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Anticipatory grief is different from bereavement.

people holding hands and a flower
Feeling grief while your loved one is still alive does not mean you are abandoning your loved one.

Bereavement is the grief that we deal with after someone passes. Anticipatory grief is the grief we experience when we are watching someone in the dying process.

Anticipatory grief can feel like we are losing the person small bits at a time. Anticipatory grief is the deep sadness we can feel during the last days of life which can be experienced by both the dying person and the dying person’s loved ones.

Not everyone feels anticipatory grief, but it is common.

Some have noted that there may be more anger attached to anticipatory grief.

Feeling grief while your loved one is still alive does not mean you are abandoning your loved one or giving up.

Actually anticipatory grief may give you the opportunity to gain closure you might not have had. Anticipatory grief can allow us the opportunity to say good bye, an opportunity we may not have if the death is sudden.

Unfortunately, anticipatory grief before death doesn’t take the place of or even shorten the grief of bereavement. Some feel that they are somewhere between holding on and letting go during the anticipatory grieving period and might feel they are betraying their loved one if they tend to lean towards letting go.

Actually it is possible to live “holding on and letting go” at the same time.

Although anticipatory grief can be daunting, it sometimes is helpful to remember that spending time with a dying loved one can be a very meaningful experience.

Consider using the time to share memories together or asking your loved one to share stories which can later be shared with other family members and friends. Consider reading to your loved one.

Many dying individuals are comforted by hearing the Bible being read to them. Sing to or with your loved one. Music can be very soothing and comforting for both parties. Don’t hesitate to show your emotions. Work hard not to avoid talking about dying and the dying process, no matter how uncomfortable it may feel to you.

In an article written by Lynne Eldridge, MD, she states that anticipatory grief is not only grieving the coming death of a loved one, but is also grief for the other losses that accompany the death such as the loss of a companion, loss of shared memories and loss of dreams for the future.

Some physical and emotional signs of anticipatory grief can be:

-lack of appetite

-emotional numbness

-anxiety and depression


-poor concentration

-being easily distracted

-anger and denial

-restless/distressed sleeping patterns

Both anticipatory grief and bereavement grief can involve feeling emotional and physical pain. It’s important that we are able to accept the impending loss, be willing to work through the pain, work to adjust to the new reality of being without your loved one and find ways to connect to your loved one as you move forward without them.

Denying grief can often lengthen the grieving process. Work to find a trusted friend or professional therapist to work though the sometimes very complicated anticipatory grief and bereavement processes. It’s very important to find someone to talk with who will listen without judging or trying to fix things.

How to deal with anticipatory grief?

-Accept it – it is real.

-Acknowledge your losses. Give yourself permission to grieve the future.

-Don’t feel guilty – you haven’t given up on your loved one if you are grieving the loss.

-Work to spend meaningful time with your loved one.

-Engage in good self-care for yourself.

-Ask for practical help and consider a therapist or support group.

Remember there is no right or wrong to grieve!

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