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How to Recognize the Signs of Anticipatory Grief

It’s natural to experience grief after the loss of a loved one. A wide range of powerful emotions can emerge, from sadness and regret to anger, depression and even despair. It’s a difficult time.

However, grief doesn’t come with a timeline. Many people begin to experience the pain of loss before their loved one has passed on. Known as “anticipatory grief,” this natural process occurs when you understand that your loved one is facing a serious illness or injury and will likely not be with us much longer.

At Santé, we’ve seen both our patients and their family members experience anticipatory grief over friends and relatives who are in their final stages of life. While every person experiences grief in his or her own unique way, here are four signs that you or a loved one may be experiencing anticipatory grief.



There’s an expected level of sadness when someone you care for is dying, or will likely pass soon. This comes after you realize there is no cure for their illness or that their condition is deteriorating and will not improve. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, sadness and depression is common in the first phase of anticipatory grief. Though sadness is reasonable and expected under the circumstances, it can be helpful to express your feelings to a friend or professional.


Another feeling typically expressed with any kind of loss, loved ones may feel guilty for not being able to help their friend or relative enough. It’s common to feel regret over not having a better relationship with the person who is dying, or about things you wish you would have done (or not done) earlier. Because the person is still alive, you may focus on trying to mend the relationship or take care of “unfinished business” while you can.


Because the person is still around, loved ones will often shift all their focus to the dying person. This causes worries to emerge, from concern that your loved one is comfortable to wondering what life will be like after their passing. Those with anticipatory grief will often worry that they won’t be around at the exact moment of their loved one’s passing, or fret that their loved one doesn’t have round-the-clock visitors.

Difficulty Concentrating

 If you find yourself losing your keys more often or forgetting to pick up groceries, don’t worry. You may find it especially difficult to concentrate when someone close to you is nearing death, as the situation can feel all encompassing. You may have to help with funeral arrangements or discuss last wishes with your loved one, which seems more important than cleaning the bathroom or taking the kids to school.


Anticipatory grief isn’t just for close friends and family of someone going through a life-threatening illness. Anyone can experience this normal process, including the person who is nearing their end of life. If you or your loved one is in a Santé facility, or receives home care services from us, we can help alleviate some of the concerns that come with anticipatory grief. This way, you can concentrate on what’s important – spending time with the people you care about. Call 480-563-2402 or visit a Santé facility near you to learn more about our care options.

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