Pre-Grieving with a Loved One Suffering from a Terminal Illness

Anticipatory grief is a term used to encapsulate the various difficult emotions a person experiences when faced the inevitable death of a loved one due to an uncontrollable circumstance such as terminal illness. Even though anticipatory grief is not talked about as much as regular grief, it is perfectly normal given the circumstances. The experiences of pre-grief are even similar– frustration, guilt, depression, shock, anxiety, anger, and lack of motivation.

In addition to the signs of normal grief, those experiencing anticipatory grief may also become preoccupied with the impending death of their loved one. They may become overprotective and worrisome. Some find themselves plagued with mental images of their loved one’s death. Other times people become obsessed with making preparations for what life will be like once their loved one is gone, when that time could be better spent either with their loved one enjoying what little they have left or participating in a little self-care.


Coping with Anticipatory Grief

It can be difficult overcoming the tough emotions that come with anticipatory grief. However, putting in the hard work now can make a person stronger so it is easier to get through in the future. Those who find themselves lost when it comes to coping with feelings can use the following strategies to help:

  • Find a way to comfortably express one’s pain whether it be by talking to a friend, making artwork, or participating in online therapy.
  • Do not neglect one’s own physical and mental health. Get enough food, water, sleep, and exercise. Participate in activities that can improve mental health such as yoga, meditation, or prayer.
  • Pick up a few books on grief and spiritual healing to inspire an inner calm.
  • Spend time with the loved one and practice love, forgiveness, and letting go. Make the most of your time left together and resolve any negative emotions so they can be at peace.


Spending Time with a Terminally Ill Loved One

When a loved one is terminally ill, it can be difficult to spend time with them. Seeing a person one admires sick, weak, and powerless is depressing and painful. However, being there for a dying loved one is the most important thing one can do during this difficult time. After all, that’s what it’s all about: caring for your loved one and treating him or her as you would want to be treated. As long as we show kindness and compassion to our loved ones throughout the process, they will be able to say goodbye with the dignity they deserve. Do what you are able to do to make their living situation comfortable. Photos, books, blankets, and accessories for hobbies can all bring joy to the terminally ill loved one in their final days.

If they are able to talk, simply carrying on a conversation can help life their spirits. Talk about the things you normally talk about, go through the newspaper with them, or peruse old photo albums and take a walk down memory lane. If they are not able to talk, reading short stories, scripture, or even humorous comics is a great way to engage their minds without putting undue stress on them. Furthermore, physical touch can be very helpful. If the loved one is open to it, try brushing their hair, doing their nails, or applying lotion to their hands and arms as a means of comforting them.

Saying goodbye to a terminally ill loved one is never easy– the process is often accompanied by sadness and tears. However, it’s okay to cry during this difficult time. Allowing oneself to feel these emotions can help with the grieving process. To start a conversation, it often helps to reminisce about what you used to do together and let the emotions come out organically. 


When one knows a loved one is terminally ill, it is normal to experience anticipatory grief. The symptoms of pre-grief are much like regular grief, only sometimes the griever also experiences preoccupations with the impending death. It’s much better to work out difficult feelings and spend time with the dying loved one in order to make the most of their time left.