Living with anticipatory grief

“It’s looking like days to weeks…”

The words stung heavy on my heart. I knew, or at least I thought I knew, that it couldn’t be long. Yet hearing that someone so close to me was so near to death from the perspective of a medical professional just hit me a little different. 

My mother’s mother, is dying. It’s been 5 weeks since I heard that message. 

I went to say my ‘goodbye’ a day or so after at her bedside all teary eyed and filled with love inside that I needed her to hear. She knows, She always has done, that I love her deeply and that she is, or was… or is – I never quite know what tense to write this in – my ‘person’ and has been since my mum died when I was a teen. 

Shortly after we heard the suspected status that my maternal grandmother had, we then learned that my paternal grandmother had been given a similar time frame. 

There were those words again, “days to weeks”. The same pain, like an arrow to the chest.

Another leading lady in my world is about to physically depart but her legacy will very much remain. 

Some say talking about death is taboo but I think anticipatory grief is a form of mourning that deserves its own space too, even though it can be uncomfortable. 

It affects so many who begin the grieving process before a loved one dies and refers to an experience of loss prior to a death, often associated with an illness or signs that end of life is near. 

Yet with anticipatory grief, there could be days, weeks, months, more, even, of ‘living’ on edge, fear of the next phone call, to confirm the anticipated news. I refer to the word ‘living’ in inverted commas as in my experience, I spent those first few, ‘days to weeks’ simply existing. There was no ‘live life laugh’ motto I was ‘ceasing the day’ by. People told me I need to just, “carry on, you can’t just ‘stop life’”. Of course, they are right, and the world doesn’t just pause when life feels too tough and things aren’t going to magically get better, but I felt I couldn’t just keep going on as normal. I didn’t want to. I wanted to hibernate in bed and cry and watch Netflix for hours but my 2 young children made sure that wasn’t going to be possible. My appetite was up and down, my mind would fleet from being distracted by day to day errands to my eyes streaming with tears and heart heavy sobs that struck out of nowhere. I was grieving, before the death. 

Anticipatory grief had a profound affect on my mental health. I was irritable, nervous, and scared to see what messages or calls would be on my phone. In fact, in anticipating the deaths, I had metaphorically stopped ‘living’ myself. Only recently am I starting to change that. It’s taken time.

Grief affects everyone differently and anticipatory grief can start in different ways before someone passes. 

In the months before I knew one of my grandmothers was dying I began to mourn the loss of significant parts of our relationship. Her hearing was impaired and so our daily check in calls became weekly, then monthly, before I realised it was becoming too much of a strain and unfair of me to be calling her to put her through that strain. Then came her loss of sight, where I could no longer share photos of her beloved great grandchildren. I mourned her affectionate words as she’d gleefully smile in her doting way when she’d see videos and pictures. 

Anticipatory grief for me has been a term that encompasses an accumulation of different losses that has heightened the feeling and emotions of upcoming change and ‘final’ loss, and I wander, will that have prepped me for when the time comes. Will I be met by profound sadness but also relief? 

If you know someone who is experiencing anticipatory grief, or going through a bereavement, be aware that it might take them time to adapt to life with loss, and that each person will grieve differently. Their mind might wander and they may appear distracted, or perhaps they may want distraction – be open without judgment to the different experiences and whether someone wants to talk about what they’re going through or not. We will all experience loss at some point, but it’s how we respond to each other with support and compassion, that could make all the difference. 

Strategic Wellbeing are running sessions called “Growing around grief” as well as lived experience sessions to provide bespoke support around grief and loss. If you would like more information please contact   

Abbie Mitchell Lived Exp Speaker