As human beings, we naturally experience a wide range of emotions. We experience grief when we feel that something or someone is taken away from us. Grief is caused by a number of different types of losses, but anticipatory grief happens before we actually experience the loss.
Anticipatory grief is often overlooked but it is just as real as any other form of grief. It is the grieving process that takes place when we or someone we love is facing the end of their life. It can occur when a person is aware that death is inevitable and can involve the anticipation of loss and sorrow.
It is important to note that anticipatory grief isn’t just experienced by the individual facing death – it can be felt by those closest to them, such as family and friends. Death is a natural part of life, and it is likely that at some time in your life, you will experience anticipatory grief. It is important to be aware of the signs of anticipatory grief and be able to provide support to those experiencing this, and to know when to ask for help.
Above all, anticipatory grief is a natural part of dealing with a life-threatening illness or impending significant loss and is an integral part of the healing process. It can help those facing death and loss to come to terms with the situation, and begin to process their emotions and find peace.
Family and friends can help provide support for someone facing death or loss who is experiencing anticipatory grief. This may involve what I call “witnessing”, which is simply holding space and actively listening to their stories, their fears, and their emotions without trying to make them feel better. Often, attempts to soothe someone in anticipatory grief can make that person feel that their experience is minimized or not understood, and can leave them feeling more isolated and alone. Providing a comforting presence, without giving platitudes or cliche phrases like “everything happens for a reason”, can be a priceless gift for the bereaved.
Like other forms of grief, anticipatory grief is a very personal and individual experience, and it is not exclusive to the death of a person. People experience anticipatory grief when their realize their relationship is unsalvageable, when they know they will get laid off from a job, or when they find out they have to move away. Everyone experiences and copes with anticipatory grief differently, and it is important to show compassion and understanding.
It is natural and normal to experience anticipatory grief in a variety of situations. Like other types of grief, the signs of anticipatory grief include crying, loss of sleep or sleeping too much, loss of appetite or over-eating, recounting memories, expressing anger or feelings of injustice, attempts to prevent the loss from happening (“bargaining”), and needing time alone.
Sometimes grief can become overwhelming and unhealthy. Excessive weight loss or gain, poor hygiene, struggling at work, withdrawing completely from family and friends, being unable to find joy in things that are normally pleasing are all signs that someone might need extra support.
Therapy with a trained grief counselor can help. As a certified grief therapist through the American Academy of Grief Counseling who has experienced profound loss, Rebecca Love, LCSW is uniquely qualified to support you with compassion, patience, and understanding without judgment or expectation. If you or someone you love is struggling with making sense of a loss, please give us a call at (916) 474-9325 or email Rebecca directly at email@example.com.