Preemptive Grief

Silly sadness, anxiety, or a means of living and loving more fully?

Michele Koh Morollo
Human Parts
Published in
6 min readMar 22, 2022


Sayang at five months old. Picture courtesy of the author.

I have a 10-month-old kitten who I named Sayang — this means “love,” “sweetheart,” or “darling” in the Malay language. I adopted her from a shelter when she was four months old. I have more than 200 photos and videos of her on my iPhone and my husband tells me I should delete them, or my phone will crash. I won’t.

I love my cat so much it hurts

Every couple of weeks, I lie in bed and look at the visual records of my time with her — from photos taken on the very first day we brought her home when she was hiding under my desk, she’s a shy one, to the ones taken last week of her almost spilling out of a shoebox where she’d taken a nap. She’s grown so much. Sometimes I cry when I look at those photos.

Sayang is alive and well, she is perfect and so affectionate, and my body floods with oxytocin when she snuggles up with me and purrs away. I feel so lucky to have met her. When I’m doing one of my teary photo trawls, she is often sitting on my lap, looking up at me with puzzlement as I bawl my eyes out looking at images of her from the past.

I thought to myself: “Michele, you are such a sad fuck, and a weirdo! You’re crying over a relatively new, young pet who is alive and healthy, who probably has at least 10 years of life ahead of her. Why don’t just be happy and enjoy the time you have with her?” (“But you never know! Anything can happen,” says another inner voice.)

Then I came across a Reddit forum where many other cat owners talked about doing the same thing. I saw thread titles like: “I love my cat so much it makes me cry all the time,” “I love my cat so much it hurts,” “I cry just thinking about the day I’ll lose my cat.”

Anticipatory grief

On one of these forums, I came across the term “preemptive sadness,” more commonly referred to by psychologists as preparatory grief or anticipatory grief. This type of seemingly unnecessary and silly sadness, they say, is a distress response to the impending death of a loved one. “It’s the experience of knowing that a change is coming, and starting to experience bereavement in the face of…