What is Anticipatory Grief? Cause and Symptoms

Photo by Alex Green

We all have heard about the term “grief,” but what does it actually mean? Grief is a natural response to loss. Usually this is a result of the death of someone close to you, such as a family member or friend. There are several different types of grief. Interestingly, each respond differently to treatment and coping methods. Anticipatory grief is one type of grief you may experience when learning about an illness that could lead to death within six months. This article will help explain what this type of grief entails and how other people have dealt with it before.

What is anticipatory grief?

In simple words, anticipatory grief is the feeling of sadness or grief that you experience when you know a loved one is going to die. Anticipatory grief usually happens in two ways.

The first is when your loved one has a terminal illness, and you’re already grieving their loss before they pass away. The second way occurs is relation to military service. If a loved one goes to battle its common for relatives to experience grief over their impending loss before it happens.

Terminal illness and anticipatory grief

Finding out that you or a loved one has a terminal illness is one of the worst things that can happen to a person. While it’s important to get help from doctors, friends, and family to manage the physical symptoms of an illness, it’s also key to manage your grief. Anticipatory grief is a term for what you may go through when you learn about a potential terminal illness. Learning about anticipatory grief prepares you for what to expect during this difficult time. Additionally it can teach you how to best manage your emotions.

Anticipatory grief is a type of grief that occurs before someone dies. It can be helpful to talk about your feelings with others who are also affected by the illness, but remember to take care of yourself physically and emotionally during this time as well.

How does anticipatory grief work?

Anticipatory grief is a normal response to the approaching death of a loved one. In other words, it’s an emotional reaction to what you know is going to happen in the future. But how complex is it?

Causes of anticipatory grief

The onset of anticipatory grief is a normal response to the realization that you or someone you love is dying. It’s also known as pre-grief. We can define this as “the sum total of thoughts and feelings experienced by an individual in anticipation of bereavement.”

Anticipatory grief isn’t the same as post-grief (how you feel after death), nor anticipatory mourning (how you prepare for the loss). So what causes it?

Common anticipatory grief symptoms

You might be surprised to learn there are other people out there like you. Maybe you don’t that what you are going through had a name or could be considered normal. Or that you can even manage it with the right support.

A 2017 study found that the most common symptoms of anticipatory grief include loneliness, sadness and guilt. Other common symptoms include anger, self-blame and despair. The study also found that more than half of those who experience anticipatory grief feel isolated from others. This is result of their unique situation. These feelings lead some people to avoid seeking help for fear of being labeled as “crazy”.

How long does anticipatory grief last?

It is not possible to give a definitive answer on how long anticipatory grief will last. The length of time will depend on the person and the situation. Some people experience only a few weeks or months of anticipatory grief, while others may be in it for years. This, of course, also depends on when you’re loved one actually passes away.

The grieving process can sometimes feel overwhelming and confusing as you wait for your loved one to pass away. Eemember that this type of grief is normal and you are not alone in experiencing it.

Helping others deal with pre-grief

  • Being supportive. Grief is hard enough to deal with on its own. Having to worry about the well-being of someone else, can be even more difficult. Anticipatory grief only adds another layer to the heartache that comes with losing a loved one.
  • Be honest and patient. If their loved one hasn’t passed yet, they may not be ready or able to talk about their feelings. However they need good friends in their life now more than ever. So if your friend doesn’t want to talk about how they’re feeling or what’s going on in their head right now (and that’s OK), let them know that you’re there for them and will listen whenever they need it.
  • Be empathetic and nonjudgmental. Let’s say that someone tells you that they’re worried about how much time is left until their loved one passes away. “Don’t think about it!” would not be a good answer or reaction to this. That would only make matters worse for both parties involved. Instead you can say something like: “I’m sorry this is so hard”. That way we both know what each other means without having any misunderstandings get in our way!

Dealing with anticipatory grief

Knowing what anticipatory grief is and how you can cope with it can make all the difference when dealing with an illness. Anticipatory grief is a normal part of life. No matter who you are or what your circumstances may be, you may experience pre-grief at some point.

And something else to keep in mind: It does not mean that the person does not want to live anymore just because they know they will pass away soon. Instead, it means that they would rather spend their remaining time doing things they enjoy.

Final Thoughts

The best way to deal with anticipatory grief is to be prepared for what you might experience. You can learn more about what it is, how it affects people, and how others can help those who are grieving. By knowing what’s ahead of you and having a plan in place before something happens, you can better manage your emotions and reach out for support from friends and family members who understand what you’re going through.

If you want to know more about terminal illnesses have a look here. And if you want to start dealing with grief already, sign up today for free.

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