The Experience of Grief
What are the symptoms of grief?
For both the person facing cancer and death, and survivors after the death of a loved
one, it is natural to experience many symptoms of grief. These can include:
Memory lapses, distraction, and preoccupation
Depression and feelings of euphoria
Extreme anger or feelings of being resigned to the situation
What are the different stages of grief?
Grieving is a normal response to a loss. The loss can include the loss of your normal
daily routine due to your diagnosis, the impact of the diagnosis on other family members,
or the financial impact of the diagnosis. The grieving process varies from person
to person in terms of the order in which one deals with the stages of grief, as well
as the time it takes to go through the stages of grief. Since this process was recognized,
it has become appreciated that not everyone goes through all these stages or that
they always happen one after another. The person with cancer, spouses, parents, siblings,
and other family members will all experience grief. Grief is usually divided into
Denial. Denial is a stage where people try to believe that the cancer diagnosis is not happening
to them or their family. One may feel numb, or in a state of shock. Denial is a protective
emotion when a life event is too overwhelming to deal with all at once.
Anger. Anger is a stage in which you understand the cancer diagnosis, but are very upset
and angry that it has happened to you, a friend, or family member. One of the best
ways of dealing with bursts of anger is to exercise or participate in another type
of physical activity. Talking with family and friends, other people who have cancer,
and the hospital staff may also be helpful. The person also needs to be able to express
his or her anger either by verbally explaining how he or she feels or writing in a
Bargaining. Questioning God, asking "Why me?" and "What did I do to deserve this?" are common
questions in this stage. It is normal for the person to make bargains with themselves
or God. This is done in hopes that this will make the cancer diagnosis go away. Guilt
is a primary emotion during this stage. Searching for something that you personally
did, which could have contributed to the cancer, is all part of bargaining. People
tell themselves or God that they promise not to do something they previously did (such
as arguing with family members), or to start doing something they have not done (such
as going to church regularly) in exchange for recovery.
Depression and sadness. This is a stage in which the diagnosis of cancer can no longer be denied and those
involved may feel a profound sense of sadness. This is normal. It can be accompanied
by physical changes. These include trouble sleeping or excessive sleeping, changes
in appetite, difficulty concentrating on simple daily activities, or feeling a constant
fear that someone else in the family will be diagnosed with cancer. It is important
to talk about depression with a healthcare professional, such as a social worker,
or counselor. Or meet with a support group to help you cope with your feelings.
Acceptance. Acceptance is a stage in which you have accepted the cancer diagnosis and are at
a point where cancer has been incorporated as part of your life. You have made an
adjustment to the illness. This does not mean that you will never feel other emotions.
Usually families find that they are better able to manage their lives overall once they
reach this stage. Going through the grieving process is the best way to cope with
a cancer diagnosis. By giving yourself and your family permission to grieve, you will
be able to cope.
Most people need honest and accurate information regarding their illness, treatment
plan, treatment choices, and prognosis. People communicate their fears and concerns
in many ways. They cry, yell, ignore others, seek information from others, and write
letters. These feelings of sadness, confusion, anger, and fear are all acceptable.
It is important to understand that each person and family is different. Given that
different cultures have varying beliefs about death, there is no one single right
way to discuss death. In general, an open communication style allows the dying person
to express his or her fears and desires. This openness does not happen overnight.
The ultimate goal in discussing death with a dying person is to make him or her as
comfortable as possible and lessen any fears. If the person is not ready to discuss
death, the most helpful step spouses, family, and caregivers can take is to wait until
he or she is ready. Let the person know you are willing to talk to him or her whenever he
or she is ready to do so. Forcing information will usually result in anger, distrust,
and emotional distance from others. Waiting until someone is ready to handle the situation
will allow for better communication.