Anticipatory Grief is an Often Overlooked Emotional Stage

Anticipatory Grief is an Often Overlooked Emotional Stage
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Anticipatory grief can be as painful and challenging as the grief felt after the death of a loved one

Those of us who have a loved one who is seriously ill or elderly may show specific symptoms of anticipatory grief. This can also apply to any anticipated death, including worrying about someone in a high-risk job such as a loved one in the military, a police officer or a firefighter.

“Whether rational or not, because of our fear and anxiety, our mind, as a defense mechanism, starts to process the stages of grief even though a death has not taken place,” said David Selberg, CEO of Hospice of Santa Barbara. “These emotions can be just as intense as the conventional sort of grief felt after a death.”

Anticipatory grief refers to a set of feelings and reactions that occur before an impending or possible death. Some individuals experience feelings such as fear, stress, anger, anxiety, inability to concentrate, as well as exhaustion. While we may feel anticipatory grief while our loved one is still alive and well, it bears many of the same symptoms as conventional grief.

Grief is often defined as progressing through stages, such as anger, sadness, denial, anxiety, depression, and acceptance. However, everyone’s experience is different. We may experience many recognizable symptoms, or just a few.

Hospice of Santa Barbara (HSB) helps its clients face their anticipatory grief in a number of important ways:

• HSB works to bring their clients’ concerns into perspective.

• They emphasize the importance of appreciating the time we have without getting swallowed up in worry.

• They provide emotional/supportive counseling to support one's ability to cope.

• HSB holds discussion and support groups so that clients can share their similar experiences.

• They provide guidance and recourses for decision making, quality of life issues and completing advance directives, if necessary.

• HSB provides support and respite to caregivers who have loved ones dealing with a serious illness

• As part of their work, they ask our clients to review important questions such as: What am I grateful for? How have I been positively impacted and changed by having this person in my life and have I shared this with the person? What do I need to say or do to feel complete with this experience? Is there something unresolved with this person and do I need to ask for, or offer, forgiveness?

Hospice of Santa Barbara provides, at no cost, professional counseling and patient care services to people who are experiencing the impact of a serious illness, or grieving the death of a loved one. Hospice of Santa Barbara is also present on six local high school campuses to work with children and teens who are grieving the loss of a loved one. For more information about Hospice of Santa Barbara, including volunteer opportunities, call (805) 563-8820 or visit

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