Anticipatory Grief: How to Recognize and Cope with Impending Loss

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Alecia Milano
Posted by Alecia Milano on December 8, 2020

The waiting game of an impending traumatic event often causes what is called anticipatory grief.

Anticipatory grief is the grief we experience when a loved one is terminally ill, we know what’s coming, and there isn’t anything we can do to stop it. This type of pain and uncertainty is normal and has been documented for years.

In this article, we explain what anticipatory grief is, how it affects us, and most importantly, how to get through it.

What Is Anticipatory Grief?

Anticipatory grief often occurs when a loved one is battling cancer or another long-term, fatal or terminal illness or injury.

This type of grief can happen in other aspects of life, as well. VeryWellHealth explains that, “Rather than death alone, this type of grief includes many losses, such as the loss of a companion, changing roles in the family, fear of financial changes, and the loss of dreams of what could be.”

When experiencing this type of grief, you feel as if you’re stuck in an “in-between” stage of life. The life you’ve had and the life that will follow the traumatic event. Symptoms of anticipatory grief can include sadness, fearfulness, anxiety, sleeping problems, irritability, anger and much more

Anticipatory grief is unique compared to other types of grief because it often causes more anger and confusion than other types of grief.

In addition to the anticipatory grief faced before the traumatic event, you still face grief afterwards. This often causes that anger and angst to endure much longer. You’re not alone if you feel a tremendous amount of grief as you anticipate the event.

One aspect of anticipatory grief that is different from other types is that you are given a chance for closure. You can reconcile with and express love and gratitude to your loved ones. While the road may be long and difficult, you have the opportunity to feel some sense of peace.

How Do You Cope with Anticipatory Grief?

Anticipatory grief can affect your overall health and wellbeing. The only way to get through this type of pain is to find ways to make it not so unbearable.

1. Support Groups

Support groups are a great option for connecting with those who are enduring similar experiences to you. MayoClinic reports that support groups help you reduce stress, depression, anxiety and fatigue. Confiding in people going through similar experiences can be healthy and helpful.

Here are some grief support groups in Northeast Ohio.


2. Self-Help Books

Self-help books can be therapeutic for anyone going through the anticipatory grieving process. Books help us to escape reality, feel connected to other people’s stories, and find ways to grieve responsibly.

Look for books made to help readers navigate through the painful and uncomfortable emotions that come with anticipatory grief. This way, you’re working through your feelings and learning something about what it means along the way.

Our recommendations for some great reads on grief are here.


3. Take Care of Your Health

When you feel like the world is caving in and you’re gasping for air, we recommend focusing on your mental and physical health. Our energy levels have a direct effect on our mood. According to HelpGuide, exercise can sometimes treat mild to moderate depression as well as antidepressant medication.

This can be as simple as going on daily walks with your dog or on your own. The goal is to use your physical health to help get your mental health back on track.

Here are some great podcasts on working through this grief.


4. Confide in Friends and Family

When you are able, nothing compares to talking to loved ones. Your loved ones care about your wellbeing and want to be there to support you during this difficult time. They may be dealing with the same anticipatory grief and may be the sounding board you need to talk through your emotions. Whether loved ones can provide you an escape from your emotions or help you focus on your feelings, find those people you trust.


Interested in More Grief Support Resources?

Whether we choose to talk about our emotions or finding ways to navigate through grief like the tips mentioned above, we all grieve differently. If you’re interested in more grief support resources, subscribe to our blog and receive helpful articles like this directly in your inbox.

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Topics: Grief

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