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Anticipatory Grief

What is anticipatory grief?

Anticipatory grief is similar to the normal process of mourning, but it happens before the actual death. It is in anticipation of the death.

Mourning is usually discussed in context of the family and loved ones of a dying person. Anticipatory grief can be felt by the family, loved ones, and the child dying. Anticipatory grief happens before death. This is often as a result of a terminal diagnosis or a life-threatening illness, when death is a possibility. This grief has some common stages. But each person and family is different and experiences grief, death, and illness in their own way.

What are the different phases of anticipatory grief?

Each person expresses grief and bereavement in his or her own way and time. Anticipatory grief may include the following phases, in any order. Grief is often an expression that includes each of these phases or stages in multiple times, intensities, and orders:

  • Phase I. In this stage, the person realizes that death is inevitable and has no expectation for a cure. Sadness and depression often occur with this first stage.

  • Phase II. The next phase is concern for the dying person. Family members may regret arguments or disciplining the dying child. For the dying child, concern may increase for him or herself and his or her own fears of death. The child may also be worried about the emotions expressed by loved ones.

  • Phase III. In this phase, the actual death may be "rehearsed." The physical process of death and what may happen after death are concerns in this phase. Funeral arrangements and saying good-bye to loved ones may occur as a result of some anticipatory grieving.

  • Phase IV. In the last phase, loved ones may be imagining what their lives are going to be like without the person who is dying. Parents may be thinking about the unused toys left behind, missed proms and birthdays, or even what they are going to tell the child's teachers when school is missed. Siblings may wonder what it will be like to lose their brother or sister.

The person dying may think about life after death. The person dying may also try to imagine what it will be like for loved ones to live without him or her.

Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN CCRC
Online Medical Reviewer: Liora C Adler MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Pat F Bass MD MPH
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2019
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