The death of a loved one can change your world forever. Grief is a natural reaction to loss; it can be felt emotionally, physically and spiritually. Everyone copes with loss differently, and you will process grief in your own individual way, in your own time. This fact sheet will provide you with ways to better understand your grief and some of the feelings you may be experiencing.

Coping with Feelings Raised by Grief

People coping with the loss of a loved one often describe the experience as an “emotional roller coaster.” Some of the feelings that may come up include numbness, denial, disbelief, anger, sadness or fear. Although these feelings are normal and natural, they can still feel unfamiliar and uncomfortable. It is important to treat yourself with compassion as you journey down this path.

The grieving process is unpredictable; your feelings may change from day to day, or even minute to minute. Many people find it helpful to identify the feelings they are experiencing and talk about them. You may also find it helpful to keep track of your feelings in a journal. For example, you may wish to take a moment to think about how you felt when you first experienced the death of a loved one.

Caring for Yourself

It’s important to take care of yourself and have support during the grief process. Here are some ways you can help take care of yourself:

Eat nutritious foods. Keeping a balanced diet is an important part of taking care of ourselves. Include fruits and vegetables in your meals. Nuts, yogurt and peanut butter sandwiches are easy snacks with lots of protein that will keep your energy level up.

Get plenty of rest. You may find yourself more tired than usual. Try to get enough sleep and take naps when you need them.

Practice relaxation techniques such as guided imagery (see sidebar). These techniques can help reduce stress.

Stay active. Experts recommend exercising for at least 30 minutes each day. Activities can include walking quickly, jogging or riding a bike. Keep in mind that you don’t have to set aside a lot of time to exercise—you can work it into your day.

Be gentle with yourself. You may perhaps feel you could have done something differently. Instead, try to focus on the positive things you did for your loved one.

Most of all, keep in mind that it is important to be patient. Grief cannot be rushed.

What Are Some Steps You Can Take to Care For Yourself?

Creating a support network. It’s important to surround yourself with supportive people who care about you and will listen to your story. Surrounding yourself with these people can help you heal and cope with grief. Find friends, family members, coworkers, neighbors and others with whom you feel comfortable sharing your thoughts, feelings or experiences.

Your loved one’s team of doctors, nurses and social workers are valuable sources of support as you cope with grief and loss. Oncology social workers are licensed professionals who counsel people affected by cancer, providing emotional support and helping people access practical assistance.

Maintaining A Connection With Your Loved One

The pain you feel as you grieve lessens as time passes; you will adjust and find ways to manage the new life that has been created by the loss you are experiencing.

It’s natural to experience a sense of peace and calm after a period of mourning and sadness. These feelings, however, do not mean you have “gotten over” your loved one’s death or forgotten about him or her. Rather, healing is about feeling a continued bond with a loved one after they die. There are many ways to keep a loved one’s memory alive in your mind and heart. For example, you might:

  • Share a memory or story with a friend or family member
  • Listen to music that you and your loved one enjoyed
  • Set aside times each day to think about your loved one
  • Frame and display a favorite photograph
  • Plant a tree or flowers in memory of your loved one.

How Have the People in Your Support Network Helped You?

Accept help. People in your support network may want to help out with practical tasks as a way of expressing their concern. Be open to accepting their help, and do not be afraid to reach out for help when you need it. Your support team may want to help out by:

  • Preparing meals
  • Shopping for groceries
  • Offering child care
  • Pitching in with household chores

The people in your support network can also help simply by spending quality time with you.

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This fact sheet was made possible by AbbVie.

Last updated June 08, 2018

The information presented in this publication is provided for your general information only. It is not intended as medical advice and should not be relied upon as a substitute for consultations with qualified health professionals who are aware of your specific situation. We encourage you to take information and questions back to your individual health care provider as a way of creating a dialogue and partnership about your cancer and your treatment.

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