What Is Anticipatory Grief and How Can We Cope?

Monday, August 24, 2020

About 12.5 million people are left grieving over the loss of a loved one each year. For many, the loss comes as shock after a terminal diagnosis. This can be a tumultuous time for any family.

In this article, we answer the question 'what is anticipatory grief?' and define tips on how to cope.

What is Anticipatory Grief?

Anticipatory grief is going through the grieving process before the loss is experienced. When faced with the news of a terminal illness the dynamic of your life and family changes. This brings about feelings that are just as strong as having already experienced the loss.

Signs you have anticipatory grief:

  • Sadness
  • Anger or frustration
  • Feelings of shock
  • Feeling conflicted
  • Guilt
  • Wanting it to be over soon
  • Rushing to finish things or spend extra time with your loved one

Everyone doesn't experience anticipatory grief but it is entirely normal to feel. Often people feel conflicted because they want their loved ones to get better but they also want to be realistic about the diagnosis. No matter what the outcome is, going through the stages of grief is a process. 

Stages of Grieving

With anticipatory grief as with grieving after a loss, you will experience feelings of saddness, anger, frustration, anxiety, desperation, and more. The Kubler-Ross model of grieving outlines five stages, however, there are other models that involve two or even seven.

Here are the natural stages of grieving:

  • Denial - pretending or ignoring that anything is happening
  • Anger- masking deeper feelings of bitterness or hurt by lashing out
  • Bargaining - trying to regain control by attempts, mental or physical, to mitigate the loss. Ex. saying 'what if' or 'if only'
  • Depression- intense, prolonged feelings of sadness and desire to withdraw from others and activities
  • Acceptance- understanding the place of loss in your life

Not everyone experiences grief in this order or will experience all the stages. Some may go from anger to acceptance or from denial to depression to anger. Grieving is also not restricted to losing someone to death. Many experience grief at the loss of a relationship or job.

How to Cope with a Dying Loved One

Grieving can take months or years to cope with. When you are experiencing anticipatory grief, your loved one is still with you. Here are some ways to cope:

Accept that you are grieving

One method of coping with anticipatory grief is accepting that you are grieving. Denying your feelings during this time prolongs and intensifies your suffering. Grief is entirely natural as you mourn the loss of the future and shared memories. When you accept that you are moving through the phases of grief, you allow the feelings to come and go naturally.

Spirituality and holistic methods

Spirituality doesn't have to be religious in nature. While religion can help the grieving process, spirituality helps take care of your feelings of well-being. It acknowledges you as a whole person, emotions and all. Try methods like meditation, music therapy, support groups, painting, and more. Journaling is also a great way to keep track of your emotions and work out your true feelings.

Spend time with the one you love

Remember that the life is still being lived. Spend as much time as you can with the one you love. It can be difficult to watch them wither away and can make you want to avoid them. But spending time together is therapeutic for both parties. Use humor and shared activities. You can talk to them or just be present in the room. 

Hope for the Future

While losing a loved one is never easy, it's important to remember they are still with you. Cherish the time you have with them and know it's okay to experience conflicting feelings. Don't forget children in this process, as they grieve also. Reach out for a support group and while you care for others, practice self-kindness and forgiveness of yourself also.

For more tips on making final arrangements for your loved ones, click here.

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