What Is Anticipatory Grief?

anticipatory grief Apr 02, 2023

Anticipatory grief is one of those feelings that most of us will experience at some point in our lives, but we might not know the term for it, or even that it’s grief. We’re here to give you the lowdown on anticipatory grief: what it is, where it shows up, and how you can give yourself permission to grieve through it.


So, first things, first: what is anticipatory grief? Put simply, it's a form of grief that occurs when we know a loss is coming. It's a whole range of emotions that can come up as we prepare ourselves for what's to come, consciously or unconsciously. 


Anticipatory grief can show up in all kinds of situations. It might hit us when a loved one or we, ourselves, are diagnosed with a serious illness, and we know that their time with us is limited. It could be when we sense the end of a relationship is near, romantic or otherwise, and we’re anticipating the pain and trouble that comes with a breakup or divorce. Or it might pop up when we're facing a major life change like moving to a new city, or the end of a job. It can show up as we watch our parents grow older, or even our pets growing older, as we start to recognize that what we love will gradually change over time.


In the grief leading up to a loss, we might feel a sense of helplessness and a lack of control–  like there's nothing you can do to stop the loss from happening. This can be a very painful and scary feeling for anyone looking down the runway toward a future loss.


We might feel like we're stuck in a kind of limbo - not quite supposed to be grieving yet, but not really able to enjoy life fully either. We might feel guilty for feeling sad before the loss has even occurred, or we might feel like we're not doing enough to prepare ourselves.


So, let’s level set, here: it’s ok to grieve the little losses along the way.even before the “big” loss has taken place. Anticipatory grief is real. 


So, how can we grieve through anticipatory grief? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Give yourself permission to feel it all. It's ok to feel sad, angry, scared, confused, or a whole range of other emotions when you're anticipating a loss. Don't try to push these feelings away or ignore them - instead, allow yourself to feel them fully. That looks like making space and time for your feelings, even if it’s just for a few minutes.  
  2. Find ways to honor what you're losing. Whether it's through creating a memory book, having a special ceremony, or simply taking time to reflect on what this person or thing has meant to you, finding ways to honor what you're losing can help you process your feelings.
  3. Take care of yourself. It can be easy to neglect self-care when we're going through a tough time, but it's crucial to take care of ourselves physically, emotionally, and mentally. This might look like getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, or finding ways to relax and unwind. It could also mean asking for help when you need it, whether that means asking someone to help with daily tasks or reaching out to a professional for support.
  4. Seek support. Whether it's from friends, family, or a therapist, it's important to have people you can talk to about what you're going through. Sometimes just having someone to listen can make all the difference.


Anticipatory grief is normal and natural, but that doesn't make it any easier. Remember that grief is a process, and it's okay to take things one day at a time leading up to a loss. If you're struggling, don't be afraid to reach out for help - there are people who care and want to support you. You are not alone.


Grieve on.

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