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What Is Anticipatory Grief and Why Does It Matter? July 27, 2022

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Anticipatory grief is a grief that is different than the grief we feel when a loved one passes. 

What Is Anticipatory Grief?

Anticipatory grief is grief that is felt by loved ones before a person passes. It’s common when a loved one is suffering from an illness or a disease, or when they are in the throes of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Simply put, anticipatory grief is the mourning of a life before it’s actually gone.

Because anticipatory grief is complicated, it can manifest in different ways and circumstances. For instance, you might experience anticipatory grief if your parent is diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Or you might experience anticipatory grief if a loved one can no longer work and/or care for themself, and the family dynamic changes.

Anticipatory grief encompasses the fear of what might happen as your loved one dies. Will your finances be affected? Will your everyday life change? How might they suffer, if they’re dealing with a disease? Are you equipped to help as much as you’d like?

All of those feelings and more can be part of anticipatory grief.

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Grief, whether it’s anticipatory or after a loved one passes, is normal. That said, it’s different for everyone. We’re more accustomed to dealing with grief after a loved one dies. After all, we console each other at funerals and other services after the death of a loved one. But talking about anticipatory grief can feel wrong somehow. It’s not. As a funeral home that’s been there to console thousands of families over the years, we can assure you that your feelings are valid and normal, even if others feel uncomfortable talking about them.

While normal and more common than we might realize, anticipatory grief is different in some ways from the grief we feel after a loved one’s death. It’s different, in part, because it’s happening while your loved one is still alive. It can be confusing, to feel feelings of grief for someone who is still alive and in this world.

This might mean that we are grieving just certain things. For instance, if your parent has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, you might miss that they used to remember your birthday every year and call to sing Happy Birthday over the phone. Or you might grieve the inability to call them for advice or simply to chat about your day, because they’ve become nonverbal.

No matter your particular situation, please know that we understand how difficult it is to experience anticipatory grief while still trying to be present and helpful to your loved one. We encourage you to find support, whether that’s in person or online. If we can help you find those support groups, please reach out.

What Does Anticipatory Grief Feel Like?

Like the grief a person feels after the death of a loved one, anticipatory grief can feel differently at different points of your journey. Some common feelings of anticipatory grief include depression, irritability, anxiety, anger, or fear. It might feel impossible to express your feelings, because you might feel guilty or confused.

But there can be benefits to anticipatory grief. It might help you focus on what matters most to you, while allowing you to let go of everything else. That might include resolving differences before it’s too late, or having tough conversations that you’ve avoided in the past.

Anticipatory grief can be a catalyst for clarity and closure. It can help people focus on what they need before a loved one passes. Do you need to tell them something? Do you need to ask questions? Do you want to know about their childhood or a certain time in their life?

Spending time with someone who is dying can be difficult, and some might even avoid it because of how emotional it can be. That’s understandable. Working with a funeral home that puts families first can help, because we’re most concerned with helping you when circumstances are most challenging. But that doesn’t mean we’re the only resource available.

How Can I Deal With Anticipatory Grief?

An important thing to remember is that there’s no one right way to grieve, no matter when that grief comes. The way you experience and navigate through anticipatory grief will be different than how I do so, and that’s fine. It’s normal. No one should tell you how to grieve.

One thing you can do to help with grief is to get support. At our funeral home, we have a list of resources that might offer you comfort or support when you need it. You can also reach out to family and friends, speak with a therapist or professional, and give yourself the space and time to process and acknowledge your feelings.

Another thing that might help is creating a support network to rely on when life gets particularly tough. Not everyone will be able to offer the same amount of support, so having several people–a network–can be a lifesaver. One might be able to take a walk with you. Another might be able to run an errand or two. Still another might be comfortable talking about death and the feelings that come with it. They are all important.

You might also let anticipatory grief inspire you to spend more time with your loved ones. That includes the loved one who is dying, but also other family members and friends. Doing so can help you grow closer, and close relationships can be beneficial for your health and wellbeing.

No matter what part of this journey you’re one, we at Bateman-Allen Funeral Home care about your wellbeing and the needs of your family. We’re proud to have served Pennsylvania for generations and welcome you to reach out if you find yourself in need of our services.