Most people think that grief only occurs after the loss of someone, but that isn’t true. Grief can also occur before a loss, and it is referred to as Preparatory or Anticipatory Grief. Anticipatory grief is not a type of grief that is widely discussed so many people don’t know how to get the support they need.
According to Hilary I. Lebow’s on-line article, “Anticipatory grief was first noted in the 1940s by psychiatrist Erich Lindemann, who witnessed relatives of WWII soldiers in immense distress when their loved ones left for the war. Since then, research has shown that anticipatory grief can impact many people, including:
family members and friends of people with terminal illnesses or hazardous occupations
hospice and palliative care staff
caregivers of those with a progressive illness, like dementia
those facing a potential terminal condition, like cancer”
Anticipatory grief occurs when you’re expecting the loss of someone close to you soon. This includes things like the diagnosis of a degenerative or terminal illness for a loved one, as mentioned above, or an impending divorce. Anticipatory grief can also occur for the person who is suffering from the terminal illness or for a biological mother carrying a baby with a limited life expectancy after birth, or about to deliver a still born baby.
These people may find it difficult to express their pain openly. According to Dr. Eldridge’s article, this type of grief involves more anger, more loss of emotional control and atypical grief responses.
Dr. Eldridge’s article specifies just a few of the losses you might face as a caregiver/spouse when someone close to you is near death:
You may be losing a companion.
The roles in your family may be changing.
You may fear losing your financial security.
You may be losing your dreams about the future.
Dr. Mary-Francis O’Connor, American neuroscientist, psychologist and author of The Grieving Brain: The Surprising Science of How We Learn from Love and Loss expands on this idea. “There are the many losses that caregivers face other than death itself, including the loss of the loved one’s health and capacity, loss of their shared memories and even personality, and loss of a potential future together.”
When experiencing anticipatory grief, you may start envisioning your life without that person. This can be challenging, but for some it's also a way to prepare for the grieving process before they experience the loss.
In conclusion, anticipatory grief may have some benefits, such as providing an opportunity for families to have closure (whatever that looks like personally) and to say their goodbyes. As with any type of grief, it is important to cope with your grief by sharing your feelings openly informally with friends, or if needed, with professionals.