What Is Anticipatory Grief?

Caregiving is a unique, often emotional experience. It can be challenging to ignore and “power through” feelings of grief when faced with the cruel fact that a loved one has an incurable, terminal disease. In fact, expecting the loss of a loved one can be just as intense as the grief felt after their death. This is normal, even though it isn’t as well known as conventional grief. The stages of conventional grief are well known and often taken more seriously than anticipatory grief. They include denial, bargaining, depression, anger, and acceptance – all of which may be experienced repeatedly in a cyclical pattern.

What Are the Stages of Anticipatory Grief?

The stages of anticipatory grief are a type of bell curve, and include:

  • Shock about the news of an impending loss, especially when the course of the loved one’s disease is unknown
  • Denying the reality of the loss as a natural defense mechanism to cope with overwhelming emotions
  • Acceptance of the reality of the upcoming loss and imagining what life will be like after without the loved one

Is Grief the Same as Depression?

Clinically speaking, no, but grief overlaps with depression in many respects. The fear and sadness of being alone and changing your routine after a loved one's expected death is certainly a depressing reality to face. Even the dying person typically experiences fear and isolation in what is called preparatory grief. Although anticipatory or preparatory grief is agonizing, it does give those who experience it the benefit of spending more quality time with their loved one and finding a meaningful way to say goodbye that those who lose a loved one suddenly do not experience. The chance to attend to unfinished business is indeed a blessing in that respect.

How to Cope When You Expect the Death of a Loved One

While it’s normal to grieve, try not to let your grief interfere with your overall wellbeing. Practice good self-care and attend to your emotional and physical health. There are many methods at your disposal to cope, including allowing yourself to feel the pain of grief. Rather than suppressing or ignoring your negative emotions, acknowledge your feelings of fear and anticipated loss. You can do this by joining a caregiver support group, read books or watch lectures about grief (such as those on Grief.com), and finding an outlet for your feelings. You can express yourself even in abstract ways, such as art therapy or meditation. Others find solace in prayer or journaling.

Above all, spend quality time with your loved one so you can truly make the most of the time you have left. You can make this time meaningful by doing worthwhile activities such as looking at old photos, reminiscing about your fond memories, and asking questions that provoke deep conversations you can look back on. This will allow you to give the farewell that will help you cope, although not necessarily move on, from grief.

Because grief is cyclical, you can and will make strides over time after the passing of your loved one and adjust to the new normal. Although you might not think you will be able to cope with an expected loss, you will be able to find new meaning in life, and it might provide you comfort to know you’re not alone in your feelings.

Contact At Home Healthcare

If you would like to request additional support from in-home caregiving professionals, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. At Home Healthcare’s licensed caregivers are eager to help and can advise you about how to cope with anticipatory grief. Reach out today either online or by calling (877) 959-9093.


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