Grief & Bereavement
Put simply, grief is our response to loss. There can be many losses when dealing with cancer; loss of function, loss of fertility, loss of opportunity. How we individually deal with loss is partially dependent on our cultural, religious, and familial belief systems. It is a highly personal experience. Some people experience denial, a defense mechanism where we don’t want to face what is happening. Typically, this is because we think we lack the resources to respond. Anger is common, but anger is usually secondary to pain. We usually get angry because we get hurt. Bargaining is the act of trying to “make a deal” to avoid a loss, even if we know the loss is unavoidable. Depression could be described as hopelessness beyond reason; the feeling that “things will never get better”. However, even depression should be temporary. If it continues, it needs to be treated medically.
What used to be thought of as a progression through stages of grief could now be seen as simply working towards acceptance. It is possible to experience denial, anger, bargaining and depression. However, there may be no specific order to these and they are not all necessary. Each person should take their own time to come to terms with their loss. A balance should be ideally maintained between not feeling rushed through any particular point but also not getting stuck forever in any particular place.
Some grief experts think that once we move into acceptance of our loss, the grief work actually begins. One research group has described three stages after the acceptance of the loss. The first is to experience the pain of the loss. Next is to adjust to the new environment without the subject of the loss. Finally, we must reinvest our lives in the new reality that we find ourselves.
Bereavement is the ultimate loss that we can experience, losing someone we love. It has been considered one of the most stressful events anyone can experience. But even here, suffering can be put in context. For the pain we experience is a testament to the close and intimate relationship we have had with another person. It validates that in spite of our shortcomings or our differences, perhaps even a fight here or there, there is a revelation of something special between two people, and those memories live on with those of us that remain.
If you feel you need additional help in dealing with any aspect of your grief, it may be necessary to contact a grief counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Your treatment team or hospital organization may have professionals available for referrals. Another way to do this is by contacting your primary care provider. Most primary care providers have built professional relationships with such providers and have a measure of confidence in their abilities. It is also possible to contact your medical insurance company for a list of providers in your area. Many people also contact their church, synagogue, mosque or other religious organization as they often have staff trained to deal with grief and loss.