Losing a loved one for any reason is painful, but helping someone deal with a loss due to Cancer can require a slightly different approach. People grieve in different ways, including feeling “numb,” anxious, having periods of mourning and intense sobbing and accepting what has happened and moving forward. A number of factors affect the way grief is expressed as it can be complex, unpredictable and dependent on the survivor’s own personality, coping ability, age, gender, religious beliefs, mental health and relationship with the deceased.
With cancer loss, outside factors like duration and progression of the disease, the person’s ability to anticipate the loss, the survivor’s past history with cancer and financial stress due to lengthy treatments and hospital stays leading up to death commonly impact the grieving process.
Never expect a survivor to behave in a certain way, despite how well you know them, or how “strong” they may appear. Accepting the range of emotions a person expresses, as long as they do not pose a threat to others or themselves, is the best way you can help someone through the grieving process.
Social support is a key factor in helping a person deal with a cancer loss. Social support is not limited to listening to a person, or even being physically present, and it does not only have to come from those closest to the survivor.
While social support is important from close friends and family, neighbors and even community groups such as The Olive Branch of Hope can also alleviate the survivor’s sense of hardship, change and loss. Remember that a survivor who has lost a loved one to cancer may experience financial strain or need help with parenting duties, home care and general day-to-day activities that the deceased previously handled. Social support in these areas can help that person learn to cope with the changes resulting from the loss.
Also, remembering days that are meaningful to the family and friends, even long after the loved one has passed can help with dealing with loss in the long term.
Beyond holidays and birthdays, future celebrations — like births, weddings and graduations — can be particularly painful for spouses and children who have experienced a loss from cancer.
Make an effort to recognize the memory and spirit of those who have passed, and to remind the survivor that the loved one has not been forgotten.