Key Points

  • Grief is the process of adapting to loss.
  • Cancer comes with losses that call for grieving.
  • Acknowledging and tending to your grief is important in caring for your whole being during the cancer experience.
  • Many complementary approaches are useful for supporting the grieving process.

The Unbroken

Francis Weller, a psychotherapist and group leader at the Commonweal Cancer Help Program, has written an eloquently helpful book on grieving, The Wild Edge of Sorrow. In the book, he describes rituals of renewal in the sacred work of grief. For those wishing to learn more of what grief can teach us when we come to sorrow’s wild edge, this may be a helpful book. Throughout the book, he weaves in stunning poems. One by Rashani Rea called “The Unbroken”, about what lies deep within us, is shared here:

There is a brokenness
out of which comes the unbroken,
a shatteredness
out of which blooms the unshatterable.

There is a sorrow
beyond all grief which leads to joy
and a fragility
out of whose depths emerges strength.

There is a hollow space
too vast for words
through which we pass with each loss,
out of whose darkness
we are sanctified into being.

There is a cry deeper than all sound
whose serrated edges cut the heart
as we break open to the place inside
which is unbreakable and whole,
while learning to sing.

Grief is the process of adapting to loss. The word grief comes from the Latin word gravis, meaning “heavy.” Living with cancer and the potential and real losses that ensue can bring on the heaviness of grief. Like so many of our innate ways of healing and recovering, grief feels unpleasant, takes time and asks us to surrender to its wisdom. Often, when grief has been allowed to take its course, it can transform us so that we emerge with a sense of wholeness, strength and wisdom.

Read more

Manifestations of Grief

When you grieve, you can experience some of the following emotions or bodily reactions:1

  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Anxiety
  • Loneliness
  • Fatigue
  • Helplessness
  • Shock
  • Yearning
  • Emancipation
  • Relief
  • Numbness
  • A sense of emptiness in the stomach, tightness in the chest or throat, muscle weakness, breathlessness, a lack of energy or dry mouth
  • Some people may have an oversensitivity to noise, whereas others might feel a sense of depersonalization, where nothing feels or seems “real.”
  • Some people may also experience disturbances to sleep or appetite, absent-minded behavior or withdrawing from others.

Honor your feelings and feel what you feel without judging.

Coping with Grief

Helpsy Health

Even when people are getting the best of cancer treatment, they often feel like they need more help with organizing their care and managing symptoms and side effects. Helpsy empowers members to take control of their health through a real-time virtual nurse support service. This service is available via mobile devices, a Helpsy website and automated phone calls.

Read more

Your way of grieving is unique to you. Honor your feelings and feel what you feel without judging. Though you might think that taking care of the cancer is plenty to focus on, consider the importance of being gentle and caring with yourself. Do your best to rest, eat regularly and stay active.

Read more

Part of preparing for death is giving some thought to helping loved ones with the grieving process.

Michael Lerner

In addition to complementary therapies, consider seeing a professional such as a therapist, oncology social worker or oncology navigator to help you explore your stressful situation and identify an approach that is right for you.

Integrative Programs, Protocols and Medical Systems

For more information about programs and protocols, see our Integrative Programs and Protocols page.

Written by Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS, and Nancy Hepp, MS; most recent update on March 19, 2021.

View All References

More Information

Resources for Grieving, Death and Dying

Read more