Bereavement Support Line 1800 80 70 77

Facing a loss

When facing an impending loss, you might experience what is known as ‘anticipatory grief’.  Anticipatory grief is the grieving that happens before a death or other type of significant loss. It typically happens when a loved one is diagnosed with a terminal or life-limiting illness like cancer, dementia, or a chronic disease. It can also occur when faced with a personal diagnosis of a terminal or life-changing illness or when faced with the loss of abilities or independence.

For those facing the expected death of someone close or facing your own death, the process of anticipatory grief can provide time to adjust to and absorb the loss. However, the experience of facing loss may be further complicated by a lack of understanding or social acceptance for the loss.

Anticipatory grief can involve many of the same symptoms experienced after an actual death, but it is different in some ways. The grief before a loss can be accompanied by guilt, as a death has not yet occurred, and by a feeling of loss of control. Experiencing anticipatory grief does not take the place of the grieving that will happen after a death or loss.

Symptoms of Anticipatory Grief

  • Tearfulness and sadness.
  • Guilt.
  • Anxiety or depression.
  • Irritability and anger.
  • Increased sense of worry or concern for the dying person.
  • Rehearsing or visualising the impending death.

Ways to cope

  • Allow yourself to experience your grief.
  • Find out what you can about what to expect (if a loved one is facing a degenerative illness or a terminal disease).
  • If possible, spend time with the person who is dying.
  • Talk to those you trust about what you are experiencing.
  • Take advantage of support available — hospitals and hospices may provide counselling or support groups.

Remember: There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to feel when facing a loss.