The social construction of anticipatory grief Academic Article uri icon


  • As medical technology prolongs life and facilitates the early diagnosis of terminal illnesses such as AIDS, the concept of anticipatory grief requires further scrutiny. The original concept of anticipatory grief has become widely accepted. This paper, however, argues that the uncritical acceptance of this concept rests primarily on the authority of the biomedical model, which has focused analysis on the predictable symptomatology of the grief process, integrating this understanding into health care. This paper provides a critical review of the concept of anticipatory grief, highlighting conceptual shifts which are required if the concept is to be relevant to the subjective experiences of people who are confronted with life-threatening illness. The paper discusses the relevance of understanding the conceptual confusion which exists in the literature between "anticipatory grief" and "forewarning of loss". It is argued that grief may be the response to a loss of meaning, and that the psychological process of adjustment to loss requires individuals to engage in the reconstitution of purpose and meaning in their lives. Distinguishing between what is being expressed for past and present losses and what responses occur when individuals focus on various aspects of their future may shed light on some of the inconsistent and contradictory findings surrounding research on anticipatory grief.

publication date

  • November 1996