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  • Writer's pictureGeorgina Sturmer

Coping with 'pre-death' grief, when grief comes before a loss

Updated: Jan 26

Sometimes grief comes before a loss. If we know that a loss is likely to be on the horizon, perhaps if a loved one is unwell, we might experience 'pre-death' grief, or what is sometimes referred to as 'anticipatory' grief. This week I spoke to the Irish News all about 'pre-death' grief, and the impact it has on us. Click here to read the full article, or read on to see what I had to say.

What is 'pre-death' grief?

It's often known as 'anticipatory grief', which gives a sense of the element of knowing and waiting, but also living in limbo and uncertainty. It's the way in which our minds start processing a loss that we know is coming, even if we don't know how and when and where it might happen.

What impact does 'pre-death' grief have? 'Pre-death grief' manifests in many ways. In itself, this is similar to the grief that we feel after a loss. Where 'pre-death grief' differs, is that it is often accompanied by a need to mask how we are feeling, and to look after other people. We might have caring responsibilities for a loved one who is dying. Or we might simply feel a need to 'put on a happy face' and hide our sadness, anger and frustration, while they are still here. We might also be struggling with the changes we see in our loved one as they move closer to death.

'Pre-death grief' can also trigger uncomfortable feelings that we might want to hide from. Sometimes we notice that we feel frustrated by the uncertainty, and perhaps notice ourselves even wondering if things might feel easier once our loved one has died. It can feel impossible to voice these feelings, but often they lie within our subconscious. In addition to this tangled web of feelings, we might notice an overwhelming sense of sadness or depression or hopelessness or anxiety, along with physical sensations such as a change in appetite or difficulty sleeping.

How can we support someone who is coping with 'pre-death' grief, when grief comes before a loss?

  • Acknowledge how tough things might be for someone who is anticipating the death of a loved one.

  • Ask open questions to determine what kind of support they need.

  • Offer them an outlet to feel 'normal' and connect with everyday life, if they feel as if they would like a temporary outlet or escape

How can you look after yourself if you are coping with 'pre-death' grief, when grief comes before a loss?

  • Find an outlet for your feelings. This might be talking to a loved one or seeking out specialist mental health support.

  • Resist the urge to put your life on hold. This might feel impossible due to your caring responsibilities. But it's important to maintain a semblance of normality and to do things that are meaningful and enjoyable so that you can keep your energy levels up and sustain yourself.

Keen to explore more?

I love working with people to help them to understand themselves.

If you’d like to learn more, please get in touch. Click here to contact me or click here to book a free 30-minute introductory chat.

Coping with 'pre-death' grief, when grief comes before a loss

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