What is Anticipatory Grief ?

Anticipatory grief is the “beginning of the end” in our minds. We now operate in two worlds; the safe world that we are used to and the unsafe world where a loved one might die. We feel that sadness and the unconscious need to prepare our psyche.

Anticipatory grief is generally more silent than grief after a loss. We are often not as verbal. It’s 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. It may be a strange feeling in the pit of the stomach or an ache in the heart before the loved one dies. We think of the five stages of death occurring for the dying person, but many times loved ones go through them ahead of the death also. This is especially true in long drawn out illnesses. 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. Anticipatory grief has its own process; it takes its own time.

Forewarned is not always forearmed. 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. We may experience all fives stages of loss (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) before the actual death. We may experience only anger and denial. Not everyone experiences anticipatory grief and if they do, certainly not in the same way.

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