Grief is the process of adapting to loss. The word grief comes from the Latin word gravis, meaning “heavy.” Living with cancer and the potential and real losses that ensue can bring on the heaviness of grief. Like so many of our innate ways of healing and recovering, grief feels unpleasant, takes time and asks us to surrender to its wisdom. Often, when grief has been allowed to take its course, it can transform us so that we emerge with a sense of wholeness, strength and wisdom.
Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, states, “A wound is an opening.” The wounds of losing a part of our bodies or bodily function, our role in our family, our jobs, our energy, our sense of control, financial stability, our will, our relationships, our dreams, maybe even our lives—all become the openings for grief to enter and do its work. Grief will come, and we know that if we cover up the wounds of loss before they can close on their own, grief will fester and pester us until we let it be.
Those whose lives are affected by cancer will find it important to recognize that this experience comes with losses that call for grieving. The timing seems horrible—certainly you have enough to deal with, without also having to grieve. Know, at least, that grief is a normal, necessary process, and perhaps take some comfort in knowing that it, and the symptoms that come with it, will pass.
Manifestations 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.
Coping with Grief
Your way of grieving 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.
Become informed about what will help you with coping. Get support from a counselor who understands and works with people with cancer. 3 Support groups are another way of sharing your grief and lightening its heaviness.
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:
Other therapies may require medical or professional supervision:
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. In his book Choices In Healing: Integrating The Best of Conventional and Complementary Approaches to Cancer and at the Commonweal Cancer Help Program, 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.”4
If you are nearing death, consider bringing hospice in to not only care for you but also for your family. Hospice 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.
In addition to complementary therapies, consider seeing a professional such as a therapist, oncology social worker or oncology navigator to help you explore your stressful situation and identify an approach that is right for you.
Integrative Programs, Protocols and Medical Systems
- Christie N. Coping with grief. Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Viewed March 9, 2018.
- Lapedis M, Adler SR et al. Qualitative analyses from a prospective clinical study of a whole systems Ayurvedic intervention for breast cancer survivorship. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2014 May; 20(5):A75.
- CancerCare. Living with Grief: How Can You Help Yourself? June 3, 2014. Viewed March 9, 2018.
- Lerner M. Choices In Healing: Integrating The Best of Conventional and Complementary Approaches to Cancer. MIT Press. 1994. p. 493.
This article has been taken from Beyond Conventional Cancer Therapies.