Anticipatory Grief – Grieving Before a Death

June 4, 2021, Gilchrist, Grief
anticipatory, grief honor women in our lives
Gilchrist Clinical Counselor, Dawn Tippett.

Many people assume grief occurs only after a death. But the process of grieving can begin long before the loss of a loved one. Once the reality of impending death arises, it is a natural reaction for both the dying person and their loved ones to begin to grieve the loss that is coming. This process is known as anticipatory grief.

Gilchrist’s grief counselors provide support to families during this anticipatory grief period and help them understand and cope with their feelings of loss.

Mourning a Loved One’s Decline

Watching a loved one suffer and decline is extraordinarily painful. As the illness progresses, families mourn their loved one’s loss of independence, functioning and cognition. Personality and behavioral changes may bring more distress. Caregivers who so desperately want to fix what is happening may feel a sense of helplessness.

At the same time, caregivers are often exhausted and experiencing high levels of stress. They may feel as if they are constantly on high alert. Being in such a persistent state of anguish can be taxing and start to take a toll on the caregiver’s mental and physical health.

Although emotionally difficult, the anticipatory grief period offers families time to prepare for death. Practically, it is a time to learn finances, passwords and anything else known only by the person who is dying. More importantly, this time offers the opportunity to have courageous conversations about end-of-life and funeral wishes and say all that needs to be said.

Along with making amends and letting go of past hurts, families can make sure their loved one knows how much they are loved, perhaps lessening the chance of regrets down the road.

Coping with Conflicting Feelings

While acknowledging that death may be inevitable, friends and families may hold onto hope for a miracle to feel they are not “giving up” on their loved one. Others may begin to pray for the end of suffering for the patient and themselves only to experience guilt for having such thoughts.

Through all these conflicted feelings, it is important to remember that anticipatory grief is normal for those who have a loved one with a life-limiting illness. It begins to prepare you and your loved one for the eventual goodbye. Understanding and accepting feelings of grief can help families be more present in each moment and make the most of their time together.

Gilchrist offers grief counseling to those experiencing anticipatory grief. To learn more, visit To support our work, visit

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