Anticipatory Grief and its Power

I was my mother’s family caregiver for nine years. She had dementia and, day by day, I witnessed her decline. My mother seemed to be dying right before my eyes and there was nothing I could do about it. Being her caregiver sparked an interest in anticipatory grief, a feeling of loss before a death or dreaded event occurs, and I studied it for a dozen years.

After my mother died I wrote a book about anticipatory grief. Dr. Lois Krahn, a Mayo Clinic psychiatrist, was my co-author. A year after the book came out Dr. Krahn called me. “Before we wrote the book I didn’t know much about anticipatory grief,” she said. “Now I realize it walks into my office every day.”

The last few days I have been living with anticipatory grief and exerienced its power again. On Sunday my husband’s aorta dissected for the second time. The dissection was below the Dacron aorta that Mayo Clinic surgeons installed 10 years ago.He had emergency surgery and all seemed to be well. When I visited him the next day the medical team was thrilled with my husband’s progress. He seemed to be a miracle patient.

But the next day the medical team realized that one of the two stents that had been installed was leaking. An x-ray reavealed that large amounts of blood were flowing into his chest. My husband had emergency surgery again. He came through the surgery pretty well, but chest fluid built up and had to be drained.

Now his life is touch and go. Thankfully, he is able to move one foot and has minimal movement of the other. I call the Intensive Care Unit often to check on his progress. My life is touch and go as well. What will happen to me if my husband dies? How will I cope with all the loose ends in my life? How will I handle the loneliness?

Anticiaptory grief can be more powerful than post-death grief and I have found myself sobbing unexpectedly. I cry with wrenching sobs and finally get myself under control. Once I’ve calmed down I think about my husband and the happy years we have shared. I think about the man who tells me he loves me every day. I think about the excellent physician he became and all of the patients he helped. I think about his profound kindness and his respect for me as his wife.

You understand my feelings if you are experiencing anticipatory grief now and the sorrow I am feeling. Self-care is extremely important at this time. I’m trying to eat right and hope you are too. I’ve checked my support system: family members, my church, organizations I belong to, and close friends. As I’ve done before, I’ve turned to my occupation as a freelance writer for comfort and healing.

Anticiaptory grief is powerful, so powerful it may surprise you. Please take care.

Harriet Hodgson

More Articles Written by Harriet

Harriet Hodgson, BS, MA has been an independent journalist for more than 35+ years. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Association for Death Education and Counseling, and the MN Coalition for Death Education and Support. Hodgson writes for and has earned top status. A prolific author, she is the author of hundreds of articles and 31 books. All of her writing comes from experience and heer recent books focus on grief recovery: * Happy Again! Your New and Meaningful Life After Loss * The Spiritual Woman: Quotes to Refresh and Sustain Your Soul * 101 Affirmations to Ease Your Grief Journey: Words of Comfort, Words of Hope * Writing to Recover: The Journey from Loss and Grief to a New Life * Writing to Recover Journal (with 100 writing prompts) * Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief, Lois Krahn, MD, co-author In 2007, after her daughter's death and former son-in-law's death, she became a GRG, grandparent raising grandchildren. Her latest book, Help! I'm Raising My Grandkids: Grandparents Adapting to Life's Surprise, came from this experience. In addition to writing books, Hodgson is a columnist for "Caregiving in America" magazine and Assistant Editor of ADEC Connects, the electronic newsletter of the Association for Death Education and Counseling. A popular speaker, Hodgson has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer's, hospice, and grief conferences. She has appeared on more than 160 talk shows, including CBS Radio, and dozens of television stations/programs, including CNN. Her work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors and other directories. She lives in Rochester, MN with her husband and twin grandchildren. Please visit for more information about this busy author and grandmother. Books by Harriet Hodgson The Spiritual Woman: Quotes to Refresh and Sustain Your Soul, available from Centering Corporation, and Amazon, 101 Affirmations to Ease Your Grief Journey: Words of Comfort, Words of Hope, available from Amazon, Writing to Recover: The Journey from Loss and Grief to a New Life, available from Centering Corporation, and Amazon, Writing to Recover Journal, available from Centering Corporation, and Amazon. Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief, Lois Krahn, MD, Co-Author, available from Amazon,


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  • Oh, my dear Harriet, I am SO sorry to learn this awful news, and I cannot imagine how very frightened you are. Please know that you and your dear husband are at the very top of my prayer list, as I hold you both so gently in my heart. Please keep us informed, and know that we are thinking of you.
    Sending love and light,
    ~ Marty

  • Thanks so much Marty. Life hangs in the balance on the Intensive Care Unit, and right now my husband is holding his own. He has so many tubes hooked up to him I can’t count them, and is breathing on a ventilator. His right leg and foot work well, but the left doesn’t. I’m hoping for another miracle.