Anticipatory Grief

Anticipatory grief is a common term used to define the time between the diagnosis of a terminally ill condition and that person’s death.

It can be a time of reflection, and an opportunity to make some positive memories.  But, it can also be a difficult time of adjustment for both the ill and their caregivers.

It’s important that everyone talks about the illness, the treatments and what is working and not working.  Before we knew about their illness, we may have had a feeling that something was wrong.  Maybe there was a slight change in behaviour or a feeling that there is something they are not sharing with you.

Perhaps they seemed to need help doing ordinary tasks, but denied your offer of help.  They may not share all that the doctor told them.  The caregiver then feels frustrated because they didn’t have all the information they felt they should have had.

It’s important that you both feel comfortable sharing the good and the bad news freely.  Plans for the future should be made in the spirit of openness and you need to have confidence in the medical care that is being given.

If you feel that the doctors are talking down to you or are not listening to your concerns, then tell them that.  Put it out there so it can be dealt with.

It’s hard on the terminal ill to know that they will slowly lose control over what is happening in their life.  Simple household maintenance/housework becomes beyond their control.  Physically they become more and more dependent on help and with that goes their independence.


Anticipatory grief has many aspects to watch out for:

  • Frustrated – one day accepting and another day in denial.
  • Anger – with the doctors, family, maybe even God.
  • Fear – how will the disease run its course?
  • Loneliness – the feeling of having to deal with this on their own.


Tips to help you through anticipatory grief:

  • Keep communication open between you and your family.
  • Talk about all the things you feel need to be said.
  • Make sure legal matters have all been looked after.
  • Take special care of yourself by accepting all offers of help.
  • Find time to be quiet, meditate and get some sun time.
  • Be willing to take the initiative socially because others don’t know what to do, when to do it or how to do it.

  1. yolanda Seneriz
    | Reply

    yes.. the last two years af taking care of my husband after he suffered a stroke,then he went thru depression, particularily the last year he slowly went down hill to where he could not walk but a couple of feet so had to be in wheelchair ..It was really hard on him since he had always been active,so seeing him decline like that was hard and sad,,

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