Grieving Before They’ve Gone


When we unexpectedly lose somebody, the shock seems to take over our minds and bodies for a while. Then the grieving process ensues. But what happens to the grieving process when we already know a loved one’s time is due? In the cases of families with a terminally ill family member, anticipatory grief is normal.

“Grief is a part of life we must embrace. Many people are grieving, feeling alone and overwhelmed. It’s important to remember that tears are like small messengers of unspeakable, indescribable love.” –Debbie Augenthaler, LMHC, NCC

Anticipatory grief is mourning when expecting a death. Meanwhile, conventional grief is grieving after a death. In no way does it shorten the grieving process postmortem because these are two different phases. Some mourners describe their anticipatory grieving to be more severe compared to conventional grief. Anticipatory grief may help families by preparing them to say goodbye, getting closure, or asking and granting forgiveness.

Anticipating a close friend’s or family’s leaving is a difficult and challenging process. Grievers say anticipatory grief involves more anger, guilt, and anxiety. Before dealing with grief, we must ascertain if we have reached that in-between place of grieving. Here is a list of symptoms to indicate whether you are grieving before they have gone.



  • Irritability And Anger. People who anticipate future death often get angry with themselves. This irritability and anger become associated with guilt and memories of regret concerning your loved one. As explained by Jodi Clarke, MA, LPC/MHSP “Understandably, grief is complicated and we sometimes wonder if the pain will ever end. We go through a variety of emotional experiences such as anger, confusion, and sadness.”
  • Sensitivity. When you are expecting someone to leave, especially when that person is dear to you, it is hard to let go. During anticipatory grief, you find yourself easily affected by commercials or talks about your situation, making you tear up quickly.
  • Fear. When losing a loved one, mourners fear the changes that will follow their absence.
  • A Desire To Talk. Your loved ones leaving takes a significant toll on you emotionally. People who experience this have a strong compulsion to share their feelings with anybody who might understand. If mourners do not have an outlet to express their hurts and continue bottling up their emotions, grieving becomes a more substantial burden. Family members usually spend time reminiscing memories about their loved ones.
  • Anxiety. There are different effects of knowing a person is dying and knowing when it is going to happen. Caring for a dying person makes you anxious most of the time.
  • Intense Concern For The Person Dying. Family members or friends express strong concern for their beloved in physical, emotional, and even spiritual aspects.
  • Rehearsal Of Death. These are times when you catch yourself thinking about the passing away of your loved one. You think about what your reaction will be and how you are to manage. On the other hand, if you are the one leaving, you think about the people you will leave behind.

How To Cope

Although it shares similarities with conventional grief, its uniqueness requires particular coping mechanisms. We want to share with you tips on coping with anticipatory grief.

  • Share your feelings. Talk to a confidant who can relate to your situation. They may be another trusted family member or a reliable friend. Express to them your feelings about your loved one, your fears, guilt, and sorrows. Unloading will help you get a grip on your feelings of loss and function as best as you can.
  • Settle unresolved issues. In other words, get closure. Apologize or forgive the person for any misunderstandings and fights between you two. Do not stop there; find a resolution to any loose ends.
  • Make the most out of the remaining time. Though your loved one might have changed, he/she still appreciates spending time with you. Spend quality time with him/her by going outside if it’s manageable, playing games, or reading to him/her. Time is a luxury you must not squander at this point.

“Acknowledge and accept the feelings: The first step is to learn to bring the feeling out.”  That is what Roya R. Rad, MA, PsyD said. Preparing to let go of a loved one doesn’t mean you have stopped loving them. We hope you find a safe place in this trying time.

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