There is a unique time of grieving that happens before someone we love dies, especially when the dying process is protracted. Our grief is focused on all of the parts of our loved one we have lost: the wit, the imagination, the sense of humour, the caring and love - in essence, all of the traits that made that person an individual. All of those things have slipped or been stripped away by disease or drugs, or both.
If the person dying is someone with whom we share our lives intimately, or daily, there will be grief a thousand times a day. There will be an empty place at the table, no one to drive us to the store, no extra hands for the many chores of living, no one with whom to share the little events that make up our days.
This grieving is all-pervasive, and yet is the grief that is acknowledged the least by those around us. After all, our loved one is still alive. How can we be so terribly sad? But, we ARE grieving, and this grief takes a huge emotional toll on us every waking minute.
If the person who is dying is not in hospital or hospice care, we may have the added burden of caring for him or her physically, as well. Again, this is extremely costly in terms of physical and emotional energy; and the cost is not limited to us. The time we are forced to spend with our dying loved one may cause tensions for us in our jobs, our families, our other support networks of friends, spiritual communities, neighbours. It may impact us financially, as we take time off, or pay for supplies like Depends, or food supplements. People just don't understand what we are going through. They can't possibly know how difficult it is to be us. They have no idea how to help.
We have lost our lives, in some ways, and we are not the one who is dying. At some point, we want our lives back. We want to be restored to some facsimile of the life we had, even if it can only be through the death of this one whom we have loved, but who has now become a stranger.
Wishing, hoping,waiting for someone we have loved deeply to die, may feel to us like the ultimate betrayal. Actually, it is an opportunity; an opportunity to begin learning not to judge ourselves so harshly. One of the complicating factors in all grief work is that we judge ourselves to be "doing it wrong." Emotions are morally neutral. They are not good or bad in and of themselves. Wanting our loved one to die is not "incredibly selfish," or an indicator that we are somehow unloving. It is simply that we have, to a huge degree, already lost the person. We are tired. We are deeply wounded. We are stressed. We have nothing left to give.
We need to let ourselves off the hook of judgement, and take care of ourselves. We need to find respite care, through organizations dealing with specific illnesses. We need to go for ice-cream, see a movie, stay home and go to bed early. We need to reach out to others, or let them reach in to us. We need to make lists of things others can do for us: laundry, shopping, even vacuuming, making meals. And then we need to let them do it.
Wanting an end to the dying process is simply human. Be gentle with yourself.