A dying process has no fixed time limit. When my husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, we were told he might have 6 months to live, but he only lived another 100 days. I’ve known others that lived years beyond what was expected.
Not knowing “how long you have” is hard for the patient and the family. This is a time when some enter a period of what is called “anticipatory grief”.
Anticipatory grief does not substitute or lesson the post-death grief process. It is not just post-death grief pushed ahead in time.
When a family is anticipating a single death, they are also anticipating multiple losses – loss of hope, a future together, levels of functioning, security and invulnerability.
The most common concern for anticipatory grief is that it can result in premature detachment from the dying person, resulting in a feeling of abandonment.
The most difficult challenge for a family during this period is to try and maintain as normal a lifestyle as possible.
Jim’s family has set a good example for us by trying to maintain normalcy. His wife, LeAnn, not only continues her job as a teacher and is involved in the activities of her husband and teenage children and her friends, but she also prepares for and runs marathons. Her latest run was the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon in April.
Jim’s daughter Maddye and son Ford pursue their own interests, hang out with friends and do normal things that teenagers do.
Jim, in addition to chemotherapy treatments and regular trips to M.D.Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, continues his job as an attorney at the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, writes poetry, is completing a 2nd book, participates in poetry readings, lunches with friends, sees movies and spends time with his wife, his kids and his friends.
It is common that a few people will judge them for trying to live a normal life, but it is an important aspect of weathering this experience because nobody can face death all the time and unless you take time for yourself, for letting out your feelings and taking care of your health, you may well run out of fuel before the process is over.