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Anticipatory Grief: Grieving Someone who is Still Alive

Grief is often thought of as something that happens after death, but grief can be felt long before someone dies. 

What is anticipatory grief?

Anticipatory grief is where someone feels loss before someone dies, possibly long before the actual time of death. 

Someone may experience anticipatory grief if their loved ones are diagnosed with an illness that affects them daily for a long time before they die. Examples of this could be terminal cancer or dementia diagnosis. 

What does anticipatory grief feel like?

Just like grief, people experience anticipatory grief in different ways. Some people may feel fear, isolation, sorrow or confusion, as well as many other emotions. 

As well as grieving for the person who is unwell, people who experience anticipatory grief can grieve changes in their relationships and identities and feel the loss of future plans that now will not work out. Sometimes people experiencing anticipatory grief find it hard to cope with time as they worry it’s running out.

Supporting someone through anticipatory grief

People who may be experiencing anticipatory grief may appreciate being directed to organisations and services that may be able to offer support. You may find some suggestions on TheSprout’s Grief, Loss and Bereavement Information Page. 

Avoid saying things like “at least they’re still here” or “you still have time together”. Often, things in their life have changed regardless, and so it can be challenging to feel grateful, which may lead to feelings of guilt.  

Sometimes, it’s best to offer a safe space to listen to the person so they can share their feelings and experiences openly and without judgement. You don’t need to say anything or try to fix the situation. 

Related Information

It’s important to know that feelings of anticipatory grief don’t lessen feelings of grief once a loved one dies. It can often feel like they experience the loss of their loved one twice. 

Visit TheSprout’s Grief, Loss and Bereavement Information Page.

Find out how to support a friend through grief.

Read tips for dealing with grief this Christmas. 

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