Anticipatory grief: Grieving for someone before they die GreenAcres Group


Anticipatory grief: Grieving for someone before they die

November 14, 2023

Grief doesn’t always happen after a death. If a loved one becomes ill or receives a terminal diagnosis, it’s possible to grieve for them before they’ve passed away. You know they’re going to die – you just can’t be sure of when. That’s a tough burden for anyone to bear. 

Feelings of grief before a death can be overwhelming, so it’s important to seek help before your mental health starts to suffer. This article will guide you through this challenging journey by offering advice on what anticipatory grief is and how you can support yourself. 

What is anticipatory grief? 

Anticipatory grief is a type of grief that happens before someone you love passes away – often when they have a terminal illness, like dementia or cancer, or suffer a significant decline in their health. Anticipatory grief can start weeks, months and even years before the actual loss and stays with you until your loved one’s passing.  

What’s the difference between anticipatory grief and conventional grief?  

Grief comes in two forms: anticipatory grief and conventional grief. While anticipatory grief is the emotional response that occurs before the actual loss, conventional grief is the immediate emotional response following the loss of a loved one.  

Anticipatory grief is like looking ahead at death, while conventional grief looks back. Anticipatory grief can be even more difficult to bear because there’s always that small glimmer of hope that your loved one might get better or win their fight against their illness. Conventional grief is about coming to terms with the reality that they’re no longer here, leaving you to find a new way to carry their memory with you. 

What emotions might you feel with anticipatory grief? 

Anticipatory grief can trigger a range of different emotions, many of which come and go depending on your loved one’s condition on any given day. You might feel: 

  • Anger
  • Unease
  • Anxiety
  • Denial or general resistance to reality
  • Guilt or remorse 
  • Dread
  • Depression
  • Loneliness 
  • Sadness or despair 
  • The need to be alone 
  • An urge to be around the dying person at all times 

Anticipatory grief can be incredibly exhausting, especially if your loved one has been battling an illness for a long time. The constant cycle of worry and anticipation becomes a huge part of your daily life, making it difficult to focus on work, family and other commitments.  

You may also find yourself postponing birthdays, celebrations and holidays while you wait for your loved one to pass. While this is normal with anticipatory grief, it can make feelings of guilt much worse.  

How to support yourself through anticipatory grief 

If you’re struggling with anticipatory grief, there are groups and forums you can turn to for support – like this one from MacMilian Cancer Support. You may find comfort from posting in the different support groups and talking to members who are going through the same thing. 

Here are some other ways you can support yourself through anticipatory grief: 

Acknowledge how you’re feeling 

It’s natural to try and bottle your emotions when trying to cope with anticipatory grief. You may find it hard to talk about the prospect of a loved one dying, causing you to feel isolated and alone. There’s also the constant worry of when it might happen.  

Instead of trying to face things by yourself, acknowledge how you’re feeling and seek support from friends and family who are going through the same experience. You can also get help by clicking on this Cruse Signposting Information Booklet produced by bereavement charity Cruse with information on many different support organisations.  Remember – you don’t have to navigate this journey alone.  

Have the difficult conversations early 

As challenging as it may be, having those difficult conversations with your loved one before they pass can save you unnecessary stress and heartache in the future. Speaking to them about their funeral wishes and end-of-life arrangements will not only prepare you for what lies ahead, but also ensures their wishes are respected.  

This open and honest communication can bring a sense of peace during an emotionally tough time, allowing you to focus on providing the love and support your loved one needs as they approach the end of their life. If you need guidance, our experienced team can help talk you through your options.  

Say goodbye to your loved one 

While it’s difficult to accept that your loved one will one day no longer be here, saying goodbye will help bring a sense of peace when the time comes. Take time to reflect on precious moments you’ve shared and take comfort from knowing that your loved one will pass knowing how deeply they are loved and cherished. If you’re loved one feels up to it, you may also want to visit places that are special to you both.  

Take time for yourself 

You might not feel up to it, but now’s the time to take care of yourself. Simple things like running a bath, reading a book and enjoying a nice meal can help bring a sense of normality to your life – even if only for an hour or two. 

When you lose someone you love, meeting others who can relate to how you feel can help. We offer a kind, supportive space with understanding from others who are also living life after loss. We promise you a warm welcome from our experienced and compassionate team along with tea, coffee and cake! This event is FREE for anyone bereaved in the local community surrounding the Park. Book your space at your nearest Park today. 


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