- Cancer Information
- Advanced cancer
- Understanding grief
- What is grief?
- Grief can begin before someone dies
Grief can begin before someone dies
When someone is ill for some time, their family and friends often begin to grieve their death before it happens. This is known as anticipatory grief. While a lot of time and attention may be taken up with caring for a sick person in the family, it is common to think: “How will it be when they are not here? How will I cope without them?”
It is natural to try to picture the future without your loved one. This doesn’t mean you are a bad or uncaring person.
Even when a death is expected, it may still feel like a great shock. This can be especially hard if the person has rallied again and again in the past, and you may have thought that they would always “pull through” somehow. Sometimes the experience of anticipating the death makes you become closer to the dying person, which can increase your grief.
Some people are surprised by how little they feel or by having a sense of relief when the person actually dies, and say that they have done much of their grieving already.
This is also a normal response and doesn’t mean they are denying the loss or did not really care for the person. Other people don’t feel greatly affected by their loss at the time of the death, but find it harder as time passes. Again, this is quite common.
The person who is dying may experience preparatory grief as they process the fact that their life will end soon. They may grieve the loss of their health, as well as the things they may miss out on, such as an upcoming family wedding or grandchild.
They might feel anger about what is happening to them, or they could become very motivated to organise and plan things ahead of their death. They may find it worthwhile to talk with someone on their palliative care team, call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or see Facing end of life.
Kate Jurgens, Bereavement Coordinator, Southern Adelaide Palliative Services, SA; Gabrielle Asprey, Cancer Support Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; A/Prof Lauren Breen, Psychologist, Curtin University, WA; Rev David Dawes, Manager, Spiritual Care Department, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Rob Ferguson, Consumer; Karen Hall, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Joanna Mangan, Psychologist, Cancer Council Queensland; Kate Reed, Nurse Practitioner National Clinical Advisor, Palliative Care Australia; Maxine Rosenfield, Counsellor and Educator, NSW.
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