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Grief & Bereavement Issues

Making Peace with a Loved One's Imminent Death

Kathryn Patricelli, MA Updated: Mar 2nd 2016

Learning that a loved one’s death is imminent can be very difficult. There are many different sorts of emotions and thoughts that may be triggered by hearing about the impending death of a loved one. Not all the thoughts and emotions you may experience will make sense or fit well together, but they are all valid and important experiences. For example, learning that a loved one is dying after a prolonged bout of illness may cause grief, sorrow, and also a sense of relief that the person’s battle is coming to an end. In contrast, learning that a child is dying may cause a sense of anger, desperation, and unfairness.

You may find yourself experiencing some of the reactions predicted by the theory of Kubler Ross described previously in the section on Dealing With Your Own Imminent Death. For example, you may initially deny that that the impending death of your loved one is really happening, or try to bargain with your higher power to give your loved one more time before death. You may also experience what some people refer to as "anticipatory grief," a grief reaction that occurs prior to an impending loss.

Anticipatory grief can include many of the same symptoms as "traditional" grief after a loss. The most common components of an anticipatory grief reaction include: depression (mood, appetite and sleep changes), heightened concern for the dying person, rehearsal of the death, and attempts to adjust to the consequences of the death.

Just as there is no correct way to grieve after someone dies, there is no correct way to work through anticipatory grief (nor do you necessarily have to experience anticipatory grief at all). Depending on your coping style, your personality, previous experience with death and dying, your relationship with the person who is dying, and how much advance notice you have, grief emotions may vary in their intensity and how much they impact your ability to function.

Additional information on grief will be presented at the end of this paper. A more detailed discussion of this topic can also be found at our article on Grief and Bereavement Issues.


Reader Comments
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Grieving is hard work - Shahina Lakhani - Apr 18th 2011

My heart goes out to both of you. Death of a loved one is a major loss and a life changing event. I too lost my older sister a few years ago when she was only 39. Her death changed the whole direction of my life. Grieving is hard work, its more than a full time job. What I know from my experience is that we must allow ourselves to grieve so it is not bottled up inside creating inner havoc and even physical illness. In addition, we must find support system beyond our family and friends to process this grief. Most of the time this help comes in the form of professionals who are trained to help transmute this grief. It takes a lot of deep hard work to go through such intense pain, rejection, loss of hope and loss of will to live after the death of a loved one. So please have compassion for yourselves and know that there is help and there is hope. Love and blessings to both of you.

my loss - manu - Feb 28th 2011

My husband passed on 23oct. ours was love-marriage. My baby is only 5years n i am 35. i cant digest it. How can he go so suddenly without talking with us. I am sure he will be back. He cant leave without us. And we too cant imagine our life without him.

greiving and depression - Lisa Obregon - Mar 10th 2010

My older sister died dce 18 2009 after being diagnosed with gall bladder cancer it was inoperable. i was very close to her. Im not sure i can cope with all this. Everyday goes by i think of her. i cant even write this out without crying. i try to keep my mind off of her since i have my own job and family but i feel soo soo lost

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