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Understanding anticipatory grief

Anticipatory grief is not just about expecting a death, it’s about all the losses you experience along the way. Understanding what you are experiencing can help you manage your grief process.

Apr 26, 2022

Though we think of it as something that happens after a death, grief often begins long before death arrives.  It can start as soon as we become aware that death is a likelihood. Once death is on the horizon, even just as a possibility, it is natural that we begin to grieve.

Though this is different than the grief that follows a death, anticipatory grief can carry many of the symptoms of regular grief – sadness, anger, isolation, forgetfulness, and depression. These complicated emotions are often coupled with the exhaustion that comes with being a caregiver.

More than that, in advance of a death we grieve the loss of person’s abilities and independence, their loss of cognition, a loss of hope, loss of future dreams, loss of stability and security, loss of their identity and our own, and countless other losses. This grief is not just about accepting the future death, but of the many losses already occurring as an illness progresses.

Things to remember:

Accept that anticipatory grief is normal. 

Acknowledge your losses. Identify what losses you and your loved one have experienced during their illness, like loss of future experiences you will not experience.

Connect with others. Anticipatory grief is common among caregivers, but unfortunately when all your time is consumed with caregiving you may feel totally alone and isolated.  Seek out caregiver support groups, either in your area or online, so you can connect with others who understand the challenges you are facing.

Remember that anticipatory grief doesn’t mean you are giving up. 

Communicate. Just like we all grieve differently, anticipatory grief is different for everyone.

Take care of yourself. Visit the Self-Care page for more information and ideas on how to take care of yourself.

Always remember, there is no formula for how an anticipated loss will impact us because we all grieve differently. We are here to help. If you have questions about anticipatory grief or how to cope with the changes you are experiencing with your loved one, please contact your care team.


Adapted from “Grieving Before a Death: Understanding Anticipatory Grief”, Listsa Williams. https://whatsyourgrief.com/anticipatory-grief/.