A Mental Health Moment: Anticipatory Grief

Bernadette Joy Graham,
Licensed Mental Health Therapist

By Bernadette Joy Graham, MA, LPCC, NCC, CCHt, Licensed Mental Health Therapist
The Truth Contributor

There are many forms of grief which is why it makes it difficult, challenging and unique to each person and situations. Clients have asked me “what’s the easiest type of grief to get through or how long will this take?”

The answer is, there is an answer depending upon the circumstances, which I know does not help someone who is in pain dealing with a loss. Grief is the normal and natural reaction to a loss of any kind.  Let’s break down the types of losses associated with death.

There is death and dying. There is sudden death and then there is extended death such as to a disease and that is called anticipatory grief. Individuals know the death is coming and that causes sometimes severe reactions from loved ones who are anticipating the loss. They feel helpless, hopeless, angry and then, at times, there are moments of clarity and they feel there is a sense of control and then they wake up one day feeling as if they are in the eye of a storm.

Other factors that affect grief, but especially anticipatory grief, are age and relationship. If a pubescent young person is facing the loss of a parent, studies have shown how her maturity can be stunted. She is stuck, feels no sense of control and has extreme difficulties with relationships as an adult.

In regard to relationships, let’s remember that grief is not just about death and dying, it’s about loss. If a married couple is planning to divorce, there is a time process, there is paperwork and, if children are involved, there is the break up of a family unit that does not make much sense to a child as they just want their mom and dad to be together.

As I am a solution-focused type therapist, I prefer to focus on the solution and not the problem. There are times we have no control over the problem but we do have a choice in how we respond and make choices in solutions.  There are never-ending changes in life. There is a beginning and there is an end in all that we do.  We are all born and we all at some point die as does every human life form. Most of us do not know the time nor the hour and youth often provides a layer of feelings that one will live forever and throw caution to the wind.

Take a mental health moment and take a step back from life and look at the big picture. What’s really important to you, what is necessary, what is priority? I recently returned from a long-planned vacation to Aruba with my oldest brother and his wife who travel there often and they have often invited me in the past but it just never seemed to be the right time.

This year I said yes but three days before our departure, my brother was hospitalized and by the time, I arrived in Aruba his wife communicated to me that he was on a ventilator. Not much of a vacation to say the least. On my long journey back to Ohio I thought about all the missed opportunities in past years. It hurt….a lot.  As soon as I landed, I made way to visit them in Cleveland.  Our family now waits for his loss that could be days or weeks.

As for solutions to anticipatory grief I offer these suggestions both as a therapist and an individual presently experiencing this situation.  Live your life fully and love the ones around you as often as you can.  Make who you love priority.  Do not beat yourself up for past lost opportunities.  Support one another.  Surrender to the fact that we are not in charge of who lives how long.

Lastly, find the opportunity some way or how to communicate to the loved one you are losing to send you a message when they get to wherever it is they land, something only between you and them. I have had so many clients return to me to report that they received their message or had a vision in a dream.

My brother always read these mental health moments and often commented. This is dedicated to my brother, Cal, the closet photography artist, I love you and will miss you, may you send me many visions of the wonderful scenery from the beautiful place you will land.


Bernadette Graham is a Licensed Professional Mental Health Counselor, National Certified Counselor and Certified Grief Recovery Specialist. She is also a Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist. Provide feedback or reach out at graham.bernadette@gmail.com  For appointment information please call 419.409.4929  (Appointments available on Tuesdays and Fridays only). Office location is 3454 Oak Alley Ct. Suite 300 Toledo, OH 43606 www.bjgrahamcounseling.com  Available for team building, employee empowerment in motivation and better understanding mental health in the work place.  Accepting new client ages 13 and older.