Britta's Cancer Survival Journey

When Your Loved One Dies of Cancer, What Next?

+ CV Skinlabs Team

I remember when my father passed away. It felt like a big, gaping hole had opened up in my heart that would never be filled. I walked around in disbelief for awhile, going through the motions of life, but not really feeling present, like I was in some other world between the here and there. And then suddenly, sometimes out of the blue, I’d start crying uncontrollably, not knowing if I could go on without him.

Dealing with loss is one of the hardest things we have to do as human beings. The three things that helped me were my faith, my other loved ones, and taking action to remember my father in many positive ways-this blog is one of them.

Everyone grieves differently, but we wanted to gather some thoughts that may help you through. One thing you must not do is turn away from your own life. I firmly believe that we’re all here for a reason, so if you’re feeling that life isn’t worth it without your loved one, I urge you to reconsider. You’ve still got things to do, and your loved one would want you to live out your life the best way you can.

Be nice to yourself. You’re grieving, and going through an extremely difficult time. Recognize this. Realize that you’re going to need time to mourn the loss. Treat yourself as you would a friend going through this time. Eat well, rest as much as you need to, and exercise. If you’re feeling guilt, regret, or “if only” thoughts, give yourself a break. Be realistic-you couldn’t have done anything to stop what happened. Journal about your feelings, or talk to a friend or therapist. I stated seeing a therapist immediately so I could start to heal. Sometimes we feel it may be easier to put it aside, but that’s definitely not the best approach long term.

Realize it’s going to hurt. None of us like pain (especially emotional), and often we do whatever we can to avoid it. Most of the time, those things are unhealthy. Too much food, drink, work, whatever, are all detrimental to your health. Realize that loss hurts, and try not to be afraid of that feeling. Let it go through you. Cry when you need to. Punch pillows, walk, and write off any anger you’re feeling. Dealing with whatever feelings come up is much healthier than trying to avoid them. Remember, the only way out is through-and unless you’re willing to feel the feelings, they will never let up.

Plan activities during difficult times. Birthdays, anniversaries, Saturday nights, weekends, and holidays can all be extremely difficult when you’re grieving. Try to plan activities during these times so you’re not alone. Have dinner out with a friend, spend a day skiing (or participating in another favorite hobby), enjoy an afternoon picnic with your children-anything that will help you to feel a sense of belonging. Our first two Christmases without Dad, for example, we spent out of town, which was easier than doing the same thing we did every year when he was with us.

Avoid making major decisions. Realize that you’re not really in your right mind after suffering a major loss. This is not the time to quit your job, move, or make other life-altering changes. You’re going through enough change already. Keep everything else as much the same as you can, at least for several months. Even with wills and other financial concerns-wait at least two months after the loss, if you can.

Celebrate your loved one. There are so many ways to honor and celebrate the one who meant so much to you. You can set aside a place in your home to decorate with photos, quotations, letters, old e-mails, etc. Try lighting a candle in her honor (white one preferably), hosting a dinner party, making a donation to one of his favorite charities or organizations, planting a tree, making a quilt, or putting together a scrapbook. Give yourself the time it takes to complete this important step. We celebrated Dad at my wedding (two months after he passed) by releasing white doves in his honor. To this day, I often dedicate time to him by lighting a white candle that I bought especially for him, and sitting by its light to read or to meditate. Anything to keep him close to me.

Ask for help. Sometimes people don’t know how to help after a loss. If you need assistance with finances, legal matters, or other new responsibilities, don’t be afraid to ask. You may also want to seek the advice of a lawyer, accountant, or financial advisor. Consider joining a support group-talking with others who have experienced similar losses can help a great deal and encourage healing.

Have you survived the loss of a loved one to cancer? Please share your story.

Photo courtesy Mohammad A.S. via Flickr.com.

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