Coping With Grief of Loss to Lung Cancer

Losing a loved one to lung cancer or other illness is a painful time that involves a range of complicated feelings and emotions. Sadness and anguish that can come from these tragic events sometimes last for several months or even years and can affect a person mentally as well as physically. Grief is a common response to the loss of a loved one, and almost every person experiences some variant of it. While grief is a natural process, it’s essential to understand what signs might indicate that someone is grieving. This can be the difference between a loved one getting the support they need through a difficult time and not.

Grief Reactions

The first step to supporting someone who is grieving is learning what it looks like, and then understanding that these reactions aren’t personal. A person who is grieving may have outbursts or react in offensive ways. Patience is the most important thing to try and embody and act with when you are around a person going through such a complex range of emotions after a loss. Some grief reactions to be aware of include:

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A person experiencing loss may have recurring thought patterns that encompass confusion, disbelief, trouble concentrating, and/or hallucinations.

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Those grieving may have trouble falling or staying asleep and experience excessive restlessness. They may also experience fatigue or lethargy during easy and fun activities. The desire to be social may go down or disappear, and feelings of irritability and aggression may go up. A grieving person may also take on extra projects and overwork themselves to remain busy.

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A range of feelings can be present during these difficult times. Some can encompass anxiety, anger, denial, depression, despair, guilt, helplessness, sadness, shock, and yearning.

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Physical Sensations

The mind is powerful. A grieving mind can cause the person to feel physical sensations. This can include fatigue, headaches, muscle weakness, nausea, numbness in the body, tightness in the tension, and throat or chest weakness.

Differences Between Grief, Mourning, and Bereavement

Going through grief is a process that can sometimes be misunderstood. Here are some of the standard terms and what they mean in relation to each other.

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Grieving is a normal process that is how a person reacts to the loss of a loved one. It can last several months or years after the event. No one experiences this process the same.

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When referring to someone in mourning, this is describing how a person shows their loss in public. For instance, at funerals or rituals that some families have for their deceased, those attending would be in mourning.

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The time a person spends grieving and mourning is called bereavement. It also encompasses how long the person is sad or otherwise negatively impacted emotionally or physically after the trauma.

Stages of Grief

Although the grieving process is filled with ups and downs, there are stages. This is subjective and depends on the person’s life experiences and relationship with their loved one. The stages also may not happen in the same order to every person grieving. The 5 stages that are commonly experienced during this process are:

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Denial and Isolation

This stage can begin before the loss if it’s anticipated. For instance, family members of those with lung cancer may start the grieving process before death if their loved one’s stage in lung cancer is too late, and curative treatments aren’t an option. The anticipation of loss may cause them to experience shock, fear, or numbness. They may even begin to feel “shut off” or separate from the rest of the world.

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The bereaved can spend an indefinite length of time in the anger stage. This stage could last days, weeks, or months here. Feelings of frustration and anxiety are common, as well as anger, loneliness, or uncertainty. This stage could involve the most strong or intense emotions the person grieving may try to dispel by engaging in aimless or chaotic activities. They could also feel agitated, cry, or be preoccupied with thoughts or images of the person they are missing.

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This is most likely the shortest stage. When the bereaved is having difficulty finding meaning in their loss, they may reach out to others for comfort. They could begin divulging their story and talking about the experience to their friends. This could help them realize that the changes due to their loved ones’ loss are real and happening.

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When the bereaved begin to realize these life changes are permanent, feelings of depression may arise. This can include feelings of being overwhelmed or helpless. The person could withdraw, become aggressive, or express intense sadness. Grief can show up in this stage in waves of anguish.

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At the final stage, acceptance comes when a person discovers how to come to terms with, understand, and accept the loss of their loved one. This stage can take over a year (or years) to reach, as the bereaved will have to figure out how to adjust to daily life without the person they lost.

Coping Methods

When grieving, it can sometimes feel like the pain will never end. The intensity of grief will sometimes lesson after several months to a year or more. It can be challenging to go through this process, but there are helpful techniques and methods to help a person cope. Here are a few methods that can help:

Let yourself experience it

So many people get caught up in wondering when they should “get over it”. There’s no definite answer. It’s healthiest to allow yourself to mourn and heal at a natural pace, instead of worrying yourself and adding that extra pressure at an already difficult time. Release your emotions, talk to people, and try to get it all out.

Try not to be impatient

Understand that this process is different for everyone, do not try and rush through it. Try not to judge or be too hard on yourself for the length of time it takes to start feeling better.

Talk about it

Discuss your feelings and talk about the loss with others. This could help you process and release feelings and emotions that need to get out. Ensure that your family and friends know that they don’t have to have answers and that you just need someone to listen to.

Distract yourself

Finding a healthy outlet to get your mind off things and learn, discover, or try something new instead could prove extremely helpful. This can involve creative outlets like writing, art, or music, or it can encompass physical activities like running, bicycling, or hiking. Hitting a punching bag or kicking around a soccer ball can help to release feelings of anger and frustration. Do fun things with friends and family, and try to distract yourself for a while.

Take care of yourself

It can be really easy to forget or just not care about yourself and your physical needs during this difficult time. Grieving takes a massive toll on a person and can be draining. Try to sleep, eat, and exercise regularly, even though it could be challenging to get motivated. Some people experiencing grief may want to sleep too much. Set an alarm to wake up at a reasonable time and try to get out into the sunshine. It helps a lot more than one would think.

Join a support group

Multiple organizations have put together support groups for those in mourning after losing their loved ones to lung cancer or other illness.

Some reliable places to find cancer support groups:

Maintaining a healthy routine that encompasses these points can be the key to staying healthy during the grieving process.

When to Look for Support

After a person experiences a loss, they generally search for support from their family and friends. Sometimes these people don’t know how to properly support or help their loved one during their time of bereavement. Knowing when to seek support is ultimately up to you. For caregivers or family members trying to support a late-stage cancer patient, there are medical professionals available through hospice that can help with care. This is especially important for avoiding caregiver compassion fatigue, or burnout.

If you feel that you need more help during this challenging time, then it’s a good idea to find someone that can offer you this support. Whether it be a support group or talk therapist, you don’t have to go through this alone. Your primary health care provider is a great place to start research by asking questions. They’ll give you helpful resources and can point you towards even more support groups, therapists, or other options you may have.