What Is Anticipatory Grief and How Do You Cope?

When we think of grief, we typically think of grief in its traditional form. We reflect on death and all the ravaging emotions that death causes. We imagine the gut-wrenching feelings of loss and agony, fear and loneliness, despair and anger.

Death is absolutely part of grief, but what happens when you have not literally lost the person? What happens when you’ve lost some or part of the person you love? What about when you are anticipating an impending loss- when someone has been diagnosed with a terrible illness or has decompensated in ways that have compromised their core essence?

Anticipatory grief can be a taboo subject, but it’s a subject most of us will face in our lifetimes. Let’s explore what it is and how to cope with it.

Defining Anticipatory Grief

Anticipatory grief refers to the anticipation of loss. It also relates to the grief we experience in watching a loved one decline, slip away, or dramatically change.

Anticipatory grief can happen after:

  • Receiving concerning medical diagnoses
  • Observing a loved one struggling with emotional or physical tasks
  • Experiencing one death (and worry about another one happening)
  • Becoming a caregiver

This phenomenon can feel like a terrible limbo. On the one hand, the individual has not died. On the other hand, he or she may be completely different. You may have suddenly become a caretaker. Your loved one may show tremendous personality shifts- ones that you don’t necessarily like. Likewise, these shifts may be permanent, and you will have to grapple with a new sense of reality.

It’s normal to feel conflicted with your emotions. You want to be appreciative and grateful for the time you do have with your loved one. However, you may also feel resentful, scared, or angry. These emotions may feel intense and even unbearable.

During this time, loved ones may try to comfort you with affirmative words. Unfortunately, some statements may seem misguided or invalidated. For these reasons, many people feel alone during this process, and they aren’t sure how to cope.

Coping With Anticipatory Grief

While grief can be painful, it does not have to define your life. It is essential to remember that you are allowed to take care of yourself during this difficult time. Learning how to cope provides you with the tools you need to manage your emotions.

Educate Yourself

If your loved one has been diagnosed with a medical condition, take the time to learn about the symptoms and prognosis. Ask the doctor questions. Read some books on the subject.

Knowledge can be empowering, and this knowledge can help you prepare for what to expect in moving forward. Of course, knowledge also has its limits. Be wary of the tendency to “Google” every new symptom, and be cautious of the dark rabbit hole pervasive in many online communities.

Practice Healthy Self-Care

Unfortunately, some of the best caregivers neglect their own selves while in the trenches of providing for another person. When you avoid prioritizing your own physical and emotional health, you risk resentment, fatigue, and burnout. That isn’t fair to your loved one- and it certainly isn’t fair to you!

Self-care means acknowledging your well-being. That includes eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and engaging in positive and prosocial relationships. It also means devoting time to your hobbies and passions.

Seek Support

We are social creatures, and you will need to lean on others for support during this time. Many people feel the pressure to “be strong.” They don’t want to let down their loved ones. They don’t want to acknowledge the anguish that often accompanies this process.

Therapy can be a fantastic resource for people struggling with anticipatory grief. Therapy provides a safe and nonjudgmental space for you to sort these conflicting emotions. It offers you an opportunity to simply express your fears and concerns. Your therapist can also give you reasonable solutions for integrating healthy coping skills into your life.

Additionally, support groups can also be extremely helpful. Sharing wisdom, encouragement, and vulnerability with others can provide you with tremendous insight into your situation. Moreover, it is important to realize that you are not alone in your struggles.

Final Thoughts

Anticipatory grief can feel like a lonely and isolating battle. Know that you are not alone. You can learn how to cope with this process, and you can learn how to manage your pain.

I would be honored to walk with you during this journey. Together, we can pave a path towards healing- no matter how impossible it seems. Regardless of the circumstances you face, you deserve a happy and fulfilling life. Contact me today to learn more about how therapy can help you.


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Austin, TX 78759

(512) 988-3363

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