Loss before Bereavement 

Contributed By: Samantha Porte 

What does that mean, loss before bereavement? Usually they go together, and traditionally we are told what the trajectory can and will look like. That’s not the way grief, loss, death, and grief work, and while some research has been helpful and informed us over the years, we know it’s dated, and we can learn new things about ourselves and our grief journeys.  

So, loss before bereavement, in my experience can be a relationship change or loss and/or loss of the person you once knew (they may have changed). Over the years, I have lost friends, jobs, homes, pets, experiences, people, any and everything, and sometimes the complicated ones are ones without death. Friend loss can be a strange one, being so close to someone for a long time and then drifting apart, it can feel complicated and confusing and there may also be no closure.  

Today we’re going to talk about the grief associated with the loss of a person before death.  

This sounds weird perhaps, but it has happened to me and I’m sure I’m not alone. Before his death, my father and I had a roller coaster of a relationship, I will always have love for him and the person I knew, but that’s not who he was when he died. When I think about when he died, I wasn’t surprised and, to be honest, I wasn’t that sad. He had been through a lot, his body had been through a lot, and I didn’t want him to be suffering mentally or physically. It can be tough for people to understand what it means when I say I wasn’t very sad. Yes, I will miss him, but I lost the version of him that I missed long before his death. I will miss that version, and I will miss the potential for him to have found himself again in that version. But I will not miss the man who died.  

I grieved when I started to lose him as a person many years ago. I went through a grieving process not unlike ones I have gone through for death in my life. I went through all the emotions, and I found it more complex than some deaths because I had to also set boundaries once I realized that version of him, he as a person, wasn’t there anymore.  

Maybe this is a common experience, maybe it’s not, but I do know that there can be immense and immeasurable loss before death. If you are having complex or complicated feelings, know you are not alone. Losing someone you knew- even if they haven’t died, can happen. You can grieve that loss, you can grieve that person, you miss them, and you long for the time you had them in your life.  

There isn’t a lot of discussion around this topic, because as a misunderstood idea, the person you are missing isn’t dead, you are grieving a loss while the person is alive. I assure you, that is a valid feeling, and you can take space and time to honour those emotions.  

This is sometimes described as anticipatory grief, which is traditionally associated with feelings of grief or loss that are felt before an impending death happens. What I’m referring to is more ambiguous, where your relationship with the person is in question and a death isn’t imminent nor a timeline defined. In my experience, there is very little conversation around this topic. 

Grief and reflection can be heavy and confusing. Take some time and check in with yourself. How are you feeling? Where is your grief sitting in your body? Is there something kind you can do for your body and mind?  

If this is someone you know, you can let them know they are not alone.