Anticipatory grief means we are grieving a loss before the loss has happened. It is in expectation of difficult times ahead. We anticipate it, prepare for it and expect grief, and this brings up a vast range of extreme, conflicting emotions. The time spent caring for a dying loved one can be chaotic and emotions may see-saw from hope and joy to helplessness and depression.

It’s important to remember grief cannot be placed on a timeline. It is a process, not an event, and we all experience grief in our own individual ways. Imagining what the loss will be like can occupy our thoughts. The transition and change associated with losing a loved one causes nothing to feel normal. Sometimes feeling the ups and downs becomes so overwhelming that caregivers may become numb.

If they’re having a good day, it’s natural that you would allow yourself to feel optimistic and hopeful that your life together will continue on as it always has. But if your loved one is having a bad day, doesn’t want eat, and just wants to stay in bed, then the reality of their disease slaps you in the face again.

Features of Anticipator Grief

  • Feelings of Unreality – Sometimes we refuse to feel the reality of horrible news, and may only allow the reality to sink in little by little.
  • Disbelief, Fear and Denial – When we accept the reality, we feel the fear and pain of that anticipated loss, so we may ask for second opinions, fear the difficulty of the dying experience to come and hold on to hope, recognizing that hope’s focus may change over time.
  • Anger, Hostility and Guilt – Sometimes when we feel helpless to fix something or to make it better, this helplessness can turn into anger and hostility toward the disease, the doctors, one’s self, God, and your loved one. Also many feel guilt about wishing their loved one would die to end their suffering. This desire for them to be released from this life does not diminish your love for them.
  • Depression and Hiding Your Feelings – Stress can cause depression. When we hold our feelings of anger and sadness inside, depression can result. Depression is treatable and if you are feeling these feelings, you may want to talk with your doctor to receive help from a counselor or medications.
  • Symptoms of Depression – If you experience any of the following, ask for professional help.
    • Sadness is so overwhelming that you feel like crying all the time.
    • You have no energy or motivation to do normal activities
    • Nothing is pleasurable to you
    • You feel hopeless and worthless
    • You just want to sleep all the time or you cannot sleep at all
    • Your thinking is disorganized or confused
    • You are having thoughts of end your life
    • There is a significant change in your weight either up or down
  • Changes in Health and Physical Problems – Stress is destructive for us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Our responses to stress can range from sleep problems, eating problems and negative effects on pre-existing illnesses like anxiety, heart disease and others. Don’t neglect your own healthcare and schedule regular visits with your own doctor during this time.
  • Ignoring Your Own Needs – As a caregiver, your are constantly doing for your love one. Allow friends and other family members to help you with care. Don’t try to do it all yourself. Talk about what your are experiencing and share your load with others.
  • Changes in Thinking – During stressful times it is often difficult to concentrate and you feel like you’re in a fog. Delegate tasks to others, and simplify your life wherever possible.

Marty Hogan, L. M. (2009). Anticipatory Grief. Ashland: Sacred Vigil Press.