Anticipatory Grief (pre-grief)

grieving statue at cemetary

Anticipatory grief, or pre-grief, happens when we know when in advance that we are going to lose something or someone that we care about. It may be due to terminal illness of a loved one, an impending job loss, the loss of a relationship or even knowing that we are going to move. In these cases, the grief still hurts and takes time to heal from, but the advance notice gives us a chance to wrap up loose ends, to take care of anything we may need to deal with before the loss happens. People often say that while in hindsight the advanced notice helped soften the blow, the reality is that while you are in the limbo of waiting, it may not seem quite so helpful. The confusion often arises from at once being grateful that you can take care of unfinished business, and at the same time, the grief seems to be prolonged while you wait for the end.

Terminal illness

Anticipatory grief is an unsettling experience for most of us (due to what we just discussed above) and requires no less self-care than more traditional grief or complex grief. Because of that limbo experience, sometimes we are not sure what to do or how to act. Some common questions when dealing with terminal illness are:

  • How do I talk to my terminally ill loved one?
  • Is it ok to ask them if they are scared of death or dying?
  • Should I be strong or not let them see me cry?
  • What if I am too scared to be around them?
  • Should I let my younger children see them if they look very sick?

These are but a few of many, many questions that can arise from dealing with anticipatory grief related to terminal illness; all of your questions are ok to ask. Talking to somebody that is experienced with this can be a very comforting decision. It will help you get the comfort you need, and will often help you truly connect with your loved one, which is comforting for them as well.

When you know a relationship is over

Ever been in a romantic relationship where you knew that either your partner was done, or that you were done (or sometimes both)? Breaking up is a difficult thing to do (and often takes a few tries for it to stick), and sometimes our intuition is telling us to prepare for the end of the relationship. Other times, there has been a lot of conflict and resolution does not seem to be happening. Finally, when one or both partners are moving off to college, grad school or to a new city for a job, the end of a relationship is likely (unless you try a long-distance relationship; these are difficult, but not impossible in some cases).

Whether you are the one breaking up, or the one being broken up with, knowing in advance can put you on pins and needles until the break up happens. When people do know that things are not going well, open communication that is not accusatory, shaming or judgmental can help a great deal. Be willing to hear each others’ perspectives, remembering that by showing that you hear them you are not saying that you agree with them. If the relationship is over, then fighting over these details will only make the breakup more painful. Some common considerations for long-term relationship breakups are:

  • How do we handle our mutual friends?
  • Who gets what furniture?
  • What do we do about joint accounts and bills?
  • Who gets the pets?
  • What do we do about the lease/mortgage?
  • If we enjoy socializing in the same places, how do we act if we see each other?
  • Can we still be friends?
  • Is “friends with benefits” ok?

Now you may be wondering what on earth do these questions have to do with pre-grief. Remember, when you know in advance that a relationship is ending, you can begin to become mindful of how you would like to see these questions answered; this helps keep you from feeling put on the spot where you have to struggle for an answer on the fly while your emotions are spinning.

If you have any of these, or other questions, about how to try and prevent a breakup, please get in touch.

Your job here is done

When it comes to employment, we may choose to leave a job, get fired or laid off. All of these mean that we are losing our work family and that we will no longer be spending 8-10 hours/day with people we have come to care for. Even if it is your decision to leave, and you leave on good terms, ending a job can be heartbreaking. And if you have grown to detest your job, but enjoy the people, it can be confusing as you feel joy to get out of the rut, but sad to leave people behind. Job loss involves its own brand of stress that needs to be managed (finances, changing hours, adjusting to a new job and co-workers, etc.).

Regardless of how it is happening, use the advance notice to try and repair any hard feelings. This may be with your boss and/or co-workers. Leaving on a good note, or at least a neutral one, helps you to feel better about the transition and gives you one less worry to deal with as you transition to your next job. Remember, any grievances you may have are likely moot points now, so you no longer have to fight those battles. You may feel angry that your co-workers have to continue to deal with them but remember, it is their responsibility to manage their own struggles–you can certainly be supportive though.

Basically, be nice. Don’t burn bridges. Try to leave on a relaxed note.

Learn more about Counseling for Depression in Austin.

Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s has worked in the helping profession since he started college in 1990. After completing his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas, Austin in 1994, he attended the highly-regarded University of Minnesota to earn his Master’s degree in 1997. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is recognized as a Board Approved Supervisor by the State of Texas Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors. Jonathan has completed Level-2 of the Gottman Method of Couples Counseling, and in 1998 received training by the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation in Advanced Critical Incident Stress Management & Debriefing. To learn more about Jonathan’s practice, click here: Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s.


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