Coping with death
Finding out that a young person isn’t going to survive cancer is one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to deal with. Grief is a very personal thing and everyone reacts differently, but you’re likely to face a range of very painful emotions. You’ll probably also have a lot of questions. But whatever you go through before and after a young person passes away, it’s vital to remember you’re not alone – support is always available.
After finding out that cancer treatment hasn’t been successful for a young person you’re close to, it can help to try and make the most of the remaining time you have together.
That doesn’t necessarily mean doing lots of unusual things. After receiving the news, some people choose to do things they’ve always wanted to do, but others prefer to keep living a normal, familiar, everyday life.
This is always a very difficult time. It can be very painful. But one of the best things you can do is simply spend time together. Talk about what you usually talk about. Laugh together (it’s still OK to laugh). Cry together. And enjoy each other’s company – it’s never too late to make good memories.
If your son or daughter has been told that treatment has failed, the team caring for you and your child will let you know about the support that’s available to all of you. You might feel like you can’t possibly cope with this news. But the team are there for you too, and will do everything they can to help.
They’ll also let you know about choices you’ll need to make about your son or daughter’s care. Don’t feel you need to rush anything – and whatever questions are on your mind, it’s important to ask them.
You’ll need to think about whether you’re able to care for your son or daughter at home, and whether they want to be cared for at home. The doctors and nurses will talk to you about this, and about other options such as hospice care. It's important to involve your son or daughter in your decision as much as possible.
As time passes, close relationships can sometimes become strained as people respond differently to the news. If you can, try to let your family and friends know what you need to cope, and try to give people the space and time they need, too. If you have other children, they might seem to be doing OK but actually be hiding their feelings to stop you worrying, so try to encourage them to be honest about what they’re going through as well.
It’s an incredibly difficult time, but you can be certain that your son or daughter will be well looked after as they approach the end of their life. Your medical team will do everything they can to ensure your son or daughter is as peaceful and comfortable as possible.
Feelings after death
Some people experience grief in stages, gradually moving from one emotion to the next. Others find they swing between different emotions, sometimes feeling OK, sometimes really struggling. And while everyone works through their feelings in their own way, when someone you care about passes away you might feel:
- Shock – People sometimes describe feeling numb after the death of a relative or close friend, and struggle to accept what has happened
- Agitation – Grief can make it extremely difficult to relax or concentrate
- Anger – You might feel angry at losing someone close to you, or feel a general anger towards the world because what has happened seems so unfair
- Guilt – Losing someone can make you wish you’d said or done things differently or somehow done more to prevent what’s happened
- Sadness – This often starts as an intense, almost physical, pain, but usually becomes gentler as time passes
- Emptiness – Losing someone close to you can leave a big and painful gap in your life
- Acceptance – This tends to be one of the later stages of grief. It doesn’t mean you have forgotten the person close to you. It means you’ve found a way to cope and to begin to enjoy life more again, while still treasuring your memories.
Coping with grief
It will probably be hard to imagine initially, but it’s true what they say about time being the greatest healer. Over time, and with support from people close to you, your grief will become less intense.
As you begin to try and cope with what’s happened, you might find that some of these ideas help:
- Don’t fight your feelings – try to let yourself grieve in whatever way feels right for you
- Talk – speaking to people you trust can be a great release, and so can talking to other people who’ve had similar experiences at a support group
- Cry – it’s another totally natural release
- Take care of yourself – eating well, resting and exercising can help you to feel stronger
- Write down your feelings – it can help you understand your feelings, especially if you’re struggling to talk about them
- Be patient with yourself – grieving takes time, and you’ll have good days and bad days.
To begin with, when you lose someone you love it can be hard to even think about the future. You might feel exhausted, or empty, or alone. But as time passes, life will slowly become less painful.
As the weeks and months go by, you might find you want to talk more about what’s happened. You might feel more able to do things or go to places that remind you of the person you’ve lost - or you might decide that's definitely something you don't want to do. You might start to accept that the future now looks different for you.
Some people find that support groups and counselling make a really useful difference. Others prefer to talk to family and friends, and to try and get back to a normal routine. You’ll know what works best for you.
And while some days will be tougher than others, it can help to plan beforehand what to do on days you know will be difficult – like birthdays and Christmas – and to think about what helps to improve your mood the rest of the time. It might be listening to music, or talking to friends, or going for a walk, or getting out in the garden.
But whatever works for you, you don’t need to put on a brave face or to hide your feelings. Showing your emotions can help. And remember that you will get through this – and that you’ll always have the memories of the time you spent together.
Who to talk to
If you find that you are struggling after losing someone close to you, it’s important not to try and cope alone. Your GP can put you in touch with counsellors who can help you work through your feelings. Clinical psychologists also have lots of techniques and ways of talking that can help people with their grief and feelings generally. And the following organisations offer specialist advice and support for people who have lost friends and family members to cancer:
- Child Bereavement UK - offers a confidential support and information line for bereaved families and professionals when a child has died and when a child is bereaved.
- Childline - a free national helpline for children and young people. Childline talks to more than 1,000 bereaved children and young people every year.
- Cruse Bereavement Care - the major UK charity offering support to bereaved people, whatever their situation.
- Winston's Wish - offers a helpline providing support, information and guidance to all those caring for a child of young person who has been bereaved.
- The Compassionate Friends - a charitable organisation of bereaved parents, siblings and grandparents dedicated to the support and care of other bereaved parents, siblings, and grandparents who have suffered the death of a child/children.