anticipatory grief

Anticipatory Grief in the Pandemic – Hope for Widows blog

Waiting has always been hell for me. I’m an extremely impatient person and have been this way since I was a child. But, enduring this coronavirus pandemic, waiting and watching as this impending doom grows closer and more certain, takes on a horror all its own. I’ve been sitting alone in my home for nearly two weeks now. Waiting to find out how bad this will be, how the pandemic will impact my community, and if this deadly virus will hurt or kill one of my friends or family has been a nightmare.

This current scenario has also triggered memories about the last time I experienced something similar to this – the ten months of wondering, waiting, and watching between Rick’s cancer diagnosis and his death. Cancer widows, widowers, and anyone who has lost a loved one months after the diagnosis of any fatal disease are most probably experiencing the same feelings I am today – anticipatory grief.

Anticipatory grief is defined as the normal mourning that occurs when a patient or family is expecting a death. This type of grief has many of the same symptoms as those experienced after a death has occurred. It includes all of the thinking, feeling, cultural, and social reactions to an expected death that are felt by the patient and family.

So yes, this pandemic has triggered memories of three years ago, when I felt all the helplessness, despair, and fear of Rick’s impending death from lung cancer. I remember the attempt to remain hopeful that just maybe it would all turn out okay, despite statistics that shouted otherwise. And then, just as now, the worst part was that there was so little I could do to control the impending event.

I tried to remain upbeat. I cared for him and prepared as much as I could, but other than that, I just waited.

And here I sit once again, waiting to see how much the virus will ravage my community, and waiting to find out if I will have to experience that awful grief of losing a loved one, again. I’m waiting to see how I’ll be able to help – if I can help at all. Once again, I’m waiting to experience the pain of the loss and to discover how I will be able to continue on with my life afterwards.

But this time, I’m not alone in my suffering. This time, my entire community is in the same circumstances, and now as I wait, I also watch as friends, family, and strangers attempt to buoy each other’s spirits – and it’s an amazing and beautiful thing to see…

Read the rest on the Hope for Widows website.

About the author

Katherine Billings Palmer is a technical writer, poet, and essayist from Garden City, Michigan. She’s won several academic writing awards, including first place in the University of Michigan Dearborn Critical Essay Contest for her work about poet John Donne: “‘The Sun Rising’: A Lover’s Boast.”

In 2017, Katherine’s husband, Rick, died of complications from small cell lung cancer. She wrote a series of poems and essays about her struggles to cope with her grief. I Wanted to Grow Old With You is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.

Her latest book, A Widow’s Words: Grief, Reflection, Prose, and Poetry – The First Year was published in January 2019 and is also available on

Katherine is a guest blogger for the Hope for Widows Foundation and writes about her grief journey at

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