The Art of Letting Go: Defining Anticipatory Grief and Coping With It

The Art of Letting Go: Defining Anticipatory Grief and Coping With It

Is it possible for grief to precede the loss or absence of a person? Most of us think of grieving as something that occurs only after a loved one has passed away. But for others, grieving can already come about even long before a person’s death. This article will explain the inner workings of anticipatory grief and how families can develop healthy coping mechanisms for it.

Feelings of Impending Pain: What is Anticipatory Grief?

Anticipatory grief, also known as anticipatory loss, refers to an individual’s amplified emotional responses over their mortality or the expected death of a loved one. Anticipatory grief’s definition emphasizes extreme feelings prior to someone’s death. Some examples of such intense feelings or anticipatory grief symptoms include the following:

  • Separation anxiety
  • Existential loneliness
  • Denial
  • Despair
  • Disappointment
  • Wrath, resentment, guilt
  • Tiredness and desperation
Though most are prepared to experience sadness once a loved one passes away, fewer have encountered the type of grief that can surface years or even decades before death actually occurs. It’s hard to express and to even admit agonizing emotions over losing someone who is still alive. Thus, people who experience this often have a hard time opening up.

Anticipatory grief can manifest in other examples such as loss of job opportunities or even in divorce and separation. It’s essential to recognize that each of these feelings is natural in the face of life and death.

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Grief Before vs. After Death: Is There a Difference?

Anticipatory and conventional grief are akin to one another since they both connote the harrowing and unpleasant emotions a person feels over the thought of death and loss. However, they still have notable differences.

For starters, grief occurs after someone dies, whereas anticipatory grief takes place before someone’s death. Therefore, anticipatory sorrow can be thought of as mourning that occurs before the actual loss and may be accompanied by anxiety. Other distinctions that characterize anticipatory grief from ordinary grief include the following:

  • Added rage
  • Little to no emotional control
  • Greater susceptibility to mood swings
It can be challenging to discover clarity when you’re torn between clinging to a bright future and accepting the reality of letting a loved one go.

The Purpose of Grieving: Should We Really Undergo This?

Preemptive sadness shares a similar definition with anticipatory grief. One might wonder if this painstaking process will lead to fruitful outcomes.

Both families and patients can benefit from the period they experience anticipatory grieving. Although anticipatory grief doesn’t diminish suffering and pain dealt with by a looming loss, it aids in better understanding and acceptance of the realities of passing away. Family members tend to put more value on the time they have left to communicate and bond with the patients.

For patients, anticipatory grief can provide closure and purpose. This time allows families to find closure, settle disputes, and forgive one another.

Anticipatory Grief Stages: How Does Anticipatory Grief Develop?

Anticipatory loss may occur differently for every person. However, there are specific patterns that eventually led to four stages of anticipatory grief, as delineated by the University of Rochester Medical Center. A person is said to go through these four phases before finally accepting their situation:

Phase 1: Accepting the Inevitability of Death

In this initial stage, the person experiencing anticipatory grief gradually recognizes the reality of death and loss and gives up hope for recovery. Disappointment and melancholy are likely to come along with those realizations.

Phase 2: Worrying About the Patient

In the second stage, family members tend to worry about the dying person’s well-being because of deep-seated regrets from arguments they had with them. It is common for loved ones to show their sorrow by reflecting on the times they fought or disagreed with the person they are losing.

On the other hand, the patient may become more preoccupied with their own feelings of helplessness and terror. Additionally, they may feel anxious about how their loved ones show afflictive feelings.

Phase 3: Making the Arrangements and Preparations

Families tend to “rehearse” the wake of their loved ones during this time, including the physical process of passing over and potential afterlife scenarios. Some anticipatory grief may urge individuals to make funeral plans and bid farewell to loved ones.

Phase 4: Picturing the Future

It’s natural for families to try to picture a future without their dying friend or relative. Thinking about what will be left behind or imagining important moments without that person are common activities during this stage.

Meanwhile, the patient may consider comparable outcomes, imagining how their loved ones will cope in their absence. Likewise, they may speculate on their own possible afterlife and wonder what, if anything, lies ahead.

There are many ways to express grief; each stage may occur at different times, with different intensities, and in different orders.

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Four Coping Mechanisms to Survive Anticipatory Grief: How Can We Live With It?

There are various strategies to strengthen yourself and alleviate unwanted emotions when dealing with anticipatory grieving. Healthy coping mechanisms for anticipatory grieving include acknowledging and accepting your feelings, understanding more about the grieving process, practicing mindfulness and meditation, engaging in physical activity, and talking with someone.

The following four techniques can help you cope with anticipatory grief:

1. Speak with a therapist

You can learn to manage your feelings by talking to a qualified professional. Taking care of your anticipatory grieving could make you feel mentally positioned for the loss when it happens. Individual counseling can assist in facilitating and improving coping methods and adjustments to the loss. This service offers a secure, compassionate setting to work with challenging feelings and emotions.

Family counseling is recommended, especially when the loss impacts the entire family. Individuals tend to cope better when they have the chance to connect and recover with others who share similar struggles and goals.

2. Locate and Utilize Resources for Help

The knowledge that they are not alone in their sadness can be comforting for some people. Lean on understanding and encouraging friends and relatives. Participate in communities with relatable backgrounds and experiences to find comfort and connection. Join online groups and resources for support.

3. Embrace Your Emotions

Recognize that your feelings are normal. Acceptance merely implies that you acknowledge your sentiments and are not actively resisting them to escape the heaviness of reality. It does not imply that you agree with or desire to feel the way you do. It means being at peace with your current circumstances and learning how to move forward.

4. Self-Care

You may maintain good physical health by feeding your body nutritious foods, getting adequate rest, and exercising. Spend time engaging in activities you usually love, such as reading a book, going on a stroll, or listening to music. Use relaxing methods like mindfulness or guided meditation.

In Summary: Getting Through Anticipatory Grief

It is possible for grief to set in before the actual death of a loved one or yourself. It comes in the form of anticipatory grief. With this, you may experience a range of emotions, including sadness, while you prepare for a loss you know is coming. Despite the pain, it may enable you to reach a resolution, reconcile disputes, or mentally prepare for the anguish of letting go.

Living with sorrow and loss is an individual journey that takes patience and helps to traverse. Overwhelming sadness and a variety of other feelings are expected during the grieving process. In order to properly grieve a loss, you must seek adequate and effective assistance.

All American Hospice Is Always With You

It might be hard to support a loved one who is grieving. It can be difficult to know what to say or how to act to give them the love and care that they need. Fortunately, there are hospice facilities that offer professional counsel to aid in the recovery of families and friends during and after the wake of their loved ones.

All American Hospice houses interdisciplinary and trained professionals in providing effective and compassionate counseling on the most important aspects of life. We offer dietitian services, spiritual counseling, and support. We also provide bereavement support services dedicated to helping families recover from anticipatory and conventional grief.

Our bereavement services help grieving people, regardless of age, gain professional counseling, support, and information on various coping mechanisms. The chance to discuss your concerns with a trained counselor may aid in helping you deal with your emotions.

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