What is grief?
Grief is a normal response to any loss. The process of grieving is one of adjusting to life without the person who has died.
There is no set time frame and the grief may never go away completely. With support and understanding, you will find a way forward.
Learn more about how:
Everyone grieves differently
Everyone responds to loss in their own way and in their own time. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.
You may experience grief after any loss in your life. Sometimes this is when someone close to you dies. Other times it may be the loss of a relationship, a job, a pet, your good health, your way of life or treasured possessions. Here we focus on grief after a death from cancer, but much of the information applies to any type of grief.
Grief is not an illness and does not need to be fixed. It can, however, be a confusing and overwhelming experience that causes strong emotional and physical reactions. You may find it helpful to learn more about common grief reactions and ways of coping.
How you experience grief depends on a number of things, such as:
- your age
- your gender
- your personality
- your relationship with the person who died
- the circumstances of the death
- the support you have from other people
- how much your life will change as a result of the death
- the losses you have had in the past
- your cultural background, including any rituals or customs associated with death
- your spiritual view of life and death.
Sometimes people find that a death brings back memories of other losses. They may feel they are grieving those losses all over again.
Family members grieving for the same person may not mourn in the same way. This is normal. Some people express grief through crying and talking, outbursts of anger or keeping busy. Other people prefer to be quiet or shut the world out.
People may behave differently at different times – and their behaviour may be unpredictable. It is important to respect individual ways of grieving and not take reactions personally. This can be an opportunity to offer support to each other and understand other ways of grieving.
People who tend to cope well during tough times often find that they show this resilience after a loss. This does not mean they are not grieving, but that they already have coping strategies. Thinking about what has helped you deal with stressful events in the past may help you now. Or you may find that your usual coping mechanisms are not enough to help you cope with your current loss, and you need to find new coping strategies.
Bereavement, mourning and grief
The terms bereavement and mourning are closely related to grief, but they have slightly different meanings. Bereavement usually refers to the fact that someone close to you has died. Grief is the process of responding to the loss and it can affect all parts of your life. Mourning is the outward expression of sorrow for the loss, often influenced by cultural customs and rituals.
Podcast: Coping with Grief
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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