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Anticipatory grief - emotionally preparing for the death of a partner

An incurable cancer diagnosis can mean facing the possibility that your partner may die from their cancer. This can lead to 'anticipatory grief', a completely normal but not always recognised form of grieving...

There is no way to predict how the loss of a partner will affect you. Loss is painful and difficult, but when the person we stand to lose is our close companion, it can make all the feelings around it more intense and complex.

It is especially difficult to consider losing a partner at a young age. The plans and future you dreamed off together will suddenly look different; they may not be with you at all the milestones you anticipated together. Adjusting to this can be painful and frightening; even more so if you have children together. You may find yourself carrying or grieving their loss too.

Everyone deals with this potential loss differently and there are a number of specialist charities and organisations (listed at the end of this article) that can help you process your own anticipatory feelings of grief and loss in a healthy and safe way.

Remember! You will move through this at your own speed and in your own order. For some people, it is easier to focus on practical issues and may not start grieving until a partner has died, while other people will feel unable to see beyond the possibility of loss and be overwhelmed by the grief while their partner is still alive. This can put strain on a relationship and is something to be shared honestly and openly about with your partner if you feel able.

You may find yourself putting off plans, losing enthusiasm for socialising or work or find it difficult to concentrate whilst coming to terms with a potential loss. This is all completely normal, but any unmanageable feelings of fear, anxiety or dread should be shared with a professional, such as a GP, who can provide you with additional support.

At Mummy's Star we encourage you to make time for positive experiences and memory making, as much as possible. This can make the pre-bereavement period less painful and provides fond memories to look back on after your partner is gone. These can be a gift for you and for your children, especially as the years pass. As well as physical memory making tools like letters, photos, a video app and memory boxes we also provide an online memory-making page which can be filled with photos, stories and messages by your family and your community.

You can also speak directly to our founder and Partner Support Worker, Pete, who has lived experience of losing a partner to cancer diagnosed in pregnancy. You might also find it helpful to share your thoughts and experiences on our Partner's Support Forum. Contact us directly to access any of our support.

Marie Curie have also written an excellent article: What is anticipatory grief?

For more tailored help dealing with anticipatory grief, visit one of the following organisations:

Marie Curie

Grief Encounter

Grief Chat


Don't hesitate to reach out to your Information and Support Worker or email for referral if Mummy's Star can help you through this difficult time.

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