It is interesting how divergent information can come together and bring a bit of clarity.

A devastating medical diagnosis of a family member, the COVID-19 pandemic, and a William White blog post brought all these together for me and helped me see how interrelated we all truly are.

Although our situations and circumstances may be very different, our human condition is very much the same.

In doing some research on coping with a terminal illness, I came across the book, “Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipatory Grief,” by Harriet Hodges and Lois Krahn.

At the same time, the blog post by White, a national recovery advocate, arrived in my inbox discussing how families deal with a loved one involved in substance use (

As I studied the news. I found discussions on how we as a society are coping with COVID-19.

An underlying theme of grieving for something that has not yet happened emerged connecting these concepts and ideas.

Grief is often viewed as a response to the death of a loved one. But grief can be much more complicated and nuanced than the sadness we feel when someone dies.

The grieving process can surround any loss or life change such as unemployment, military service, relocation, the end of a relationship, medical diagnoses, having a loved one involved in substance use, or coping with the effects of a pandemic.

As a society, many of us find ourselves grieving during COVID-19, even if what we are grieving is not obvious and straightforward. Most of us have lost routines, connections and certainty about the future. This fearful anticipation is called “anticipatory grief.”

We have a sense of unease that the world will never be the same, with a lingering sense that the worst has not yet arrived.

Anticipatory grief begins the moment we hear the awful news. It is the rehearsal — the progressive letting go — that helps us prepare for the impending loss. It is a complex process of trying to anticipate what life will be like in the future.

Life becomes a waiting game, sending us into a state of emotional limbo. The unpredictable timeline makes it hard to plan ahead and pace our emotional reserves in the face of this massive, unstoppable glacier of an unknown future. Flexing to adapt to constant change takes an enormous amount of energy.

In his recent blog, White, stated, “For families facing addiction of a family member, every unexpected absence, every late-night phone call and every knock on the door elicits images of injury and death. These feared tragedies are repeatedly visualized and experienced with each episode marking an increment of physical and emotional disengagement.”

Whether our uncertainty comes from the projected death of a loved one, the roller coaster of substance use, or planning for the unknown post-pandemic “new normal,” anticipatory grief can be exhausting and difficult.

Next week, we will discuss strategies for coping with anticipatory grief, regardless of its source.

Lynn Saylor is an AmeriCorps member serving in the United Against Opioid Abuse Initiative through the White County United Way. She can be contacted at

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