What is Anticipatory Grief?
Grief is an emotional, cognitive, physical, and spiritual response to loss. We tend to associate grief with what we expect to experience in the future. But, actually, concerns about loss begin as soon as we recognize that a loss may occur.
“Anticipatory grief” is the name for what people experience when they know that they will likely face a profound loss. For parents of a child with a serious illness, it includes all the losses along the illness journey—not just the prospect of death. It means grappling with and grieving the loss before it completely unfolds.
Anticipatory grief takes up a lot of room in a parent’s mind and heart. It can take many forms: sadness, tearfulness, anger, irritability, loneliness, guilt, anxiety, a desire to talk or to withdraw. It may manifest itself with physical problems such as sleep or memory difficulty, headache or other physical pain. It may include a mental rehearsal of the death and the hours/days following the death. It may include a need to engage in immediate decision-making around preparation for the death. It could also be complete avoidance of these issues.