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Anticipatory Grief - The Grief of Impending Loss

As if the grief that comes from an actual loss isn’t challenging and painful enough, there is a type of grief for a yet-to-be, impending loss. Anticipatory grief is the grief that occurs before someone’s actual passing. People experiencing anticipatory grief could be facing the eventual death of someone they love. In other cases, people who are dying could also be experiencing this type of grief.

Compared to the more conventional concept of grief that occurs after a loved one’s death, anticipatory grief affords the grieving person some time before the passing occurs. In some ways, it can provide the opportunity to prepare, making room for closures, and reconciliation should their loved one die soon. However, it doesn’t necessarily make the grief any easier to manage. 

In most cases, anticipatory grief may even involve more intense emotions of guilt, anger, sadness, and anxiety compared to the grief associated after a loss. Because anticipatory grief is not as widely discussed and talked about as conventional grief, people who experience it may not be able to express their emotions properly for a variety of reasons. Just because anticipatory grief is not as widely recognized as grief that occurs after death doesn’t invalidate the intensity of the emotions involved. 

Signs of Anticipatory Grief

It’s important to recognize anticipatory grief, as its nature doesn’t make it less true or real for someone going through the pain. Grief needs to be processed for eventual healing to take place. The following signs foretell that you or someone you know could be experiencing anticipatory grief during a particularly difficult moment in life.


Experiencing a sense of anger could be a part of the denial phase. The certainty of a loved one’s impending death often leads to this emotion. We want to change the fate of what’s about to come, afraid of facing the pain of their eventual loss in our lives.


Caring for a loved one who is terminally ill can put a person in a state of anxiety and fear. Emotions are difficult to make sense at this point and they’re often mixed-up and intense. We fear the changes that will occur once the death eventually comes and we are constantly anxious that the person could be taken away from us at any time. No one is prepared to deal with the death of a loved one, no matter how certain we are of being taken away from their side one day.


Having a loved one who is terminally ill and is nearing the time of their passing grips us with intense emotions of loneliness and loss. They can no longer live as they once did due to the limits set by their illness and that too can be a huge source of sadness, even while they’re still alive.

Anticipatory grief might not be as widely recognized or socially acceptable due to it possibly being perceived as an act of submission or lost hope. Most of us want to remain hopeful of our loved one’s recovery, against all odds, until death eventually comes.


Growing feelings of helplessness amidst the situation is often evident in anticipatory grief. The act of acceptance of an impending passing can cause despair. Also, sometimes we see our loved ones suffering excessively and want to relieve them of their pain, which is why we end up with feelings of helplessness and giving up hope for the freedom from their suffering.


A Desire to Open Up

People experiencing anticipatory grief may have a strong urge to talk and be heard. They are experiencing intense emotions from within but they may not be able to easily express themselves to anyone, for fear of being wrong or not wanting to admit that all hope for recovery is gone.


Anticipatory grief may also come with feelings of guilt. A type of guilt that can overwhelm an individual is known as survivor guilt, which is the regret and thought of having the chance to continue living your life, compared to your dying loved one.

Coping with Anticipatory Grief

Anticipatory grief is a grief that’s as valid as the more common type of grief we know and experience after a loss. It is important to know the signs to recognize it within yourself if you’re experiencing such emotions. Grief might be the most difficult period in our lives ever, so regardless of what kind, it needs to be shared and expressed in healthy ways, to begin to process it and make peace with our difficult emotions. Grief, no matter the kind, can harm us more than we know and ever acknowledge.