What is Anticipatory Grief?

by Jenny Derr

Jordan, Jenny and Billy

Three years ago I came across a passage on Anticipatory Grief.

Anticipatory Grief
“There are numerous obstacles that inhibit family recovery from addiction. One of the most critical is the cumulative effects of anticipatory grief.  Anticipatory Grief (AG) is a process through which grieving begins in expectation of an imminent loss.  It is the rehearsal- the progressive letting go-that unfolds as a loved one’s behavior might lead to death.

AG is particularly evident when families have experienced numerous near-death experiences of a family member, such as when a loved one with addiction overdoses. AG helps prepare family members for the final loss event and may be experienced so intensely and completely that some family members feel little emotion in response when the anticipated death occurs.  While such lack of emotion can spark guilt in oneself and condemnation from others, it is the response to years of grieving for a loved one who is not dead.”

This gave a name to the hell I’d been living

AG probably prepared me for what came next.  I read this to the Wednesday night Nar-Anon meeting, knowing deep in my heart that I had already lost Billy to an overdose. On the way home from that meeting, I called my husband with an overwhelming sense of dread. 

Billy was so much more than “an addict.”  He was funny, he felt deeply, he was genuine.  He loved good food, he loved all things sports related and he loved music, Kendrick Lamar and Drake were his favorites. 

He loved his family and friends so much.  Billy did everything in a big way, he loved big, he laughed often, and he felt things deep in his heart.  I hear this from so many other families who have lost someone to overdose or suicide, how they were super sensitive and felt things deeply.  There has to be a connection… 

To the families that are reading this  because you have a loved one battling this disease.  It is the hardest thing to love these people right? Continue to educate yourselves.  Talk about it.  Do your friends know you are here and why?  Would you remain silent if your child had
cancer? 

This is a disease 

We have to change the way we treat substance use disorder.  The only way to affect change is to raise awareness, and the only way to do that is to shine light on the disease and talk about it. 

I have a friend who lost her son 3 weeks ago.  He was 20 years old.  I waited for days with anxiety and hope on how she would share the news. Would she be transparent or would I read about another young soul who “died suddenly?”

I should have known that she was going to be fierce and honest and transparent.  She hasn’t shied away from being brutally honest.  She is already making a difference and I couldn’t be more proud, while at the same time being heartbroken for her and her family, because this is the club no one wants to be in. Ever.

If you are reading this and you are struggling yourself

Please, please keep working your program.  Don’t isolate.  Go to meetings, reach out.  I can promise you that the people here that love you will help support your efforts towards recovery in any way they can.  You are not alone.  You are so loved.

I still miss Billy every day.  That isn’t to say that I am not also happy and find joy.  But a piece of my heart will forever be missing. 

To Thine Own Self be True. 💙

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Jenny Derr

Jenny Derr is an active advocate for substance use disorder

3 thoughts on “What is Anticipatory Grief?”

  1. This. This is exactly how I’m feeling and how I’m loving my life right now. Thank you for giving me a name for my feelings. I needed this at exactly this time.

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