Anticipated death

— Skylight Trust

Anticipated grief happens when we know someone we love is expected to die.

Grief helps us to gradually adjust to the reality of the loss and the changes it brings. It is never easy and it’s different for everyone.

Anticipated grief often involves many of the same reactions that grief after a death involves, but it is also unique. Waiting for the death to happen and being helpless to do anything to stop it, can be just as overwhelming and painful for some people as after the death has occurred. People can feel always on alert and find and lose hope, as quickly as breathing in and out. It can be a confusing time, with many mixed feelings.

Anticipated grief can also involve grieving for what we could call secondary losses as well. 

For example, it might be the loss of:

  • future shared plans
  • normal routines
  • our sense of security in life.

Ways to help children and young people

Children and young people need to:

  • understand that the person is ill/injured and is dying
  • be reassured it is not their fault (this is a very common thought of children and young people)
  • have explained accurately to them what death means, in words they will understand
  • be allowed to ask questions and have them answered honestly
  • be allowed to grieve about the situation in their own way
  • know and be reassured that they are loved, safe and cared for
  • be included in things, as much as possible – not to be shut out
  • be told honestly about what’s happening as things occur, and what to expect (for example, how the patient’s appearance might change and why different people appear, e.g. medical staff, social workers, minister)
  • be allowed to go on living and enjoying their world in their own ways, (adults are often confused when playing quickly resumes as normal).

Please download the Skylight information sheet for more information on how it can affect children and young people, how to help them, and commonly asked questions and tips for helping them through.

Anticipated grief information sheet

Ways to help Adults

Don't ignore the situation or avoid them. Even if you're uncomfortable, let them know you're there for them.

  • acknowledge the situation briefly. Example: "I heard that….." This will show that you are open to talk about it with them, if they want to
  • express your concern. Example: "I'm sorry to hear that this happened to you”
  • be genuine in what you say and don't try to hide your feelings. Example: "I’m not sure what to say, but I want you to know I care”
  • offer your support. Example: "Please let me know what I can do for you”
  • regularly simply ask how they are, and don't assume you know how they will be thinking or feeling, on any given day. Show you are wanting to listen.

For further information see links below or download attachments.

Loss and grief


Resources Available at Skylight

Skylight is here to help you through difficult times. We can assist you in a variety of ways with information appropriate for your situation. You are welcome to visit us and receive free information and a support pack from our resource centre and borrow books from the specialist library. We also facilitate Professional Development training and offer Counselling support services for children, young people, family/whānau and individuals who are experiencing tough times.

Request a Pack Library

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