Anticipatory Grief: How to cope and prepare?

Preparing for the death of a loved one who is terminally ill can be an emotionally taxing experience. Anticipatory grief or the emotional pain experienced before someone passes can make this time even more challenging.
By illume Editorial Team
Last updated: Apr 5, 2023
7 Minute Read

This type of grief may manifest in many ways and bring up complicated feelings that must be addressed and supported.

In this blog post, understand anticipatory grief and its associated aspects.

Understanding Anticipatory Grief

Anticipatory grief is a type of grief that occurs before a loved one dies. It has many similarities with typical grief in terms of emotions. Anticipatory grief may involve more extreme variations of good and bad days and challenges, such as caring responsibilities, multiple losses, and the hope that they will live longer.

Comprehending the idea of anticipatory grief, its manifestations and means to confront it can assist in navigating this trying period.

What is anticipatory grief?

Anticipatory grief involves feeling the pain of loss for someone before death. This type of grief occurs when a person has been diagnosed with a terminal illness or knows their death will soon occur due to age-related issues such as dementia or Alzheimer’s.

It also includes mourning for a loved one whose passing may be far off but inevitable, such as when someone has been given a life expectancy prognosis based on their medical condition.

The signs and symptoms associated with anticipatory grief can vary from person to person but may include the following:

  • Sadness, depression and anxiety
  • Experiencing feelings of guilt or blame
  • Physical manifestations such as exhaustion or changes in eating habits
  • Difficulty focusing on tasks
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Isolating oneself socially
  • Losing interest in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Lack of energy levels
  • Irritability and anger

Anticipatory grief is an emotion experienced when someone anticipates the death of a loved one. Sadness and guilt may all be felt when someone expects the passing of a beloved. Moreover, physical signs like exhaustion or alterations in appetite could also manifest. People dealing with anticipatory grief should seek support to help them cope with this difficult time.

The Purpose of Anticipatory Grief

Anticipatory grief can allow individuals to process their emotions and prepare for losing a loved one before it occurs.

For some, an anticipated death may be seen as a more natural and less stigmatised way of dying, potentially making the grieving process slightly easier.

Although it may be painful, spending time with your loved one allows you to create final memories, reconcile differences, and make peace with the situation. Crucially, being able to say goodbye to the dying person can make coping with their passing easier.

Additionally, anticipatory grief can help individuals prepare for the practical aspects of death, such as making arrangements and settling affairs, which can help alleviate some of the stress and uncertainty that can come with a sudden loss.

Anticipatory grief is a painful experience, but it can make the grieving process slightly easier. Especially if the opportunity to say goodbye to a loved one is not denied.

Coping with Anticipatory Grief

Coping with anticipatory grief can be a difficult and overwhelming experience. It is important to recognise that there are many ways to manage, and no one’s approach is right for everyone.

Here are a few ideas you might find helpful.

  • Form a support network. Try to reach out to people you trust and let them know what you’re going through. Having people you care for who will listen and be there for you when needed can make a big difference when grieving.
  • Take care of yourself, and try to maintain a routine. Exercise, good sleeping habits and eating well can help you cope with the grieving process. Other self-care activities, such as journaling and meditation, can help you deal with difficult emotions around losing your loved one.
  • Seek professional support. Bereavement counsellors can provide tailored guidance on coping with anticipatory grief and a safe space for expressing emotions. Numerous online communities and digital therapy options are also available, which can be used independently with traditional counselling.

Grieving beforehand can be daunting, yet there are numerous methods to manage, such as obtaining specialist support or partaking in self-care exercises. Realising that everyone’s grieving process is unique, it is essential to identify the most suitable coping mechanisms for an individual to navigate this difficult stage of life effectively.

Preparing for the Death of a Loved One

Preparing for a cherished one’s passing can be intense and overwhelming. Making end-of-life decisions, planning funeral arrangements and discussing death with children can be daunting experiences for those preparing to lose a loved one. Knowing what to expect ahead of time can help you manage the anticipatory grief that comes with these tasks.

As your loved one’s health declines, it may be necessary to consider end-of-life care options such as hospice or palliative care at home or in a facility. You may need to decide whether they will receive hospice or palliative care at home or in a nursing home or hospital facility.

Talk with your loved one’s healthcare team about their medical needs and any legal documents that need signing, such as do not resuscitate orders (DNR). Ensuring all the documents are accurately filled out can provide comfort amid this difficult period.

Planning Funeral Arrangements in Advance

Planning funeral arrangements before the passing of your loved one can provide comfort in knowing that everything has been taken care of when the time comes. Consider discussing with them how they would like things handled after their death, such as if they want a traditional burial service or cremation, where their final resting place should be, etc.

Talking to children about death and loss can feel daunting, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming for either party involved if done correctly. Encourage open communication between yourself and your child while giving them space to express themselves freely without judgment; let them know it is okay for them to cry if needed too.

Supporting Others Through Their Own Anticipatory Grief Journey

Listening without judgment or expectations is important when supporting someone through anticipatory grief. Offer a haven for individuals to communicate their feelings, reflections and sensations without dread of censure or appraisal.

Offering practical assistance can be another way to help those going through anticipatory grief. This could include helping them manage grocery shopping, running errands, or taking care of other household duties that may become too overwhelming during this difficult time.

Finally, being present and available during difficult times is essential for those dealing with anticipatory grief. Even though you may feel uncomfortable talking about death and loss at first, remember that showing up physically can make all the difference in someone’s life who is grieving a loved one’s impending death.


It is important to remember that everyone experiences anticipatory grief differently. Though anticipatory grief can be challenging, we don’t have to face it alone.

By understanding what anticipatory grief looks like, learning how to cope with the emotions associated with it, preparing for the death of a loved one, and supporting others through their journey – we can help ease this painful transition together.

The Grief Works app provides a practical curriculum that will allow you to overcome grief in a paced environment – full of understanding and no pressure. Try out the Grief Works app now and check how its wonders work.

Find Grief Support with Grief Works by Illume

Getting support when grieving is essential. It can be challenging, but you don’t have to worry!

The Grief Works app helps you overcome grief and connect with a community that cares for you. It also offers live monthly calls and the ability to chat with a therapist when needed.

Moreover, it has a built-in journal book for your daily diary and the Grief Works Curriculum to guide you in this wonderful healing journey.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Anticipatory Grief

What is an example of anticipatory grief?

Anticipatory grief is a type of grief experienced before the death of a loved one. It can be caused by an impending terminal illness, knowing that death is inevitable, or even when anticipating the end of a meaningful relationship.

What does anticipatory grief look like?

Does anticipatory grief make it easier? It can include sadness, fear, and anxiety about an impending loss. People may also have physical symptoms such as fatigue or changes in appetite due to anticipatory grief.

What causes anticipatory grief?

It is caused by the knowledge that someone close to you will soon die or by anticipating the pain and suffering associated with their passing. It can be triggered by changes in health, diagnosis of terminal illness, or any other event that signals an impending loss.

What should I do if I’m experiencing anticipatory grief?

Anticipatory grieving is readying oneself for a beloved one’s passing and coming to terms with their upcoming departure. The most common focus of anticipatory grieving is accepting that the person will soon be gone while finding ways to remember them fondly and keep their memory alive. This includes reflecting on shared experiences, expressing feelings about what they meant to you, planning memorials or other rituals in their honour, and seeking support from family and friends during this difficult time.

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