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Anticipatory Grief: What No One Tells You About the Time Before Death


Anticipatory Grief is the feeling many people experience before they lose a loved one. It can be overlooked or minimized because it’s too soon for us to feel this way, right?

Many people believe that death is a sudden event, but in reality it’s often a long process. When someone is terminally ill or seriously injured, they spend their final days preparing for what lies ahead. Their loved ones are also preparing for the loss. In some ways this feeling can be more difficult. It is grief, yet you may not recognize or feel that your sense the loss is valid.

When your loved one is dying, the time before they die can be some of the most difficult. You know that you are getting closer and closer to losing them but you don’t know when it will happen. It’s hard not knowing what will happen next or how long you have left with them.

What Is Anticipatory Grief?

Anticipatory grief is the distress a person may feel in anticipation of losing someone they care about. A lot has been written on how people deal with death, but there seems little consensus when discussing this subject.

experiencing anticipatory grief

Reports show those who suffer from anticipatory grief often experience deep depression and anxiety, as well as disruptive sleep patterns which can have lasting effects on their mental health.

Here are some signs of anticipatory grief:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Lack of appetite
  • Fear
  • Fatigue
  • Emotional numbness
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Loneliness
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Guilt
  • Poor concentration
  • Forgetfulness and being easily distracted

Is Anticipatory Grief Even More Difficult Than Conventional Grief?

Anticipatory grief is different from post-loss grief because the loss isn’t concrete yet, so there’s a lot of guessing and questioning happening in our minds. In addition to the stress of worrying about how things will turn out there may be a need to get affairs in order or to be strong for others.

It’s difficult to grieve for someone who doesn’t want you or feel sad. You may be in denial, which means that your emotions will remain unacknowledged until something happens. This kind of grief is exhausting. You are constantly on your toes, always watching out for the worst possible thing that could happen at any given moment and feeling as if you have no control over when it will all be over. Friends might think there’s nothing wrong with them because they haven’t gone through something similar so don’t know what it’s like but those who have lost someone close understand how difficult this can really get.

What Kind of Support is Helpful?

The understanding that this is a form of grief can help. It’s common for people to experience this sense of dread when they are expecting the loss of their loved one. It’s completely understandable. The simple reassurance that what is being experienced is real and valid. Many people seek out counseling and rely on a support network of friends and family to get through it.

Acknowledged grief is much more manageable and for that reason it can be immensely helpful to find a support group or online forum such as this discussion group.

It’s important to remember that there is no one way for grief to be experienced. The intensity of the feeling can be just as varied in severity, depending on how close you are with the person who is dying and your own personal coping mechanisms.

For some people, it may feel like a heavy weight they carry around all day; for others it may come in waves or periods where they suddenly find themselves crying at work without any warning whatsoever. Either way, if you know someone who suffers from this type of loss but doesn’t seem to talk about their feelings (or even admit them), make sure you offer support when possible – whether through listening or words of encouragement during tough days.