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Anticipatory Grief: What It Is and How to Cope

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Anticipatory Grief: What It Is and How to Cope
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Anticipatory Grief: What It Is and How to Cope

November 03, 2020

Experiencing grief after a spouse or loved one dies is a familiar emotion. However, caregivers coping with a pending death of a loved one, or a person who is in the last stages of life, may experience anticipatory grief.  The anticipatory grief definition is grief that occurs before death in contrast to grief after someone dies. Just like grief experienced after a person dies, anticipatory grief is a normal process. 

Why Does Anticipatory Grief Happen? 

For a caregiver or family member of a dying loved one, anticipatory grief is a result of witnessing the losses already occurring as an illness progresses, or watching a loved one suffer. It can also result from the pain that comes from imagining the loss of companionship and shared memories.

a woman cryingAnticipatory grief can have some benefits. It can help a person coping with the imminent loss of an elderly spouse or other loved one get ready for the reality of the loss and spend quality time with the loved one. For those who are dying, anticipatory grief can help bring about closure and provide a bridge to saying goodbye.  

Symptoms of Anticipatory Grief 

People grieve in different ways. Those experiencing anticipatory grief and loss may feel like their emotions are on a roller coaster. That is natural. These complicated emotions coupled with exhaustion can result in any of the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Distraction
  • Emotional numbness
  • Extreme concern for the dying loved one
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of sadness and fear
  • Forgetfulness
  • Guilt
  • Irritability and anger
  • Loneliness
  • Visualizing the person’s death 

How to Cope With Anticipatory Grief 

If you are experiencing grief and loss while your loved one is still alive, it does not mean you are being unsupportive of your loved one. You must give yourself permission to feel this grief and acknowledge your feelings. Finding a trusted friend or family member to talk to is a great way to deal with all the feelings that anticipatory grief brings about. Other good ways to acknowledge your grief include joining a support group, journaling and working with a professional counselor who can help you process your complicated emotions.

You should also make an effort to take care of your physical and spiritual needs. Remember to eat healthy food and exercise. Nurture your spirituality through prayer and meditation. Feed your soul by taking time to do the things you love, like reading, playing music or being outdoors. Most importantly, continue to live your life. Go to work, socialize with friends and continue your daily routine.

Finally, remember that your grief does not mean that special moments and memory-making with your loved one are gone. Decide how you will spend the remaining time you have together in meaningful ways and talk and share in an intimate and loving way. This will help make your loved one’s passing peaceful and help you achieve closure with the end-of-life transition. 

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