Anticipatory grief is the form of grief that occurs when one is confronted with a chronic or life threatening illness or when one anticipates the death of a loved one (or oneself).
It is the emotional pain associated with loss before death. Anticipating the loss, knowing what is coming, can be just as painful as losing the life. It does not substitute, or necessarily lessen, the post-death process. It is not post-death grief pushed ahead in time.
Anticipatory grief is common with caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s disease and other terminal illnesses. It can occur more than once. For example, when your loved one has a period of decline, you’ll experience loss. These feelings may stabilize as you loved one stabilizes. With another setback or decline, feelings of grief and loss can return. This can happen over and over again.
Anticipatory grief is not limited to future losses, but it also includes past and present losses.
Past – the past that was had/shared and can never be regained.
Present – the losses that occur and are experienced as a decline in or out right end of capabilities, the ongoing experience of things slowly getting worse.
Future – the losses of the anticipated progression of the illness and such related losses as loneliness and events that will not be shared.
Although there is no easy way to prepare or move through anticipatory grief, there are benefits. It is a time for families to reminisce, do life review, contemplate, and reconcile. It can be time for life closure and a time to clear unresolved issues. Depending on the cognitive functioning, it can also provide the occasion to formulate a legacy by creating an ethical will.
What can help…
· Hospice and palliative care team
· Support groups
· On-line support
· Professional help
· Express feelings