Grief is the process of adapting to loss. Living with cancer and the potential of real loss can bring on the heaviness of grief. Like so many of our innate healing and recovering, grief feels unpleasant, takes time and asks us to surrender to its wisdom. Sometimes when we allow grief to take its course, it can transform us so that we can emerge with a sense of wholeness, strength, and wisdom.
Symptoms of Grief
When you grieve, you can experience some of the following emotions or bodily reactions:[ 1 ]
- A sense of emptiness in the stomach, tightness in the chest or throat, muscle weakness, breathlessness, a lack of energy or dry mouth
- Some people may have an oversensitivity to noise, whereas others might feel a sense of depersonalization, where nothing feels or seems “real.”
- Some people may also experience disturbances to sleep or appetite, absent-minded behavior or withdrawing from others.
Managing your Grief
How you grief is unique to you. Honor your feelings and feel what you feel without judging. Though you might think that taking care of the cancer is plenty to focus on, consider the importance of being gentle and caring with yourself. Do your best to rest, eat regularly and stay active.
Tell others how they can help you. Many times people who care about us want to help but also don’t want to intrude. Maybe they can help you with practical tasks that you are having trouble managing. Or maybe they can listen, or perhaps they can do something enjoyable with you.
Acknowledging and tending to your grief is important in caring for your whole being during the cancer experience. Many complementary approaches are useful for supporting this process. Those that help with the emotional and physical symptoms of grief are a good place to start:
- Sleeping well
- Mind-body approaches, including support groups
- Moving more
- Being in nature
- Eating well
- Supplements that support a healthy stress response
Some who are visiting this website may have advanced cancer and sense that you may die soon. You and those who love you may be grieving in anticipation of your death. We bring up this difficult subject with the greatest respect for you who are facing the possibility either of your own death or the death of someone you care about.
Michael Lerner compassionately gives some very helpful information and guidance regarding choices in pain and suffering and death and dying:
“Part of preparing for death is giving some thought to helping loved ones with the grieving process. This can be tremendously important, because incomplete grieving often injures the rest of the life of a mate, a parent, or a child. In the process of a good death, a great deal of the mutual grieving of the person who is dying and loved ones, take place while the person is still alive and participating. If this process takes place as consciously and fully as possible, the death can sometimes becomes, strangely, a great healing for all involved. While there is still grieving to do—a great deal of grieving, perhaps—it starts from a solid base. There are some excellent books on grieving as well as good grieving support groups and therapists. I strongly recommend learning about these resources for survivors.”[ 2 ]
If you are nearing death, consider bringing palliative (comfort care) in to not only care for you but also for your family. Palliative (comfort care) can help with anticipatory grieving as well as provide bereavement support for the family for at least the first year after a loved one dies.
- Credit: BCCT: Grief
- CancerNet: Coping with Grief
- CaringInfo: Grief & Loss
- American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Cancer.Net: Grief and Loss
- Good Samaritan Hospice: Grief and Healing
- Weller F. The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books. 2015. In addition to rituals for renewal during the grief process, he also lists a very useful set of resources for working with grief (see p. 165).
- Resources for grieving, death and dying:
- Albom M. Tuesdays with Morrie. New York: Doubleday, 1997.
- Byock I. Dying Well: The Prospect for Growth at the End of Life. New York: Riverhead Books, 1997.
- Callanan M, Kelley P. Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs and Communications of the Dying. New York: Poseidon Press, 1992.
- Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Medicare Hospice Benefits: A special way of caring for people who have a terminal illness. April 2017.
- Dunn H. Hard Choices for Loving People: CPR, Artificial Feeding, Comfort Measures Only and the Elderly Patient. A & A Publishers, Inc.
- Kubler-Ross E. On Death and Dying. New York: Collier Books, 1969.
- Morris V. Talking About Death Won’t Kill You. 2002.
- Nuland SB. How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.
- National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization
- Michael Lerner: Choices In Healing: Integrating the Best of Conventional and Complementary Approaches to Cancer
- Erlene Chiang: Qigong and Traditional Chinese Medicine in Treating Cancer and Grief