a grieving process.

Such was the case for me, as I recently learned something new about grief and its many facets and angles. My husband and I have been together for about 10 years, but I have noticed some changes in him in the last few years. 

He seemed to be going through some mental changes–not really being present or wanting to engage. He seemed to lack purpose and energy, and sometimes, it seemed as if he’d just ‘check out.’ Our adult kids even noticed the changes, but he didn’t want to go to the doctor to check it out. 

As you can imagine, this began to strain our relationship.

Still, we chalked it up to the possibility that the semi-retirement he was going through may have been the factor behind the lack of motivation and purposeful feelings. He kept himself busy with things he liked to combat, but sadly, the dementia-like behavior worsened.

Scarily for us both, he even got to the point where he wasn’t sure he even wanted to be alive. The powerlessness I felt to help him gutted me and put me on an exhausting mental roller coaster. When he was low, I was extremely sad, but I was hopeful and optimistic as he’d coast back into ‘better.’ Then, he’d simply become apathetic at times, and I’d be so angry with what seemed to be him not caring at all. 

The truth is that I was pretty much as much a mess as he was, just for different reasons. I’d go between deep sadness and rage, exhaustion and depression.

When I could finally share what was going on with a friend, she told me she believed I was experiencing anticipatory grief. Also sometimes called unconventional grief, it was a grief I’d not heard of before. Still, it was worth exploring; although my husband wasn’t dying, I sure did feel like what I knew were parts of the stages of grief.

I came to find this grief is when you’re grieving someone still alive. They are not recognizable to you anymore…and this grief often accompanies your feelings when you watch someone go through situations like addiction, mental illness, dementia, or Alzheimer’s. 

The hard part of this anticipatory or unconventional grief, compared to other types, is that not everyone expects or even allows it. It’s expected you’ll grieve when your loved one passes, but there’s not as much grace for you when you’re grieving someone alive.

And this is the tragedy of anticipatory grief. Even though the person is there, they’re psychologically different from before. This is hard for you and them, as all the factors of this life change are out of anyone’s control. Still, while challenging for the one going through the change, it’s equally challenging for you as you’re forced to adapt to this new person and new life. To top it all off, you’ll likely feel tremendous guilt and shame for even thinking the things you’re thinking.

Please don’t. Be gentle with yourself and recognize that this change and the accompanying grief you are experiencing are valid.

Radical Forgiveness: Key In The Grieving Process

Fortunately, my training as a forgiveness coach allowed me to rely on the processes of self-forgiveness and forgiveness of others. Forgiving yourself for your very human shortcomings is so essential in anticipatory grief. It’s human to be frustrated and exhausted, and while you are thankful for the opportunity to love and serve, you deserve some grace. Forgive yourself for the times you fall short, as they’re bound to come. It may even feel like radical forgiveness because you’ve never really felt these valid feelings before.

Additionally, the forgiveness of others helps immensely as well. To do this, it’s important to always let compassion guide you. When you do, and you bring compassion for the other person, you’re able to see the changes occurring in your life through a lens of love and empathy. Recognizing that hurtful behaviors aren’t always purposeful makes it easier to forgive others, bringing your possibly fractured connection back together. Remembering this with my husband was key to remembering why I loved him so much in the first place.

Also–reach out! Reaching out in your grief process allows you to be in the company of those who understand what you’re going through. You can allow yourself to grieve this unconventional grief in spaces filled with love and concern. Friends who have walked the walk you’re walking (or those similar to yours) are of incredible help as they’re a wealth of knowledge and understanding. Support groups can also bring you a community of those who care, understand, and will support you in the topsy-turvy process you’re going through.

To get the full benefits of reaching out, first open yourself up to the idea that your grieving relationship is different. Ask how you can allow yourself to find some happiness in this new relationship, and let supporters help you walk that path.

Most importantly, when it comes to this ambiguous grief, remind yourself that the illness or changes the person faces are not them. While it may be hard to do because they are the ones behaving differently, remember the uncontrollable aspect of the situation and then focus on what you CAN control. You CAN be angry at what’s going on, and you CAN permit yourself to feel what you’re feeling. 

But you also CAN see what’s going on with your loved one, and you CAN choose to do the best you can for them and with them. And that’s all anyone should ask of you. Are you interested in hearing more about how to walk through heavy times, particularly those that grieve your heart? In that case, I’d love you to check out this episode of Love From The Hyp. My friends and Intuitive & Transformational Coaches Sakura Sutter, Rory Reich, and I talk more about how to walk through this journey and how we don’t have to feel alone.