Anticipatory Grief – three short articles (and some excerpts)

Anticipatory grief is the loss we feel while our loved one is alive and dealing with a life-threatening illness.  This grief can be felt by caregivers, patients, family members, friends, etc.  Someone recently posted several articles on the topic of anticipatory grief to an LBD-related online support group.

The three short articles are:

“Coping As You Anticipate Loss”
By Marty Tousley, 2009

“What is Anticipatory Grief”
By AZ Center for Loss & Grief

“Anticipatory Grief Symptoms: What’s the Big Deal?”
By Harriet Hodgson, 2005

I’ve copied below a few excerpts from these three resources.  If you only read one, I’d recommend the Marty Tousley article (or the excerpts).


Excerpts from
Coping As You Anticipate A Loss 
By Marty Tousley, 2009

Grief does not wait for death to happen; it occurs both in anticipation of and following a loss. Extended illness, disability, severe accidental injury, a terminal diagnosis or the aging and decline of an elderly family member can produce what is known as anticipatory grief and mourning. We find ourselves reacting and continually adapting not only to an expected loss, but to all the losses – past, present, and future – that are encountered in that experience.

Anticipatory mourning begins as soon as we become aware that death may happen. It begins when a life-threatening illness is diagnosed or a terminal prognosis is given, we understand that there is no cure, and we realize that death is likely or inevitable.

Issues of grief and loss are inherent in the care-giving process, and grief is experienced by everyone involved — whether we are the patient grappling with the illness or disability, or the family member, partner, close friend or caregiver who is intimately connected with and looking after our loved one. We are coping not only with our own feelings of grief and loss, but also with physical and mental fatigue. We may feel overwhelmed with all the financial, legal, medical and personal responsibilities associated with care-giving.

In some ways, anticipatory mourning can be harder than the grief we experience after the death, because when we are waiting for the death to happen, we are on constant alert, living in a state of emergency over an extended period of time.

On the other hand, this period offers the benefit of preparation time, as we and those close to us begin to think about our life without the one who is dying, and how we and our loved one can use the time remaining to reflect, to prepare for the future, and to finish unfinished business.

Excerpts from
What is Anticipatory Grief? 
By AZ Center for Loss & Grief

Anticipatory grief is … a grief we keep to ourselves. We want little active intervention. There is little or no needs for words, it is much more of a feeling that can be comforted by the touch of a hand or silently sitting together. Most of the time in grief we are focused on the loss in the past, but in anticipatory grief we occupy ourselves with the loss ahead.

When a loved one has to undergo preparatory grief in order to prepare for the final separation from this world, we have to go through it too.  We may not realize it at the time. … Even if you go through any or all of the five stages ahead of the death, you will still go through them again after the loss.

…Experiencing anticipatory grief may or may not make the grieving process easier or shorten it. It may bring only feelings of guilt that we were grieving before the loss actually occurred. … Not everyone experiences anticipatory grief and if they do, certainly not in the same way.

Excerpts from
Anticipatory Grief Symptoms: What’s the Big Deal?
By Harriet Hodgson, 2005

You don’t talk publicly about your grief because you’re afraid of the reactions you’ll get.  It takes courage to    “grieve in a society that mistakenly values restraint,” according to Judy Tatelbaum, author of “The Courage to Grieve.” 

…The worst symptoms of all — anxiety and dread — illustrate this point.  Robert Fulton, PhD and Robert Bendiksen, PhD discuss anxiety in their book, “Death & Identity.”  You expect your loved one to die, they explain, but “exactly when it will take place is not known.”  …  If you feel this badly now, how will you feel when your loved one is gone?

Talking about feelings will help you to relieve anxiety.  Instead of brooding alone, talk with a trusted friend.  Your church and local hospital or hospice may have grief support groups.

…Depending on your loved one’s illness, you may grieve for a year, five years, 10 years, or more.  …

A sudden death hits you like an explosion, [Edward] Myers explains, and sends you into shock, whereas a slow decline “arrives more like a glacier, massive and unstoppable, grinding you down.”  Dealing with the symptoms of anticipatory grief gets harder with each passing day.