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Anticipatory Grief

What is anticipatory grief?

Anticipatory grief is similar to the normal process of mourning, but it occurs before the actual death (in anticipation of the death).

While mourning is usually discussed in context of the family and loved ones of a dying person, anticipatory grief can be experienced by the family, loved ones, and the child dying. Anticipatory grief occurs before death, often as a result of a terminal diagnosis or a life-threatening illness, when death is a possibility. This grief has some common stages among people in the same situation; however, every individual and family is different and experiences grief, death, and illness in their own unique way.

What are the different phases of anticipatory grief?

Grief and mourning do not have specific volumes or time restrictions. Each individual expresses his or her grief and bereavement in his or her own way and time. Anticipatory grief may include the following phases, though not exclusively in this order. Grief is often an expression which includes each of these phases or stages in multiple times, intensities, and orders:

  • Phase I. In this stage, an individual realizes that death is inevitable and there is no expectation for a cure. Sadness and depression are often associated with this first stage of grief.

  • Phase II. The next phase of anticipatory grief is concern for the dying person. Family members may regret arguments or disciplining the dying child. For the dying child, concern may be increased for himself or herself and his or her own fears of death, or because of the emotions expressed by loved ones around him or her.

  • 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 that 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 his or her loved ones to live without him or her.

Online Medical Reviewer: Finke, Amy, RN, BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 2/15/2014
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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