How Cancer Affects the Grieving

How Cancer Affects the Grieving

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When a loved one dies, going through a period of intense grief, sadness, and loss is normal. Not only are these feelings natural, but they may come and go for months afterward. While you may be familiar with the five stages of grief, you may not know how losing a loved one to cancer can affect the grieving process.

Cancer’s Effect on the Grieving Process

From the outside, many people imagine the grieving process as a single event with a clear beginning and end. However, losing someone they love can send a person through a whirlwind of emotions and thoughts that often take time to heal.

After being diagnosed with cancer, family and friends may start to experience feelings of grief and loss related to death. Even while the individual is still alive, grief and a depressed mood can make completing once easy tasks difficult. Yet, starting the grieving process early doesn’t necessarily mean the individual will finish grieving sooner. Everyone is different and progresses through the loss of life according to their own unique timeline.

Moreover, your relationship with the individual can complicate how you feel. For instance, family caregivers may begin to resent the person they must provide care for. Nonetheless, this caregiver may still feel deeply pained after the individual has passed. Also, they may have additional feelings of guilt and regret, their earlier resentment.

What to Do After Losing a Loved One to Cancer

Family members may begin to plan for the death of an individual diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer. Arranging wills and other legal affairs, however, does not emotionally prepare you for loss. Keep reading for tips on coping with the death of a loved one to cancer.
After the death of a loved one to cancer, you may experience a range of emotions – some old and some new. It’s important to remember that your grieving process may not resemble how other people grieve. That’s okay. Grieving is a normal part of the loss.

Tips for grievers after the death of a cherished individual to cancer include:

It’s okay to be shocked by the death. Even when a person battles cancer for a long time before passing on, it’s okay for their family and friends to feel grief after they’ve died. Furthermore, feelings of emptiness (or feeling “nothing), relief, and regret are common and natural.

Take care of yourself. Self-care can be especially hard for former caregivers who are used to taking care of another person and placing that person’s needs above their own. Yet, attending to your own physical, mental, and emotional needs is vital. Failing to do so may put your health at high risk. Remember to maintain a healthy routine and continue to do things you enjoy.

Mourn if you need to (or don’t). Mourning is the public show of grief that may accompany feelings of loss or occur separate from them (such as attending a funeral or, in some cultures, wearing black clothing). While grieving is a personal process, mourning generally takes place in gatherings of family and friends. If you need to grieve privately, you are fully allowed to do so.

Your grieving timeline may be different. When caring for a loved one near the end of their life, many people start to feel the pain of loss before the person has even died. For others, feelings of sadness may start and then stop abruptly. Some days you may feel better and then feel like your emotions are moving backward toward grief. Be patient with yourself.

Talk through your feelings. There is no set time for grief, but if your thoughts start to impact your responsibilities, reach out for help. Some people are able to talk through their hardships with family and friends or with people who share similar experiences (such as a cancer support group or visiting an online memorial). If you’re still unable to return to daily activities six months after the death of a loved one, talking with a mental professional is recommended.


American Cancer Society. (2019). Grief and Bereavement. Retrieved on April 1, 2021, from (2018). Coping with Grief. Retrieved on April 1, 2021, from

Author bio

Destiny Bezrutczyk is a digital content writer with six years’ experience editing and writing targeted, long- and short-form content for the web and social media. Her work includes topics spanning personal injury and wrongful death law, cancer care and medical research, as well as addiction and the mental healthcare industry. Destiny holds a bachelor’s degree in English Language and Literature from Texas Tech University. 

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