She said to me, "He has been grieving all through her illness. It won't be as hard for him when she dies, will it?" Sometimes we want this to be true. When someone is diagnosed with a terminal disease and has a long period of suffering on the journey of death, we want to believe that when they die, part of the grieving will be over.
But, my experience and observation teaches me that anticipation of endings and endings themselves are two different losses and therefore require distinct and individual grieving. When someone is diagnosed and is sick, the loss is significant. The person has lost their sense of vulnerability and sense of a future. They are aware that there are limits to their life. The relationship moves from mutuality to one of care giving and dependency. Everyone in the family has to learn to live in the absence of the way things used to be. They grieve the loss of the way relationships were lived.
But, when someone dies, the whole picture changes. The presence of a person, even when they are ill, is still a presence on which everyone depends. Everyone develops ways of living and caring which reflect the love and compassion they feel for each other. But, when that person dies, each person has to learn to live in the absence of their presence. There is a finality to the relationship which was not fully appreciated before the death.
So, people who have had significant losses after a long illness still have to grieve the full impact of the ending of a person's life. Therefore, don't try to discount their feelings because someone they love was ill for a long time. The extended time of care-giving and grieving the previous losses only means that the person begins this grieving process more exhausted than they would have otherwise. Grief is particular and individual. We grieve loss whenever their are significant changes. Be patient with each other.