Coping with Grief

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 07/2022

It is painful when someone you love dies. Grief is your emotional response to loss. While grieving, it is normal to feel sadness, regret, anger, and other feelings. You might feel like the pain will never end, and grief can come and go for months or even years.

It might seem impossible, but there are ways to adjust to life without the person you lost. The grieving process can be long and difficult, but there are things you can do to help yourself through it.

What are the different ways to cope with grief?

Your ways of coping will be unique, just like your grief. Think about how you have coped with difficult situations in the past, and try similar things now. Here are some things to try:

Let your feelings out. Grief hurts, but it is natural and healthy to grieve. Let yourself experience your feelings, such as shock, sadness, anger, and loneliness. Don't judge yourself for any feelings, even if you think you should not have them. You might feel guilty or feel pressure to "get over it" from others. Let yourself react, even if it means crying or screaming.

You might want to spend some time alone each day to think about your loved one and release your feelings. This might be especially helpful if it is hard to show your feelings around others.

Be patient. Let your grief happen at its own pace. Do not judge yourself or compare yourself to others. Everyone grieves differently.

Find ways to be creative. Playing music or creating art can help you express your feelings. This can be done on your own or with the help of a music therapist or art therapist. Or, write your thoughts, feelings, and memories in a journal. Looking back through your journal may allow you to see how your grief changes over time.

Be physically active. Walking, running, riding a bicycle, or other forms of physical activity can help you release stress and cope with feelings. You can try hitting a punching bag or hitting golf balls at a driving range as a healthy outlet for any frustration or anger you feel.

Forgive yourself. Be kind to yourself if you are thinking about things you regret about your time with your loved one. This can help you focus more on good memories.

Take care of yourself. It is important to take care of yourself after someone dies. Grief can make you very tired, emotionally and physically. Try to get enough sleep at night, eat a healthy diet, and exercise regularly. Talk to your doctor or nurse if you need advice on healthy lifestyle choices or experience problems, such as sleep disturbances.

Keep up your routine. Having a daily routine helps you know what to do with your time. It also keeps you connected to familiar people and places. You might want to avoid any major changes, such as getting a new job or moving, soon after a loss. Keeping your routine can help you feel more normal and secure, and less stressed.

Stay connected with the person you lost. You can stay connected to your loved one in many ways. These can include looking at photos, watching videos, remembering their advice to you, or thinking about your time together.

How can family and friends support you when you are grieving?

You don't have to grieve alone. Ask for help and support from your family and friends. Here are some things you can try to feel less alone while you are grieving:

Talk with other loved ones. Talking about your loss and sadness may help you deal with your feelings and let them go. Tell family and friends that it helps you to talk. Make sure they know you do not need them to give you answers. You just need them to listen.

Enjoy time with friends and family. It is OK to give yourself a break from grieving. Spending time with people you enjoy can help you heal. Part of coping with loss is being able to go back and forth between grieving and participating in everyday life. You might choose to go to dinner with friends, take a relaxing bath, watch a movie, start a new hobby, or enjoy the outdoors. It is OK to laugh and feel happy even though you lost someone.

Join a support group. Support groups give you the chance to talk with other people who are experiencing loss. Group members can offer encouragement, comfort, advice, and practical suggestions. They can also show you that your experiences are normal. You might want to join a support group for people who have lost a family member or friend. Or you might want a group of people in your specific situation, such as losing a spouse to cancer.

How to find support for coping with grief

After a loss, you may get support from family, friends, coworkers, and support group members. But, sometimes, you may feel like you need more help coping with your grief. A counselor can help you understand the grieving process and cope with your loss.

If you have intense feelings that last a long time and keep you from doing daily activities, grief therapy can help. This is a specific type of counseling. It can help you understand why you are having a difficult time and find ways to cope with the loss. A mental health professional, such as a psychologist or clinical social worker, provides grief therapy one-on-one or a group setting.

Grief therapy may be helpful when you are experiencing any of the following after a loss:

  • Difficulty eating or sleeping

  • Difficulty working or doing regular activities six months or more after your loss

  • Being unable to care for yourself

  • Feeling worthless

  • Thinking about killing yourself

Ask your doctor or other health care provider to help you find a grief counselor. You can also check with a local hospital or cancer treatment center, a community hospice service, your health insurance company, support organizations, or your employer’s employee assistance program.

If you feel you’re in crisis and cannot reach your doctor or a loved one, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or dial the code "988" (available in the United States).

Learn more about types of counseling and how to find a counselor.

Related Resources

Grief and Loss

Understanding Grief and Loss

Coping with Change After a Loss

How Survivors Can Cope With Grief After Cancer

More Information

National Cancer Institute: Grief, Bereavement, and Coping with Loss (PDQ®)

CancerCare: Grief and Loss