Anticipatory grief

Anticipatory grief is a feeling of loss before someone dies. You might feel it if your friend or relative has dementia, cancer, or another illness which you know will lead to their death.

Feelings before someone dies

Anticipatory grief involves many losses. You might have to come to terms with changes in your friend or relative as their condition progresses. Some days may be really hard. Other days you may not experience grief at all. Everyone grieves differently but the following feelings are all common.

  • Anxiety

When you are caring for someone who is dying, you may feel very anxious. Sadness and painful feelings can come on very suddenly. It can often feel as if it’s hitting you for the first time over and over again. It’s very normal to be frightened about how you will cope and about what will happen next. You might be worried about them suffering, how they might change, and what it will be like at the end. Coping techniques can help you manage your anxiety. 

  • Anger

You may find you feel very angry with the situation, or even with your friend or relative for leaving you. You may also have to cope with the person’s own anger and grief.

  • Loneliness

The illness may have changed the person you are caring for, or you may feel others don’t understand what you are going through. Caring can limit your chances to get out and meet other friends and loved ones.

  • Guilt

You may worry you can’t do enough to help. You may be longing for your loved one to be free of pain, even as you fear their actual death. You may also experience survivor’s guilt because you will continue with your life while they won’t.

  • Exhaustion

You may be exhausted – with caring duties, and with the constant worry.

  • Anticipation

Sometimes people find they spend time picturing what it will be like after their friend or relative dies, and thinking about how it will happen. Many people feel guilty about these thoughts, but they are very normal. They’re part of preparing yourself for their death.

  • Physical Effects

Physical problems such as sleep difficulties and digestive upsets are very common before and after someone dies. Many people also find it very difficult to concentrate.

If I focus on the present, I can cope but if I spend too long thinking about the future it can feel overwhelming and scary with the feelings of intense grief returning.


Bereavement supporter

Supporting yourself

Allow yourself to grieve

It’s important to express your pain and allow yourself the time and space to grieve. It may help to talk to a friend or another loved one.

Write down your thoughts and feelings 

Try writing down your thoughts and feelings in a journal.#

Look for support online 

Online forums and support groups can help connect you with others going through something similar. Organisations and charities connected to your friend or relative’s condition may be able to help.

Learn more about their condition

Find out about what to expect by learning about the condition, treatments and side effects, prognosis. This information may help you feel more in control. But be aware that this information might add to your anxiety.

Take care of yourself

Look after yourself by exercising, eating healthily and getting plenty of rest. Take time out to do things you enjoy and that help you to relax.

Be kind to yourself

Remember that you have a lot to deal with. Be realistic about how much you can do both practically and emotionally. Ask friends and family for help.

Remember you can do this 

Think about how you have handled tough situations in the past and use some of those techniques to help you cope.

Take it a day at a time

Try to focus on the day in hand rather than worrying about the future.