Coping with Feelings of Anticipatory Grief

Spring has arrived and there is a sense of anticipation in the air – students are planning their next move following graduation,  shower, and wedding dates have been set, and despite the world’s strife, the season is a hopeful one.  But change, even exciting changes like a new home or job, can prompt feelings of anticipatory grief.  

According to a recent Forbes Health report, people living with a progressive or degenerative disease, as well as their friends and family, often experience anticipatory grief.  When change is on the horizon, people may start ruminating about the future or imagining a different life if certain factors were altered. 

Anticipatory grief isn’t limited to a terminal illness of a loved one, or oneself, it can also include the expected loss of a pet or an unborn baby.  A new relationship or a child leaving home for college can also trigger anticipatory grief.  

Family caregivers of people living with Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, or another terminal illness often experience anticipatory grief, knowing they can not prevent decline and loss.  The process can elicit strong feelings of frustration, sadness, and loss – and it’s important to express these feelings to other family members, or within a support group. 

Caregivers can better work through their feelings by educating themselves about what to expect, settling any legal or financial matters, and discussing end-of-life wishes.  Reaching out for family or paid help is also important for primary caregivers to give them time to recharge.  Burnout can often lead to poorer health outcomes for caregivers. 

While your family member may not be able to do all the things they once enjoyed, finding joy in small pleasures can help create cherished memories.  Spending time outdoors, listening to music, or sharing a meal with friends can offer small moments of happiness that will be treasured.  

The grieving process can be complicated and people may experience feelings of denial, anger, or depression. Talking with a social worker, a therapist, a spiritual leader or a friend who has experienced a similar loss can help.  Learn more about coping with anticipatory grief by following this link to a recent blog post in Psychology Today.