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Anticipatory Grief

What you need to know about anticipatory grief | VITAS Hospice

What is Anticipatory Grief?

Patients and families facing terminal illness usually begin the grieving process prior to the actual loss. This is called “anticipatory grief.” Although it may be uncomfortable, anticipatory grief is sometimes helpful and may result in fewer grief complications later. Each person will experience grief in his or her own unique way. The same is true with anticipatory grief. It is a natural process that helps individuals prepare for emotional and physical closure. It is also a time when both patient and family prepare for change.

Things to Consider

Emotional and physical symptoms associated with grief may also be associated with anticipatory grieving. You may experience some of the following:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Tension and irritability
  • Fatigue and insomnia
  • Tearfulness
  • Restlessness
  • Indecision about what to do
  • Guilt or anger
  • Mood changes over small things, crying unexpectedly

Frequently, there may be a desire on the part of the patient to put his or her “affairs in order,” so that their wishes will be honored. This is sometimes referred to as completing “unfinished business.”

Often, there is a concern on the part of the patient about how loved ones will cope after the loss. The patient may wish to ensure that loved ones obtain practical life skills during this time, such as learning to balance the checkbook or learning how to cook.

The patient may also express the need to emotionally withdraw from others. Caregivers may observe “distancing” behavior, such as the patient becoming less conversational, losing interest in activities that once held meaning, and refusing to allow close friends and family to visit.

What to Do

  • Reach out to persons and groups that can offer you support and help.
  • Seek help through counseling with a therapist, minister, priest or rabbi.
  • Remind yourself that everyone needs adequate time to grieve.
  • Utilize any spiritual beliefs that bring you comfort or relief.
  • Express yourself through art, poetry, music, journaling, or gardening.
  • Engage in life review through photographs, music, conversation and writing.
  • Identify issues and concerns, which are important to address prior to the loss.
  • Talk about your feelings.
  • Address legal/financial/funeral issues as appropriate.
  • Discuss future plans as appropriate.
  • Identify whether or not your expectations are realistic.