Loss & Grieving

About Loss

If you have cancer or a loved one has cancer, you may experience a sense of loss. This emotion can be related to:

  • The loss of life
  • The loss of a body part, organ, or having a ‘normal’ looking body
  • The loss of health and capacity
  • The loss of lifestyle
  • The loss or changes to relationships
  • A new sense of burden or uncertainty

About Grief

Grief is the response to loss. It is the normal, natural and inevitable response to loss, and it can affect every part of your life, but it’s different for different people.

Loss may cause intense feelings such as sadness, anger, anxiety, disbelief, panic, relief or even numbness. It can affect your thinking, making you think you will never get over it, or you even may think you’re going crazy. You may think it’s all too hard and wish you were with the person who has died. This doesn’t usually generally mean that you will take steps to end your life; it’s usually just an expression of pain and sadness.

Sometimes grief can make it hard to sleep or give you physical symptoms. It’s not unusual for people to have ‘extraordinary’ experiences such as dreams of a departed loved one or to have a sense of their presence. Mostly these are comforting feelings.

Grief is very personal and specific to each individual. There are no right or wrong ways to grieve. Some people only express it in private; others are open and expressive, crying and wanting to talk. Still others prefer to keep busy.

Dealing with grief and loss

Grief can seem like a roller-coaster ride, or it may feel like being battered about like a ship in a storm. However you experience it, keeping a continuing bond with your loved one can be helpful and comforting. The love you have for someone doesn’t die just because they have died.

People often assume that eventually their grief will shrink to allow room for other things in life. You may worry that if you let go of your grief, you will forget or lose your connection with your loved one, which can make you feel disloyal. But, what can happen is that your grief doesn’t go away, but your life grows around it.

When to seek help

Although grief can be very painful, most people gradually find ways to learn to live with their loss. However, if the circumstances of the death have been particularly distressing, such as a traumatic or sudden death, or if there are circumstances in your life that make your grief particularly acute or complicated, you might find yourself struggling.

The Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement says you should consider seeking professional help if:

  • You do not have people who can listen to you and care for you
  • You find yourself unable to manage the tasks of your daily life, such as going to work or caring for your children
  • Your personal relationships are being seriously affected
  • You have persistent thoughts of harm to yourself or anyone else
  • You persistently over-use alcohol or other drugs
  • You experience panic attacks or other serious anxiety or depression
  • Over time you remain preoccupied and acutely distressed by your grief
  • You feel that for whatever reason, you need help to get through this experience.

Where to get help

Cancer Support WA runs a Grief and Loss Support Group. You can also check out our links page, or visit The Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement website for some suggestions about how to get through the difficult times.