Help for Life Challenges

Mourning something that hasn’t happened yet? There’s a name for that and here’s how God can help

Senior woman holding a picture frame missing someone at home
For many of us (myself included), it’s easy to get ahead of ourselves when it comes to big emotions.
FG Trade/Getty Images

For many of us (myself included), it’s easy to get ahead of ourselves when it comes to big emotions. Thinking about the imminent passing of a loved one or anxiously living in a “what if” or worst-case scenario state of mind are all too commonplace for many people today.

Sharley Funk’s husband, Lance, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in 2021 at the age of 51. And the idea of “anticipatory grief”—grieving an event that hasn’t taken place yet—has come to describe her life all too well. But she has also learned to lean on important gospel principles to help her, especially in tough moments.

Once I heard the term “anticipatory grief.” I was like, that’s exactly it. I know what’s coming. It’s like a long-term grief. You’re grieving all along the way, but then, you know what’s coming too, and you know it’s not going to get better.

And so I have made a conscious effort to just slow down, delete things from my life that I can delete from my life, and just try and live my life at Lance’s pace. Sometimes it’s sitting on the couch with him for two hours while he naps.

And I’ve got all this stuff going on in my head like, “Oh, I should be doing laundry. I could get up and do this. I should be doing this.” But I’ve just made the effort to slow down, and realize this is just a short time in my life and I’m going to take this time and just be with Lance. To just enjoy this, and just lay my head on his shoulder, and remember what it felt like to sit next to him, and to hear him breathe, and to remember that he is my person.

For me, that has been a huge blessing and that is something I can do because I know that this is short-term, it’s not going to be a long-term thing for us. … 

I know I’ll never be ready because it’s not something I’ve experienced before. I don’t really know what to expect as far as grieving the loss of a spouse. Because right now he’s still here. He’s still in front of me.

But I have felt like Heavenly Father has given me this period of time to just be with Lance, and that was such a gift for me. …

It’s hard to pinpoint one gospel principle that has helped the most because it’s everything. It’s the belief that we are eternal beings, and this time here on the earth is short term. It’s the belief that this isn’t the end, that I’m going to be with him again, and that even while I’m still here on the earth, he’s still going to be part of my life.

For Sharley, her experience with anticipatory grief has been lightened by two specific gifts from God: 1) the inspired thought to slow down and appreciate the time she does have with her husband. And 2) the knowledge that we are eternal beings with temporary earthly trials but eternal relationships and eternal purpose.

If you are also experiencing anticipatory grief or anxiety in your life, consider any blessings God has put on your path.

  • Have you ever been inspired to slow down or eliminate distractions?
  • Are there specific things you can do today to be more present and less focused on the future?
  • Are there people whose general presence brings you peace or joy?
  • Is there a quote or a conference talk or a scripture verse or a hymn that has brought you peace in the past?
  • Can you ask God more specifically for solutions to the anxiety or grief you are experiencing?

We know that God is in the details and knows all the small pleadings of our hearts. And He may be trying to help you, like Sharley, work through your moments of anticipatory anxiety or grief.

For more insights on grief and God’s hand in our lives, check out the articles below:

► How can I share my pain with God without murmuring?

► Lamenting our grief and pain to God might be one of the best things we can do for our faith

► This painting took 12 years to come to the canvas. Here’s what it teaches about grief and ongoing healing

You can listen to more of Sharley’s story and experiences on this week’s episode of the All In podcast in the player below.

Even in the Darkest Hour

For many of us, faith and hard work are often seen as the keys to overcoming challenges. But what does it look like to stay faithful when “more faith” and “more work” do not make things better? What does one say when one cannot express praise? How do we maintain connection to God from within our pain? In Even in the Darkest Hour, Michael Huston illustrates how a close relationship with God is premised on authenticity: including sincere, faithful expressions of our frustration, anger, and pain.

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