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Coping with grief

Coping with cancer

This page has information about coping with grief after the death of someone close to you. There is information about


The range of emotions you may feel

Grief is a very personal thing and there is no right or wrong way to react. But we have tried to put together some information for you on the different reactions people have. It can help to realise that others feel the same way in similar circumstances.

When a close friend or relative has just died, you may have a range of feelings from numbness, to feeling separate from the situation, to anger and distress. It can be very hard to clear your head to think about anything else. You are likely to feel in a daze. You may feel that you are going through a roller coaster of emotions.

These feelings are common as part of the grief process. Grief is a very natural response to the loss of someone or something very important to us. There is no wrong or right way to feel when someone close to you dies. Everyone is different.

Most people will go through a range of emotions. There are several stages that people may go through. There are no hard and fast rules to this, of course. You will go through your own grief in your own way. But it can be reassuring to know that others may feel similar things. You may go through some or all of the stages. They do not necessarily happen in the order they are written here. The main thing to remember is there is no right way to grieve.


Denial and shock

At first, some people may find it very hard to accept or understand the death of a loved one. Some feel so shocked that they can't accept that the person has died at all, and even deny it is true. This feeling usually passes, as they start to talk to other people about the death. Some people dream that the person they've lost is still alive. Or they may walk into a room and think they've seen their loved one standing there. Some people find this disturbing, but others find it comforting. It seems to happen because we want to see the person again so much.



The most common question people ask during this stage is why me? You may think it unfair that someone close to you has died. This can make you feel very angry with everything and everyone. It’s not unusual to feel angry with the person who has died, for leaving you. Again, this stage will pass, so don’t think that you will always feel like this.



After someone close to you dies you may have thoughts such as 'If I give up this part of my life that I enjoy so much, or become a better person, I could bring back the person who died’. This is called bargaining. Although it is unrealistic, it is a very natural part of grieving.



You may find yourself feeling guilty for not doing certain things with your relative or friend before they died. Or remembering all the times you felt you did or said the wrong thing to them. Don’t feel bad about these things. Everyone has times where they upset someone and it is a natural part of life. So it is OK to let those feelings go.



Many people may feel very sad for some time after the death of someone close to them. Depression is not sadness. It is a much more intense feeling. It is more debilitating and you may feel that you can’t be bothered with everyday things such as eating, sleeping, hygiene, social activities and work. You may feel that there is nothing worth living for, now your loved one is gone.

It is natural to feel depressed for some time after the death of someone close to you. But if these feelings continue for several months, you may need help. You may have changes in your mood and feel isolated. Other common symptoms of depression are

  • Loss of interest in seeing friends and family
  • Difficulty getting to sleep
  • Waking in the early hours of the morning
  • Poor appetite
  • Lack of enthusiasm
  • Difficulty concentrating, making decisions and remembering things.

There is detailed information about depression in our coping emotionally section  Counselling, therapy or a course of anti depressants can help you to take interest in life again and find things that you enjoy doing. Let your doctor know if you think you are depressed, so that you can get any help you need.



During this stage people can feel very lonely and frightened. You miss having the person near to talk to and share your social life with. It can be very hard but trying to share more of your emotions with others close to you will help lessen these feelings.



This stage does not always mean you will feel happy again. But it does mean you will begin to feel able to cope with the death of your loved one. Most people who have had someone close to them die say that they never fully get over it. They just find a way to cope with it. And they can enjoy things in their life again and feel that life is worth living. Hearing this can sometimes be a relief to people who are going through the stormier stages of grief.



Everyone reaches this point at different times. But you will eventually be able to think about the person who died and it won’t be as painful. You will start to feel like planning ahead and looking forward to more good times. This doesn’t mean in any way that you have less feeling for the person who has died. So try not to feel guilty about wanting to eventually get on with your life. You will always remember and love them for what you shared together. And they wouldn’t want your life to come to a standstill or for you to feel sad for ever.


How long grief lasts

How long people grieve for is a very individual thing. It may be months or even years. But it won’t always be so intense. Don’t worry if you still feel very strong emotions months after a death. The first Christmas and birthday of your loved one after their death are usually very upsetting.

Give yourself time to heal. The most important part of healing is to acknowledge that you are grieving. Two things that help the most with grief are time and support. You can't force yourself to feel better. It is important that you grieve for your loved one’s and allow yourself to feel the way you do. Here are some suggestions that may help

  • Don’t try to fight your feelings – allow time for your thoughts and feelings, both positive and negative
  • Talk to someone you trust about how your friend or relative died and how you are feeling
  • Don’t be afraid to cry a lot – crying is an important part of grief and will give you a release
  • If you have to clear out the person’s home or finish off any business they left, it can be helpful to try to get it done sooner rather than later - ask a friend or relative to help
  • Remember to take care of yourself – eat well, get plenty of rest and some exercise
  • Some people find it helps to write down how they are feeling or about their loved one
  • Some people find it helps to go to a support group and talk to others who have had people close to them die
  • Be patient with yourself, it will take time and some days will be easier than others

If at any time you feel everything is just too much see your GP. They may suggest you get some grief counselling. Or you may find it useful to contact an organisation that offers support and advice to people in this situation. You can contact some of the organisations in our section about advanced cancer organisations. They can also send you helpful leaflets. We also have a list of books about coping with grief.

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Updated: 15 November 2010