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Anticipatory Grief: The Grief We Feel Before a Loss

Learn more about this form of grief including strategies for coping.

Apr 6, 2023

Though we think of grief 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 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 loss, 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. Caring for yourself is one of the most important – and one of the most often forgotten – things you can do. Whether you spend 15 minutes reading a favorite book, take a short walk or make a phone call to a friend, self care is very important for those experiencing this form of grief.

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

Additional resource:

Click the icon below to listen to a special episode of The E-Series as CEO Trent Cockerham and Bereavement Counselor Marcia Vanard explore anticipatory grief and discuss the emotions and adjustments that surround caring for a loved one as their disease progresses and care needs increase. In addition, they explore the benefits of being in tune with one’s grief, both before and after the loss, and the importance of incorporating self-care and self-compassion as coping strategies.


Always remember, there is no formula for how an anticipated loss will impact us because we all grieve differently. The Grief Counseling Center is here to help.  Contact the Grief Counseling Center at 336.889.8446 for more information and support.