Grief affects how you interact with the world, your sense of identity and the roles you have within your family or social circle. You may find that your friendships and family relationships change.
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A sense of presence
It is common to feel a sense of closeness to the person who died. People often report that they see, sense or dream about the person who died, especially in the first few weeks. Some people find this deeply comforting; others find it frightening and unexpected.
People often feel intensely lonely. If your caring role was a major part of your life, you may feel lost without it. It can take time to settle into a new routine. After some time has passed, you may still feel your loss very strongly, but everyone around you may seem to have moved on. This can be hurtful and make you feel alone even when you are surrounded by people, and you may withdraw from those around you.
You might feel abandoned and rejected by the person who died. Or you may feel neglected by the friends you thought would be there for you. You may be surprised by who offers the best support – often it’s someone who has experienced a major loss themselves.
Strong family feelings and difficulties often arise at the time of death and afterwards. Because everyone grieves in their own way and in their own time, it is easy to have disagreements with family members and friends after someone dies. There may also be conflicts over the person’s will and who gets their treasured possessions.
Tips for managing the social impact
- Even after death, we continue to have connection to people in our lives who have died. Read some ideas for ways to remember.
- Know that you are not alone. Loss is part of being human. Find someone you can talk to who will listen and be understanding, or ask your GP about bereavement counselling.
- Read firsthand accounts of other people who have experienced grief. Find stories online, through bereavement support groups, or through your local library.
- Join a support or grief group if there is one available, or consider an online group. Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 to find a support group.
- Talk with the friends, family and staff who provided support while the person was dying. Often it can be helpful to talk about that time with the people who were there with you.
- Ask others for assistance – it will make them feel valued and useful.
- Take small steps to re-enter your social circle. At first, mix with people you feel comfortable with and who understand you well. Even if you are just sitting and listening, you are connecting to others.
- When you feel ready, try to join a social group or take up a new activity. Recognise that the first time you return to an activity, such as going to the shops, club, school or work, is likely to be the hardest. It tends to get easier with time, but asking someone to come along with you can make the initial steps feel less daunting.
- Aim to be gentle and forgiving with others and yourself. Grieving family members and friends may seem angry or irrational. Try not to take it personally. Keep in mind that you are vulnerable too and have the right to protect yourself. Let someone else support them for a time.
Kate Jurgens, Bereavement Coordinator, Southern Adelaide Palliative Services, SA; Gabrielle Asprey, Cancer Support Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; A/Prof Lauren Breen, Psychologist, Curtin University, WA; Rev David Dawes, Manager, Spiritual Care Department, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Rob Ferguson, Consumer; Karen Hall, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Joanna Mangan, Psychologist, Cancer Council Queensland; Kate Reed, Nurse Practitioner National Clinical Advisor, Palliative Care Australia; Maxine Rosenfield, Counsellor and Educator, NSW.
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Emotions and cancer
People who are affected by cancer in some way can experience a range of emotions, that can be very challenging to deal with at times. Learn more.
End of life
This information may help you better cope with end of life, or support someone who may be dying with cancer