How to help an employee dealing with anticipatory loss

3 min read

When an employee is a caregiver for a terminally ill family member, they are stretched thin in every way.

In the last months, weeks, or days of a loved one’s life, there is never enough time—especially if they are maintaining work responsibilities. Financially, they may be overextending themselves to pay for hospice care and, possibly, travel back and forth to see their loved one. And of course, with their family urgently needing them, it can be difficult to put in the time and energy at work that they usually do.

But there is an additional aspect of the experience that may be unfamiliar to those who have not been through such an ordeal: the toll of anticipatory loss.

What is anticipatory loss?

Anticipatory loss, also known as anticipatory grief, occurs when a loved one’s death is imminent, whether from a terminal illness or a life-threatening injury, or they are simply nearing death from old age. Like conventional grief, there is no “correct” way to experience it

When we know someone we love is going to die soon, it can be a terribly overwhelming time. Many people don’t realize that what they are experiencing during this period is actually grief, even though their loved one is still alive.

Understandably, anticipatory loss can feel confusing. And the employee may also feel the exhaustion of grief, right at the moment when they want to be superhuman for their family: present for their loved one who is dying, and a source of comfort and inspiration for others.

Since it is not yet a commonly known phenomenon, a manager can be incredibly helpful to their employee simply by making them aware of the concept of anticipatory loss, and directing them to information on the subject or professional help.

Beyond that, there are other ways to help them face the challenges of caregiving and anticipatory loss.

Respect their routines

People are naturally creatures of habit. Our routines provide us with comfort and can help us get through tough times. But when an employee’s loved one is in hospice, the family’s day-to-day life is completely disrupted.

By keeping schedules as predictable as possible, and helping the employee to plan their time effectively, managers can make work a place of stability and calm.

In addition, it is helpful for the employee to look for ways throughout their day to carve out some personal time to recharge—around meals, exercise, and quiet time for themselves—and and stick to it as best they can.

By keeping schedules as predictable as possible, and helping the employee to plan their time effectively, managers can make work a place of stability and calm.

If they are taking a walk outside every day at lunch, or if they block out time on the calendar for focus time, for example, managers can encourage other team members to respect those boundaries as a way of supporting their wellbeing.

Caregiving is exhausting, both physically and mentally. As an employee cares for an ill family member, it is important for them to take stock of their own needs as well.

Navigating these days may be the most painful and wrenching days of a person’s life, but they don’t have to be completely overwhelming. By putting a few strategies and structures in place during this intensely challenging time, a manager can make sure that their employee has the support they need to show up the best they can for their loved one.