Anticipatory Grief and Caregiving

Anticipatory grief is part of caregiving for many people. There are many difficult aspects to being a primary caregiver or have a loved one with a degenerative or incurable disease. anticipatory griefOne, which may not be recognized or addressed enough, is Anticipatory Grief.  We tend to think of grief or grieving only once the person has passed. However, the process of anticipatory grief begins when our loved one is still with us. It is hard and painful to watch a dear one slip away over time. This is part of many disease processes, including Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, some Cancers, COPD, Heart disease, and other terminal conditions. It is the process of letting go of the “person” you once knew as he or she is slipping away. Loss is a loss whether it occurs all at one time or over time.

Signs of Anticipatory Grief

The symptoms of anticipatory grief are very similar to usual or conventional grief. The stages are nearly identical though may or may not follow the same order. The stages of grief include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, anxiety, sadness, and then acceptance. Other signs may be:




Need to talk



Feeling numb

Forgetfulness or difficulty concentrating

Or something entirely personal to the individual

What can set anticipatory grief apart from normal grief can be an increasing concern for the person dying, thoughts about and imaging how the person’s death will be, and consciously getting ready for life after the loved one is gone.

Ways of Coping with Anticipatory Grief

It is normal to have many different feelings all at once or throughout your loved one’s dying process. Acknowledge your feelings and recognize they are normal! If you are having difficulty coping, seek help. Loss, grief, fear, and watching someone you care about, and effects on the whole family are very hard to experience; it is life at its toughest. Use the resources around you.

An important aspect of anticipatory grief is that all of you have time together to say the things which need to be communicated. Hopefully your family member/spouse has had time to settle legal, financial and end-of-life matters. Personal and important talks can be shared. Everyone gets the opportunity to express feelings to each other.

It is crucial for you to take care of yourself throughout this “journey” Eat properly, sleep, exercise/walk, yoga, meditation, prayer, counseling, and so forth.

Read books on the subject, get educated, ask questions, seek counseling or enlist Hospice care.

Hire or enlist help with the caregiving.

Practice letting go of past resentments, practice forgiveness, gain perspective of what truly matters.

Try to spend as much time together as you can manage. It is the quality of time which is more important than the quantity. Try to make the time meaningful. It can be in person, via computer/skype/facetime or by phone… Explore is most meaningful to you and them. Plans for children? Photos? Reminiscing, Resolving past issues, and so on.

Support groups at any time along the grieving process can be helpful.

Take care of your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs in the present and following the passing.

Illness and certainly death is part of our human experience. We all share in this at some point. It is natural and we don’t have to do it all alone. As a caregiver, you are sharing