What is Anticipatory Grief?

By: Matthew Funeral Home
Thursday, June 22, 2023

Many people are familiar with the concept of grief when it comes to dealing with the loss of a loved one. However, you may not be as familiar with the term anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief refers to feelings of grief and loss when a loved one is expected to die in the near future. Generally, anticipatory grief is often seen when a loved one is diagnosed or living with a terminal illness. Family members who are watching their loved ones fight cancer, deal with the effects of a stroke, or live with dementia may all experience some form of anticipatory grief. This article will discuss some aspects of anticipatory grief, and what you can do to ready yourself for when your loved one passes.

Symptoms of Anticipatory Grief

Also known as pre-bereavement, anticipatory grief can manifest in a lot of different ways. It is important to note that grief generally manifests in a lot of different ways for different people. When you are expecting the death of a loved one and experiencing feelings of grief, you may notice some or all of the following:

  • Anxiety or depression
  • Overwhelming sadness
  • Anger and irritability
  • Guilt
  • Loneliness
  • Poor concentration
  • Frequently imagining what their death will be like, or what life will be like without them. 

These are common symptoms of dealing with anticipatory grief. 

How is Anticipatory Grief Different?

First, it is important to mention that there is no “right” way to grieve. But, anticipatory grief is often seen as harder to deal with because often feel like you have to hide these emotions from the person you are grieving for. Especially if that person is fighting a terminal illness. It can sometimes feel difficult to discuss your feelings when they seem to be going through so much. And that is totally understandable. This can often be the case when the person you are grieving for is often a major part of your support system. For example a close sibling, spouse, partner, or parent. It can be hard to deal with feelings of grief when the person you often come to with your problems is the person you are pre-bereaving.

Finding Support With Anticipatory Grief

It can be important to find support for your feelings of grief and to help prepare yourself for when your loved one does pass. One place you can find this support can be other close friends or family members that are also experiencing anticipatory grief. They may be able to help you process your feelings. It is generally better to not put this support on those that are dealing with a terminal illness. As it can add more weight to what is happening to them. 
Additionally, there are many support groups that you may be able to reach out to for help with your anticipatory grief. Groups that work with families of cancer patients, or other terminal illnesses, may have support structures for those dealing with anticipatory grief.
Lastly, consider seeking out professional care services for mental health and grief counseling. Therapists and counselors may be able to help you in dealing with your grief.

When Your Loved One Does Pass

When your loved one does pass, you will likely experience grief in a different way than what you were feeling leading up to it. Some studies have shown that anticipatory grief can help some people be more emotionally prepared when their loved one passes. In some ways, their grief might be easier to deal with. Or, they may be more prepared to cope with it. That does not lessen the impact of loss but rather helps us deal with and emotionally process our feelings of grief. Just remember, that grief is unique from person to person. And that there is no wrong way to grieve.

The author of this post is not a professional therapist or counselor. For assistance in finding a grief counselor that is right for you, there are several resources out there. For our Grief Resource Center, written by Dr. Bill Webster, click here
For over 50 years, Matthew Funeral Home has been serving the Staten Island community. We can help with almost every aspect of your loved one’s memorial service. Our family is here to serve yours, every step of the way.

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