Anticipatory Grief: Signs and How to Cope

What is anticipatory grief?

Anticipatory grief is the feeling of grief a patient or patient’s loved ones can have when facing a terminal or chronic illness.

Just like grieving after the loss of someone, anticipatory grief helps with upcoming loss. The grief reaction can be similar to those who have experienced the stress of combat. However, it is often not discussed and not as well understood.

While it is common in those facing chronic or terminal illnesses, it is not limited to those situations. In fact, any loss situation, such as facing a new job, complications in pregnancy and other life-changing medical conditions can spark anticipatory grief feelings.

Signs of anticipatory grief

While everyone grieves differently, there are some common signs of anticipatory grief.

Overwhelming feelings of sadness and tearfulness can occur. Fear of the loss and anxiety about the changes to come are very common feelings. Both the caregiver and the loved one facing death or illness changes can experience anger. Loneliness and feelings of isolation can occur and are important to watch out for, as others may not be as understanding as they would be after death or loss.

There can be a strong desire to talk to others about the upcoming loss and without somewhere to express those feelings, frustration and isolation can occur. Guilt, especially survivor’s guilt is common. Physical symptoms can include sleep difficulties and memory issues.

How to cope with anticipatory grief

If you are experiencing grief before death or loss, it is very important that you find someone that you can safely talk to about your feelings. This can be a friend or counselor or support group who can help you. A professional counselor can help to identify treatments that would meet specific needs. If you are anxious about talking with someone, consider journaling. Writing about grief and all of the feelings that come with it can have a positive impact.

Find ways to spend active time with the person who is ill. Create meaningful memories that will give you something positive to engage in and hold onto. Opportunities to engage with the person who is ill can be as varied as people are. From giving pedicures to talking about their favorite novels or family pictures, how you choose to engage your loved one is up to you.

Use meditation or other spiritual and holistic methods to help. Art, music, and other therapies can provide important outlets.

Finally yet importantly, look for the little things to laugh at together. While illness and dying can be a time of sorrow, sharing humor can relieve stress and anxiety during this time.