Anticipatory grief has been described as grief looking forward. Unlike conventional grief, this type of grief explains the distress people feel at the unalterable truth of the impending loss of someone or something dear. This is when people experience feelings of bereavement for months or even years in the face of the unchangeable fact that they will experience grief and loss.

Though anticipatory grief can be experienced in many situations that involve impending loss, it has been seen to be more common in people who are dealing with terminal illnesses, whether as patients, loved ones, or caregivers.

Who is likely to experience anticipatory grief?

Although it is mainly people dealing with terminal illnesses that usually experience anticipatory grief, it is again important to note that people who are facing any impending loss, not only the death of a loved one can also experience anticipatory grief.

It has also been noticed by Christian Counselors that huge changes can also elicit feelings of anticipatory grief, even if these changes would be good or anticipated. Many life situations may provoke anticipatory grief in people, below are just some examples:

  • Parents dealing with a complicated pregnancy.
  • Couples on separation, waiting for their divorce to be finalized.
  • Having a pet that’s now too old or sick and would have to be put down.
  • Relocation
  • Being diagnosed with a degenerative illness or having a loved one who is.
  • Career changes or moving away to start college.
  • Loss of bodily function due to an illness, amputation, or accident
  • Becoming parents
  • Being in a war zone where imminent danger is real.
  • Knowing one’s parents or loved ones are aging and will soon no longer be around.

These are just a few examples of common life situations. What this means is if we or our loved ones are facing impending life transitions or the death of a loved one or pet, we need to be informed about what they might be experiencing.

Phases of anticipatory grief.

Though universally understood, grief can be such a personal experience. Many factors contribute to people experiencing anticipatory grief differently. Some differences could stem from temperament, relationship with the person who is not well, or other social factors. That being the case, The University of Rochester Medical Centre stipulates that people going through anticipatory grief will experience the following phases:


Anticipatory grief often starts with acceptance. This is the realization that the situation is not going to change and in the case of a loved one with a terminal illness it is coming to grips with the fact that death is inevitable. They no longer hold out hope for a cure or miracle. It is coming to terms with the knowledge that it’s only a matter of time.

Concern for the person about to die.

For the person who is about to pass away, this may be a phase filled with fear, apprehension about what it is like to die, and the uncertainty of it all. They may also be grappling with seeing their loved ones experiencing such hard emotions; it’s a time when they take an inventory of their life and feel compelled to have hard conversations about past mistakes or disagreements, so they end on a good note.

Rehearsing the death.

This phase has a lot to do with the practical side of dealing with the death of a loved one. The person who is about to die might be involved in funeral arrangements, and putting everything to make it easier for their loved ones after they are gone. This will also be a time for goodbyes.

Life without them.

When experiencing anticipatory grief, loved ones might start envisioning what life without them will be like. This can be incredibly difficult to deal with, but it all happens involuntarily. This is especially hard for those who would have been given a specific time to live. They can start to imagine important dates and occasions in the future that will be missed.

Just like the five stages of grief, it is important to note that these phases will not be experienced in this chronological order or one at a time.

We are here to assist.

Knowing that anticipatory grief is normal can be a huge relief for those who are experiencing it. If at any moment you or your loved ones need assistance in understanding it further, getting tools to cope, and a safe space to process it, please know we are here to assist. We can direct you to Grief Counselors at San Diego Christian Counseling, who are experienced in helping families and individuals go through this difficult time.


“On the Beach”, Courtesy of Ave Calvar,, Unsplash+ License; “Looking Out the Window”, Courtesy of Nathan Anderson,, Unsplash+ License;


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