Anticipatory Grief

Why It's Natural to Grieve Before Death

Caring for someone during the long decline of dementia means enduring many losses. Some days you may awaken feeling as if you're in mourning. In a way, you are. Dementia caregivers are especially vulnerable to anticipatory grief, a form of grieving for a loved one that begins while the person is still alive.

Three helpful things to know:

  • Anticipatory grief is perfectly natural. With dementia, so much of the person's personality (and, eventually, physical self) is altered, it's natural for family members to mourn these losses.

  • Anticipatory grief is the same as "real" postmortem grief. A 2001 study in The Gerontologist called anticipatory grief equivalent in intensity and breadth to the response to death.

  • Anticipatory grief has an odd silver lining. Grief specialists say it prepares us for the end. In dementia, it may be a long, slow, painful warm-up, but it is a warm-up. Learn more about anticipatory grief.

over 1 year ago, said...

Been going through this for a long time now. But this is not my first experience with this time of grief. You move through it now and you are further on to moving out of it when the time comes. Been going through this for a long time now. But this is not my first experience with this time of grief. You move through it now and you are further on to moving out of it when the time comes.
 Hide

almost 2 years ago, said...

I appreciate this article so much! My Mother's terminal illness took her very quickly (not the "days" the Dr. said it would be, but 10 weeks). With Dad it is taking years. i miss my "real" Dad so much. his shoulder was so strong to cry on. Thank you to all of you out there, going through this with me. it helps! I appreciate this article so much! My Mother's terminal illness took her very quickly (not the "days" the Dr. said it would be, but 10 weeks). With Dad it is taking years. i miss my "real" Dad so much. his shoulder was so strong to cry on. Thank you to all of you out there, going through this with me. it helps! Hide

about 3 years ago, said...

It helped by giving me a better understanding of what I may have already known, but seeing it in writing validates what I thought... Some times just hearing it from someone else allows us to accept and move forward with a bit more peace... Show more It helped by giving me a better understanding of what I may have already known, but seeing it in writing validates what I thought... Some times just hearing it from someone else allows us to accept and move forward with a bit more peace... Hide

about 3 years ago, said...

Thank you for this article. I have felt this for some time and now more and more often and with more intensity. I have a difficult time with it but knowing this is a syndrome that many of us experience, the crying jags and outbursts now make sense to me as it seemed like it was for no reason, or that I was not able to assign a cause to it. Again, love, hugs and prayers to all of us on this journey. Roger Thank you for this article. I have felt this for some time and now more and more often and with more intensity. I have a difficult time with it but knowing this is a syndrome that many of us experience, the crying jags and outbursts now make sense to me as it seemed like it was for no reason, or that I was not able to assign a cause to it. Again, love, hugs and prayers to all of us on this journey. Roger Hide

over 3 years ago, said...

I have experienced this for a while now. At first it was unsettling and I felt as though it detracted from my relationship with my mother. I kept thinking I would resent it later, for having interfered with what precious time we have left. I gradually began to see it differently....a blessing of sorts. I know I will grieve when the end comes but logic tells me that the vibrant, smart, funny, and loving person I knew as my mother has slipped away long ago. And when I remember her, I will... Show more I have experienced this for a while now. At first it was unsettling and I felt as though it detracted from my relationship with my mother. I kept thinking I would resent it later, for having interfered with what precious time we have left. I gradually began to see it differently....a blessing of sorts. I know I will grieve when the end comes but logic tells me that the vibrant, smart, funny, and loving person I knew as my mother has slipped away long ago. And when I remember her, I will miss the person she was to me when she was not hampered by the conditions of this deplorable disease. Hide

over 3 years ago, said...

It would be nice if there were more before having to go to the lengths: symptoms, ways of coping, how to explain "despression" to friends and famiiy. etc. It would be nice if there were more before having to go to the lengths: symptoms, ways of coping, how to explain "despression" to friends and famiiy. etc. Hide

over 3 years ago, said...

discuss how to cope with anticipatory grief in a way that does not involve isolating/retreat from affected loved one discuss how to cope with anticipatory grief in a way that does not involve isolating/retreat from affected loved one Hide

almost 4 years ago, said...

Now I too know my feelings for my mom, has a name. I am having a hard time watching her age and not remembering. Now I too know my feelings for my mom, has a name. I am having a hard time watching her age and not remembering. Hide

almost 4 years ago, said...

Before my mom was Dx'd with dementia, I had not seen her for close to a year due to illness in our house, as we lived states apart. We talked on the phone almost every day. When I looked at her face upon arriving, I knew something terrible was wrong..I soon excused myself to take a shower and I cried and cried while the water was running. All I could think of was, "She is like a faded rose, a very faded rose... her beauty is gone." It broke my heart. It took 2 more years to discover the... Show more Before my mom was Dx'd with dementia, I had not seen her for close to a year due to illness in our house, as we lived states apart. We talked on the phone almost every day. When I looked at her face upon arriving, I knew something terrible was wrong..I soon excused myself to take a shower and I cried and cried while the water was running. All I could think of was, "She is like a faded rose, a very faded rose... her beauty is gone." It broke my heart. It took 2 more years to discover the correct diagnosis after many rounds of doctor appointments. Looking back later, I realized I was grieving in that shower as if she had just died suddenly. My "real" mom was gone and a shell was left. But I want to say, the grieving went on after she died in a nursing home. It became easier to remember all the years of good times..especially when dealing with placement or disposal of her belongings. It was in 1999... she died day before my birthday. Now I enjoy running across something in my household that belonged do her.. I have a moment of "Hi, Mom. I know you are having a nice day! No more confusion in Heaven." Good cheer to all. Mary Sue Hide

almost 4 years ago, said...

This put a name to what I am feeling. This put a name to what I am feeling. Hide

almost 5 years ago, said...

Thank you for this article. My Mother has dementia and this is how I have felt for about 2 years now. My daughter recently said to me "Mom it's like you're grieving for Granny & she's not gone yet." That is exactly how I feel, but I didn't know it had a name Anticipatory Grief. I often wake up with a sad feeling & then I remember why. Maybe in the end I will be already grieved out! Thank you for this article. My Mother has dementia and this is how I have felt for about 2 years now. My daughter recently said to me "Mom it's like you're grieving for Granny & she's not gone yet." That is exactly how I feel, but I didn't know it had a name Anticipatory Grief. I often wake up with a sad feeling & then I remember why. Maybe in the end I will be already grieved out! Hide