Anticipatory Grief

Anticipatory grief can be a challenging topic to explain, understand and experience. People can have misconceptions when we might think, “If I do this grief work ahead of time, I won’t have as much grief after the person dies.” That can lead us into unrealistic expectations and surprise us when we do, indeed, grieve after someone dies. We cannot “get our card punched ahead of time” and avoid the inevitable aspects of loss, mourning and longing that are normal and natural responses when we encounter a world without the physical presence of someone loved.

When someone we love is given a terminal diagnosis or a disease progresses, we experience grief over these changes and can project or imagine what our life will be like when that person dies. This grief is colored by the depth of our relationship with that person, the degree of unfinished business, our social supports, spirituality, our coping mechanisms, etc. Knowing in advance or anticipating someone’s death can offer us an opportunity to address those unfinished issues with the dying person. This is a very different issue when a death is sudden and unexpected. Following a sudden, unexpected death, people can find themselves trying to come to grips with the circumstances of the death and those issues can be the focus more than dealing with the grief itself.

When we experience losses in our lives we naturally go through a process of grief. This happens most dramatically when someone we love dies, but we can also experience anticipatory grief when we are nearing times of change in our lives such as children leaving home, family members being deployed in military service, life changes such as retirement, marriage, changes in health, independence, financial security, etc. We are working to integrate whatever is happening or coming to be by “trying on the feelings” but we cannot know fully what it will be like when it actually happens. One of the best questions we can consider as we look at ourselves or others is, “What does this loss mean to this person at this time in his or her life?”

If you are a caregiver for someone who is dying please remember to honor your feelings, reactions and responses. Make space, to the degree that you can, to get space and time for yourself to refill your own reservoir. Connect with others to lessen the isolation that can come with constant caregiving.

In all of the circumstances above, it is most important that you find ways, people and information that is helpful and supportive to you and for you. We hope GriefLink can help you find those individuals, groups, programs and information!

  Follow the conversation on anticipatory grief on our blog.