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Anticipatory grief

When you've learned that someone close to you has a life-threatening illness, time may seem to freeze. You may instinctively push the news away, or cry, or swing into action. However you respond, life and time go on after the diagnosis is made—regardless of whether you feel ready to cope.

You and your loved one may have pursued promising treatments and perhaps enjoyed a respite from encroaching illness. At some point, however, the illness may become terminal, and gradually the end draws closer. If that's where you find yourself today, know that even though this time is full of uncertainty, there are some things you can do now to help yourself and your loved one prepare for what lies ahead.

Some of the support you need is emotional. The fears and feelings that surface now are better aired than ignored. Some of the support you need concerns practical details. End-of-life care needs to be arranged and funeral plans need to be considered. Legal and financial matters must be addressed now or in the days after the death. This article can help guide you through some of these steps and suggest additional sources of support for you to draw on.

Sometimes, dealing with grief before it even happens can be harder than grieving after someone has died.

Anticipatory grief is a phenomenon that occurs when you know someone you love is seriously ill and will likely die in the near future. You may experience sadness, anger, depression, or denial long before they pass away.

You may feel your own mortality acutely as you grapple with all the devastating losses that are to come—for both your loved one and yourself. The loss of independence and security, the inability to move and function as they once did, or the shattering of dreams for a future together can be tremendously difficult to accept.

Anticipatory Grief: How To Cope

It's a sad fact of life that many of us will need to deal with the death of someone we love, and so inevitably, we'll also need to learn how to cope with grief. But it isn't just the death of a loved one that can trigger grief; sometimes, we can begin grieving before they pass on at all.

Anticipatory grief is exactly what it sounds like—grieving for someone who hasn't yet passed away. Typical emotions at this time include sorrow, anxiety, anger, acceptance, depression, and denial.

If you or someone you love is dealing with anticipatory grief, there are several things you can do to cope with it. Here are some ideas:

Get Support From Others: Simply being able to talk about your feelings with supportive people can help you feel less alone. You might also find it helpful to join a support group for people dealing with anticipatory grief.

Give Yourself Time to Heal: While it's okay to work through your emotions and move on, it's important not to rush the process. Everyone grieves at their own pace; try not to compare yourself to anyone else. Give yourself the time you need to heal.

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