Managing Anticipatory Grief When Caring for an Aging Parent

By Pete Lane, 9:00 am on

Grief does not always wait until an actual death. If your elderly loved one has been diagnosed with a terminal illness or you find yourself confronted with a loved one’s declining health, you may experience something known as anticipatory grief.

Anticipatory grief is fairly common among in-home caregivers and can happen as soon as you face the reality that death is likely and on the horizon, at which point it’s natural to grieve. Anticipatory grief comes with many of the same signs as regular grief, although you may not recognize it as such. Here’s what you should know about the signs of anticipatory grief and how you can manage your feelings.

Signs of Anticipatory Grief

While you’ve probably heard that grief goes through stages like anger, denial, and acceptance, the truth is the process is different for everybody and there is no single grief experience that applies to everyone. The following are common signs of anticipatory grief you may feel, although it’s perfectly normal to experience just a few or all of them.

  • Forgetfulness
  • Fatigue
  • Emotional numbness
  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Sadness or quick to cry
  • Loneliness

These signs are common for any type of grief, although anticipatory grief, which happens before your loved one dies, often has these distinct signs as well:

  • Visualizing what your loved one’s death will be like
  • Preparing for life after the death
  • Increasing concern and sympathy for your loved one

How to Deal with Anticipatory Grief

Sometimes anticipatory grief reduces the feelings of grief after the death occurs, although not always. We all grieve differently and there’s no way to anticipate what you will feel tomorrow or when the death occurs, but there are ways to help manage your grief.

Start by accepting that your grief is normal. Centennial home care agencies often encounter clients who try to deny or bury their feelings, but suppressing your grief can have negative consequences like a compromised immune system, apathy, and digestive troubles.

It may help to reflect on the time you have left and spend as much time with your loved one as you can. Share the remaining time together in a meaningful way to create memories you will carry with you after he or she passes.

Above all else, find a way to communicate. You may find it helpful to attend support groups or share your feelings with friends or family. You can try journaling about your feelings or turn to counseling to help you process your emotions.

Preparing for the passing of an elderly loved one is never easy, but you don’t have to go through it alone. At Centennial Home Care Assistance, we offer a variety of home care services that can offset some of the stress families face during this time. Our live-in and respite care caregivers can help with everything from running errands and meal preparation to bathing and personal grooming, giving family members an opportunity to focus on what really matters: spending time with their loved one. For more information, please give us a call at 303.957.3100 and speak with a dedicated Care Manager.