"Grief starts at the point of diagnosis" Julia Samuel, Psychotherapist and Author
Further to a recent article in a national newspaper I thought it might be helpful, during National Grief Awareness Week, to share some of the feelings associated with anticipatory grief in the context of the emotional support provided by the Bach flower remedies.
As Julia continues “The moment you get a life-threatening or life-limiting diagnosis your perception of yourself, your world, your future and everyone with whom you have a relationship is in that moment changed, and you grieve in a way for blissful ignorance”.
Anticipatory grief applies primarily to the diagnosed person but also to anyone close to them.
I experienced what I have come to understand as anticipatory grief during the final year of my Dad’s life.
After a lifetime of physical work he suffered a serious hip fracture which required hospitalisation over many weeks.
Despite the dedicated, focused care and attention of his medical team he failed to regain mobility and spent his last months in a residential home, as his physical frailty required round the clock care.
As someone whose physical strength and independence defined him, this was hard for him to bear and for me to witness.
For a time we were both in shock at the news he would never walk again. Star of Bethlehem “the comforter and soother of pains and sorrows” supported us and allowed us to express our sadness and sense of grief and loss, both privately and together.
Acknowledging our pain and the inevitability of loss allowed healing to begin and opened us up to conversations we might not have had without this support.
My Dad was someone who embodied enormous courage, fortitude and strength. There were many challenges and setbacks in his life, not least the serious illness my Mum experienced when I was just six years old. Throughout this time he supported us all, taking on the many tasks Mum could no longer do.
Dad embodied the virtues of the Oak type: steady and reliable, happily carrying others’ burdens as well as his own.
Dr Bach describes Oak personalities as “brave people, fighting against great difficulties, without loss of hope or effort”.
Another remedy that helped us both during this time was Honeysuckle, the remedy for memories.
At times Dad became rather animated recalling past outings or family holidays when my brother and I were young. I was moved by his recollection of a simpler time, before technology took hold, and his happiness at spending undisturbed time with us on the family
farm or walking in the mountains.
I noticed it was not the big events he remembered with such warmth, but the everyday events which may go unnoticed.
I realise now how enriching these experiences were – today a walk in nature, amongst trees, absorbing the wonder and energy of life, soothes my soul in ways nothing else does – and I am grateful for the reminder.
Along with the inevitable sadness, at times I felt anxious. I worried about what the end might look like, Dad suffering and me being unable to be there with him.
Red Chestnut calmed my fearful thoughts and helped me trust that Dad would be supported - and indeed he was.
As Julia goes on to say, “I think what is important in anticipatory grief is that you have all the emotions of grief, but they are not acknowledged or legitimised”.
I am deeply thankful for being gifted the time to accompany Dad on his final journey and for the wisdom of the Bach flower remedies which were a huge support to both of us.
These were precious times, full of love, honesty and understanding. Dad had reached a level of contentment and acceptance which granted him grace to let go with ease when the end came. Dad showed me how to have a graceful passing and I feel blessed to have shared this time with him.