Anticipatory Grief described by a hospice vet and pet owner

Sometimes we have no time to react or even think before we lose someone we love; it can be an accident or a very sudden illness. We lose them and then we grieve. But other times we are given time, we are told about the diagnosis and the expected survival time, and then we are left to process it and to come to terms with it. 

We say that grief has 5 stages- denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. But what about if the grief starts before we even lose someone? Is it still the same? This type of grief is called anticipatory grief. It’s not often talked about and it can be much harder to express the pain experienced during this. Although many of the feelings can be the same, it can also be different. It doesn’t happen to everyone before a loss, and there is no right or wrong on how to feel. 

I lost my dog, my little shadow, about 4 weeks ago. It was a complete shock. He had been well up until the evening we had to let him go, and for that I am glad and grateful. We have wonderful memories, and he never had to suffer. When he became suddenly ill, we were not left with a choice, euthanasia was the only option. It was a blow, but I could cope with it. It felt like part of life, and I started grieving. 

When only 6 days after I lost him, I noticed my other dog had swollen glands, I could feel the dread settle in me. I just knew it was bad news. We had samples taken quickly, and had the results back within days. It was lymphoma.  

And for the first time in my life I’m experiencing anticipatory grief. I know, because it’s chaotic. It’s also devastating in a very different way. I will find myself looking at my dog and feeling the pain that soon he’s going to be gone. I try to enjoy every moment with him, and make sure he has the best last weeks or months, and that we will have no regrets. But the pain is just under the surface, all the time. 

They say anticipatory grief involves more anger and loss of emotional control. I don’t think I’m angry, but I’m just so disappointed and sad about future memories that will never be. 

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  Surely feelings don’t come in order like that? Surely our feelings will perhaps jump from denial to acceptance to depression and back again to denial. But what about gratitude? I’m grieving and in spite of a lot of sad feelings I am also experiencing gratitude, gratitude that I have been given time to make some last memories, and to feel how much I love him before he’s gone.  

Anticipatory grief can also have some benefits. It can give us the opportunity to spend more time with our loved one, and to find meaningful ways to say goodbye. 

If you are experiencing anticipatory grief it can help to talk to someone, whether it’s a person in the same situation, a support group or a bereavement service. It can also help you focusing on creating good memories. In the time you have together. 

If you feel like you need support please don’t hesitate to talk to Blue Cross 0800 096 6606 

In memory of Teddy


Maja Redfern

Maja is clinical director at Dignipets. A mobile veterinary practice that offers palliative and end of life care for every pet in need in the West Midlands. Having completed a certification programme in hospice and palliative care in 2017 Maja advises colleagues and referring practices on pain management for their most difficult geriatric cases. She is a dedicated pet owner (two dogs and three cats) and has developed a reputation amongst wanderers and strays for being the go-to person when lost.