Coping With Anticipatory Grief Symptoms

This past week my sister-in-law’s mother died after spending 10 days in hospice. Prior to that, she had 7 months of at-home critical care knowing she would never get better, having been diagnosed with cancer.  My sister-in-law was the primary caregiver to her mother, spending 5 days a week at her side during the day while her other siblings stepped in during other times.

I saw the toll the anticipatory grief stages took on all the family members while awaiting her inevitable death. Depending on your loved one’s illness, you may suffer from anticipatory grief for a year, 5 years, 10 years, or even longer. The slow decline of a loved one is a heavy burden. Edward Myers, in his book “When Parents Die,” says this burden comes with special hardships.

Anticipatory Grief Symptoms

Anticipatory GriefThe symptoms of anticipatory grief can include  mood swings, forgetfulness, disorganized and confused behavior, anger, depression, denial, feeling disconnected from life and alone. You may have health symptoms, too, such as weight loss or gain, problems sleeping, nervous behavior, depression and general fatigue.

Many people don’t even realize that they’ve experiencing anticipatory grief symptoms, and how badly it is affecting them. According to Myers, a sudden death hits you like an explosion and sends you into shock, but an impending death “arrives more like a glacier, massive and unstoppable, grinding you down.” Dealing with anticipatory grief symptoms gets harder with each passing day.

Coping With Anticipatory Grief

The best thing that you can do is to give yourself permission to cry. Tears are a powerful emotional release, according to Jeffrey A. Kottler, author of “The Language of Tears.” He also says that crying brings people together. When you cry and share your story with others, they comfort you and in turn open up to share their own stories with you as well.

According to author Harriet Hodgson, compiling a support list help you to cope with the grief. Put the names of your contacts, their phone numbers and their email addresses on your list, so that you can contact someone on the list for help. It also helps to add anticipatory grief “prescriptions” to your list, helpful things like a daily walking group, a half-day cooking class, or a book club meeting.

Anticipatory grief symptoms are a big deal, and you shouldn’t just sweep them under the carpet. Coping with these symptoms using these tips is the best thing that you can do for yourself, so make sure you do one thing today that will help to brighten your tomorrow.


4 Responses to Coping With Anticipatory Grief Symptoms

  • @Walter Johnson sometimes sharing your feelings with strangers is a way to let go. Perhaps Walter you could also look into a grief group where you can be supported by others who will understand what you have experienced and support you through the frustration and anger. – JoAnne

  • I am one of 13 siblings of which 9 remain. My mom is very sick and is currently in a nursing home, hoping to go home at some point. I live about 190 miles from where she currently lives, which was my dad’s home town and is now her adopted home. Only one of my siblings lives in this small town and he himself is not well. I didn’t even know that we were going through anticipatory grieving, but I knew that we were going through something. Last night 4 of us were involved in a very heated discussion regarding who would be responsible for making decisions for her in the event that she couldn’t do so for herself. Prior to this discussion we were communicating via group text messaging. I made a suggestion that my sister who lives the closest to my mom should be the one that should be contacted regarding mom’s care. Crickets, except for 2 of my siblings. It started to become clear to me that factions were forming. A few days later, 2 of my youngest brothers produced a document stating that they were granted medical power of attorney by my dad before he passed away. These two live the furthest away from where my mom is. I tried to get them to understand the wisdom of allowing my sister to be that person regardless of those papers. This caused a great deal of consternation among the two “lawyers”, as they’ve become to be known. Very harsh words were spoken between us that made me feel that I would let them do whatever it is that they want to do, and I’ll just visit with my mom when I can and have very little to say to the rest of them. I’m good with that, because I only have a REAL relationship with three of us anyway. There’s so much more to this story that I don’t want to say right now. Let’s just say that I’m glad that there’s a forum like this to express myself.

  • It’s nice to meet you. I just starting following you on twitter. In my earliest stages of grief, I picked up “When Parents Die.” The problem I had with it was that I wanted something more positive. It was also for someone much older. At the time I was only 20. I would actually say that positive books of any kind are best. I read The Secret. I also read about the Karma Sutra, which is really about having love for yourself and how to take care of yourself first. Before my mother passed away she said something that has helped me a great deal. She said, “You can’t stop living just because I have.” I think your idea to have prescriptions ready is good. Everyone is different. I think committing to deal with the loss is the most important thing. Understanding that there will be good days and bad ones. It’s important to avoid being hard on yourself when you’re not perfect. Thank you for your site. It’s a great contribution.

  • I definitely felt that anticipatory grief colored my loss experience tremendously. In addition to being drained after caring for my dying husband, I was an emotional wreck. It didn’t help that neither of us *quite* admitted he wouldn’t make it. It was an elaborate dance for the last year of his illness, and I’ve had a hard time forgiving myself for knowing and not knowing… and untangling the whole knot.

    It’s good advice to take these stresses seriously and write yourself some “prescriptions!”

    Of course, entering the world of widows and finding out how typical and normal ALL of these experiences are was very freeing… and gave me permission to look back on that whole hard time and work through it, just as through the loss itself.

    Thanks for all your work with grieving people!



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