How to Cope With Anticipatory Grief

Category: News

The inevitability of life is that, at some point, it must end. When someone you know passes away, there are many emotions and thoughts that accompany grief. 

However, there is a form of grief that some might not realize exists, and that is grief that sets in before a person dies. But what exactly is anticipatory grief, the symptoms, and how do you go about coping and treatment? Learn how to cope with anticipatory loss and what treatments are recommended.

What Is Anticipatory Grief?

The anticipatory grief definition is grief that is felt before the death of a loved one. This impending loss is commonly felt in people who are or know a loved one that is dying from a terminal illness, cancer, or Alzheimer’s disease.

Typically this grief encompasses the sorrow, denial, anger, and other feelings that come up when dealing with an imminent death of oneself or a loved one. This kind of grief is different from the grief that occurs after death and takes its form in many different ways when compared to grief after death.

Grief before death is much more common than most people realize. It can bring up a lot of complex feelings and can be confusing. However, there are ways of recognizing anticipatory grief and dealing with the emotions and side effects that come along with it.

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What Are Anticipatory Grief Symptoms?

Symptoms associated with anticipatory grief and loss include:

  • Sadness and tearfulness
  • Feelings of fear
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Loneliness
  • Anxiety
  • Guilt

Symptoms of grief can manifest in several ways. However, other common symptoms of this kind of grief can include heightened anger, heightened loss of emotional control, and atypical grief responses. People experiencing anticipatory grief may have an overflow of these emotions. 

Others may feel them mildly, and some might even lack emotion. Symptoms of grieving will vary, but there are treatments and ways of coping with anticipatory grief, no matter what they are.

What Are Is Anticipatory Grief Treatment?

There are several ways to cope with and treat anticipatory grief. Confiding in family and friends is a constructive way to calm your mind and understand feelings of worry and loss surrounding the nearing death of a loved one.

Many aspects of the time before a loved one passes can lead to the development of anxiety and even depression. If you or a loved one start to experience symptoms of depression or anxiety, please contact and talk to a mental health care professional for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment options.

What Is the Best Way to Cope With Anticipatory Grief?

There are several different avenues for coping with the complexity of experiencing anticipatory grief. Feeling mixed up, confused, angry, or guilty are just some of the pervasive feelings that can be tied up in living through the death of a loved one. Some recommended avenues of coping include:

1. Acknowledge the Thoughts and Feelings

Thoughts and feelings can become increasingly overwhelming during this transitory time. It’s important to remember that every thought and feeling during this time is valid, even if it feels unnatural or strange.

2. Talk Through the Thoughts and Feelings 

As difficult as your situation may seem, there is someone who has experienced the same, if not similar, emotions that you are feeling now. Expressing these emotions is one of the best ways to process all of the information you’re taking in during this time.

3. Create Moments of Joy

Most of the time, feelings associated with anticipatory grieving are uncomfortable or frightening. To take some power back, maintain a quality of life, and have some control over the situation, find ways to create moments of joy with your loved one. Activities such as sharing some fresh air outdoors or doing a simple game or puzzle together are great examples of how to create joy in the moment.

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Can Anticipatory Grief Be Beneficial?

Many people will find that the emotions or thoughts surrounding the death of a loved one can cause them to distance themselves from others and become reclusive. It is encouraged to reach out to family members, friends, a support group, or mental health professionals and talk through the emotions and feelings surrounding the inevitable passing of a loved one. A combination of these coping mechanisms will provide the best outcome for dealing with the death of a loved one. 

If you or a loved one are struggling to cope with grief, the SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) national helpline or hospital social workers are great resources that offer support.

How Is Anticipatory Grief Different From Grief After Death?

The main difference between experiencing anticipatory grief and grief that comes after death is the purpose of the respective grieving process. Grieving someone before they’re gone is normal, even if it doesn’t feel like it, and helps a person to prepare for the passing of a loved one and the inevitable grief that follows.

Does anticipatory grief help? In some cases, those experiencing grief before the death of a loved one find the grieving process beforehand can be more intense than the grief that comes after death.

Anticipatory grieving encompasses all of the difficult and confusing emotions tangled up with the anticipation of a dying person. Grieving before death does not take the place of grieving after death, but it does help the mind and heart make sense of the inevitable loss of a loved one.

Coping With Anticipatory Bereavement and Grieving

Grieving is never a one-track road. There are many avenues to confronting and negotiating the inevitable passing of a loved one. Coping strategies are the best way to start making sense of anticipatory grief. Seeking the help of industry professionals can provide a meaningful and healthful transition from life to death.