At first glance, ‘anticipatory grief’ is a confusing term. It might seem silly or made up if you haven’t heard of it before. Who feels sadness in their mind before something terrible happens? The answer to this question is simple.
Everyone has experienced or will experience sadness, even if it seems for no reason. Grief is complicated and usually involves a great deal of anxiety. Therefore, it is expected to grieve in anticipation of the loss.
The anticipatory grief that can occur is nothing more than coping with an impending loss. But society often shames people who have this feeling. If a loved one is about to pass away, people will tell you to stay positive until the end. They will not accept that you are already grieving this loss. On the contrary, they will make you feel you are not working hard enough to please their loved ones.
This is probably the most extreme example of embarrassing anticipatory grief. But there are many areas of life where these feelings show themselves.
And it is not good at all to feel that this feeling is not justified. It will be necessary to fight with such grief. You better not feel it. To do this, you need to understand what causes anticipatory grief and how you can overcome it.
What is anticipatory grief?
Anticipatory grief means that the caregiver or loved one is aware of someone’s final prognosis and has time to prepare for the loss. However, even though they have time to prepare, the sense of impending loss can still be overwhelming. People with preparatory grief often have the same symptoms as normal grief.
It is generally assumed that caregivers are most affected by anticipatory grief, but some studies suggest that up to 25% of patients may experience it themselves.
Anticipatory grief is a combination of all the reactions—affective, cognitive, social, and cultural—that both patients and families may experience as they anticipate a loss.
Signs of anticipated grief
Another way to better understand anticipatory grief is to know the signs in advance. Someone with anticipatory grief symptoms may experience some or all of the following:
- Anger and irritability
- Uncontrolled emotion
- Anxiety, fear, or dread
- Lethargy, lack of motivation, antisocial
- Sadness, tears
3 Causes of anticipatory grief
Now you understand what happened. But there is one thing that is not clear. What are its reasons? But how do we withstand these difficulties?
1. Loss of a loved one
You probably won’t be surprised to hear that losing a loved one can cause anticipatory grief. But this does not mean you will feel it when you cut the throat of someone you know.
The idea that the person you are interested in will pass away at some point is scary. But it will not make you sad. Instead, several factors must be met for the grieving process to begin.
First, you must have a solid emotional connection with the person you will lose. The emotional impact will be more significant if a family member is diagnosed with a terminal illness. Anger, fear, and sadness will overwhelm you. You are worried about receiving a call informing your family member. You will constantly think about them and hope that there is still a way they can escape. Even if you know they only have a few months to live, you don’t want to accept it.
The second is that the loss must be inevitable. For example, if a loved one has pneumonia, you will worry it is a severe health problem. But pneumonia is not a fatal disease unless there are likely complications.
That way, you won’t feel anticipatory grief when someone gets sick. You will feel sad and anxious, but nothing else. If the loss were imminent, you would not feel as intense fear as you would think.
2. Anticipatory grief over the loss of a critical material thing
This reason may seem profound, especially compared to the logic described earlier. But losing a job or property can still make you sad. Unfortunately, people think that if you lose your job, you stay home for a few months until you find another one.
But for some people, this is not possible. For example, some become homeless or unable to support their families if they lose their jobs. Or maybe an item is all left of their parents, which means losing the only connection you still have to them.
Therefore, losing something vital is a grave matter. Even if you don’t lose anything, you will feel grief if the loss is close. For example, if you receive an eviction notice, you may stay in your home for a few days. But knowing that you don’t have a home after being forcibly assigned can make you feel terrible.
3. Major life changes can cause anticipatory grief
This is the lightest reason. It’s the fairest of sorrows, but it’s still something you should take seriously. Humans are creatures of comfort.
Change is something that not everyone can handle. It’s normal to feel like you want your old life back. Because we lose something during change, it’s normal to feel sad.
Before you get the big chance, you will feel fear and dread. You may even feel angry that you have to change everything. Of course, you perceive this feeling as nostalgia or a reminder of the past. But what happens is a sense of anticipatory grief.
Ways to deal with anticipatory grief
There are several ways to learn to cope with anticipatory grief. Understanding what you’re feeling is the first step—then you can apply any of the following coping skills to your life to heal and survive. But now that you understand grief better, how can you deal with it?
1. Use the time you have left
This may seem obvious advice, but sometimes the most obvious things work best. When you know you’re about to lose someone or something, you must take advantage of the little time you have left. This period is the last opportunity to create happy memories. If your loved one is sick, you must be with them as much as possible.
Even if the thought of losing them hurts, not being with them in their last moments will hurt even more. Life is too short to live with regrets. So instead of beating yourself up for not seeing someone alive in their final days, make sure you use this time to make them happy.
That way, instead of beating yourself up for making a mistake, you’ll look back fondly. Or, if you’re about to lose your job, make sure you use this time to fight to keep it. Use these last moments wisely.
2. Accept that loss will happen
This is probably the last thing you want to hear, but the only way to move forward is to start accepting that loss will happen. Nothing can be done even if you give something to prevent the loss.
Now it’s easier to do. Your emotional side will make you make purchases and wish things were different. But it would be better to stay rational. Tell yourself that grief is okay, but the loss will still happen. It’s normal to be sad, but there’s nothing you can do to change it.
3. Create memories that your family members can enjoy
Even if your loved one can’t do the activities they once enjoyed, try to involve them in small, simple joys as much as possible. In the end, you may cherish these innocent, often mundane memories the most.
4. Prepare for the worst
When you know you’re going to lose something or someone, you must prepare for that loss. But don’t expect the worst to happen. This is no use; it just means the failure will affect you more. But if you take preventative measures, at least you know you’re doing everything possible to soften the blow.
If you are about to lose someone, make sure your family has funeral plans. As dark as it may seem, it helps ease some of the pressures of loss. If you are about to lose your job, look for potential new jobs. Take your time and do what you can to soften the blow of the loss.
The most important thing is to take time for your feelings. Talk to friends, family members, or even a therapist if you feel like you can’t navigate these feelings on your own.
Final thoughts on the causes of anticipatory grief and ways to overcome them
Anticipatory grief is something everyone has to deal with at some point in life. But unfortunately, experiencing loss is inevitable, and as a society, we don’t talk enough about dealing with it. And anticipatory grief is something we talk about less often. Still, it’s natural to grieve before a loss occurs. So please don’t feel guilty; we all go through it.
Like grief, this emotion is a mixture of anger, sadness, and refusal to believe that the loss will happen. Any imminent failure will cause grief. There are many reasons for losing a loved one or a valuable financial opportunity.
Another reason can be significant life changes. These changes do not affect everyone. Since you cannot control this feeling, you need to learn to cope with it. Finally, you must accept that grieving is a process you must go through to heal.
And anticipatory grief will not spare you the grief after the loss. But it can teach you to behave better. First, make sure you’re making the most of your time.
Prepare yourself for the worst, even if you hope it won’t happen. And finally, accept that losing is a natural part of life. You still have one life to live, and you should make the most of it.