Q. I am a 20-year-old college student and I recently lost two grandparents to cancer. I was close to both and am having trouble dealing with guilt and regret for not being there when they died or spending more time with them. What can I do?


I suggest seeing if your school has a counseling center. You mentioned that you are having trouble dealing with the guilt, which is understandable, with two significant losses. That can overwhelm your capacity to cope and make sense of what happened, let alone arrive at a meaning that you can live with. Struggling with that by yourself can increase your sense of powerlessness and isolation.

Guilt and regret are not unusual. And you may have a valid reason for feeling those emotions. My hope is that in working with a counselor, over time you can rediscover other aspects of your relationships with your grandparents that are being overshadowed by the immediacy of the loss, and incorporate those into a comforting narrative that integrates both the loss and the closeness of your relationship with each of them, and the ongoing meaning they, and those relationships, continue to have even in the present.

Thoughts of what you could have or should have done are evidence that you are having a hard time accepting the losses. It’s a little bit like magical thinking, in reverse. If you had only done that one thing, the outcome would have been different, and you wouldn’t be feeling this way. This is normal, and should decrease as you adjust to the new reality. Talking about it with someone who understands can facilitate that adjustment.

CancerCareoffers bereavement support groups, both in-person in our New York City offices, and online. You might also contact your school’s health and wellness center to see if they have any information on local young adult bereavement support groups.

Back to Top