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When Death Looms: Making Sense of Anticipatory Grief

Understanding Anticipatory Grief

The Love Always Project is committed to providing trusted resources to help you navigate the grieving process. As part of our partnership with For Grief, we're proud to bring you this article by grief expert Allison Gilbert, author of the forthcoming biography, Listen, World!, and the groundbreaking book, Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive. Gilbert helps us understand anticipatory grief and ways to manage the feelings that may accompany it.

When Death Looms: Making Sense of Anticipatory Grief

For nearly six years, Litsa Williams thought about her grandmother's death – when it would happen, where she might be when she heard the news that she had passed away. Her grandma had suffered a stroke in her late 80s. The agonizing months that followed included a struggle with dementia that gradually took away her ability to speak, even the ability to remember that Litsa was her granddaughter.

"When she died just shy of her 95th birthday, I am not sure I had ever heard the words ‘anticipatory grief,’” Williams said. “Yet, I remember thinking that we'd been saying goodbye to her for so long. She was with us in body, but we'd been slowly mourning the loss of her personality, independence and memory.”

Litsa, co-founder of What's Your Grief, an online grief education platform, is much more familiar with the term today. Anticipatory grief can begin well before a death occurs. For some people, it can start as soon as the end of a life is looming on the horizon.

Three Ways to Manage Anticipatory Grief

There are three important lessons to keep in mind if you're grappling with a similar situation right now, inspired by Litsa's stirring work on anticipatory grief.

1. Join a helpful community

Seek out caregiver support groups, either in your area or online, so you can connect with others who understand the challenges you are facing. There is an online anticipatory grief forum that is active here. You may also want to join the For Grief private Facebook community.

2. Communicate with friends and family

Anticipatory grief isn't the same for everybody. Ensure you talk about your needs and the needs of those closest to you. This will (hopefully) enable you to avoid conflict at a time when everyone can use tenderness and compassion.

3. Make time for self-care

There's a reason why adults on airplanes are warned to put their oxygen masks on first, before helping children put on theirs. We need to stay strong to care for those who need our help.

Consider carving out a few moments to take a meaningful course, or perhaps set aside time to join a conversation specifically about anticipatory grief to ask your most pressing questions. (For Grief hosts live events on the last Thursday of every month – and they're always free.)

Additional Resources for Anticipatory Grief

Anticipatory grief is not often discussed. Too many people struggle alone in an effort to protect the feelings of loved ones who are seriously ill and facing death. You do not have to struggle with these emotions and experiences alone. Join Allison Gilbert and our partners at For Grief for their free virtual events, or reach out to Gilbert anytime on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

This article is brought to you by The Love Always Project, an organization whose mission is to promote the open discussion of the many end-of-life issues most of us face alone. We provide grief, loss and bereavement resources to ease your pain and your loved ones' pain and planning resources to help you find peace with mortality. Learn more about The Love Always Project or join the movement.


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