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 personal 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 find also 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.
Perhaps 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 will listen to your story and who care about you. 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 story.
Your team of doctors, nurses and social workers are valuable sources of support as you cope with a cancer diagnosis. Oncology social workers are licensed professionals who counsel people affected by cancer, providing emotional support and helping people access practical assistance. CancerCare’s oncology social workers provide individual counseling, support groups and locate services face-to-face, online or on the telephone, free of charge. To learn more, visit www.cancercare.org or call 800-813-HOPE (4673).
Continuing Bonds with Your Loved One
The pain you feel during the grief experience lessens as time passes; you will adjust and may even find ways in which to manage the new life that is 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 a favorite photograph and display it.
- 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 childcare.
- Pitching in with household chores.
The people in your support network can also help simply by spending quality time with you.