The Cancer Caregiver and Grief

The decision to become a caregiver for a cancer patient is life changing, and brings with it not only the daily stress of added responsibilities but also the emotional issues that come with watching a loved one suffer. For a cancer caregiver, grief can become overwhelming, and may include the loss of a loved one’s health, companionship, financial security and dreams for the future.

Each person has to deal with the grief that comes with being a cancer caregiver in his or her own way, but it needs to be dealt with somehow. Keeping emotions inside can make the grieving process last longer and can lead to emotional and even physical damage. Here is some information on the cancer caregiver grieving process and how to handle it.

Grief Symptoms

The emotions associated with grief have been studied in depth by researchers, who have recognized five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. While not everyone experiences grief in the same way, knowing about the stages of grief can help prepare a caregiver for the grieving process. Here are some symptoms associated with grieving:

  • Shock: Many family members of cancer patients describe a feeling of numbness when they first hear of the cancer. This is a normal way for a person to protect him or herself from emotional trauma, and is part of the denial phase of grief.
  • Disbelief: Some patients move from denial to an inability to accept a cancer diagnosis. Disbelief is often associated with the bargaining phase of grief, when people make certain promises if only the cancer could disappear or a loved one could return to their lives.
  • Blame: Blame is a natural part of the anger phase of grief. In angry moments, cancer caregivers and people who love cancer patients may find themselves blaming God, doctors, themselves, or even the patient for the situation.
  • Guilt: Cancer caregivers and other people experiencing grief often feel a strong sense of guilt as the depression stage of grief sets in. People may feel guilty after being angry, or feel that they should have prevented a loved one’s suffering in some way. During this stage of grief, many people feel that they have failed as a caregiver.
  • Sadness: Most, if not all, cancer caregivers deal with sadness at some point. Sadness can also trigger intense feelings of despair, aloneness, or emptiness.
  • Physical Symptoms: Caregivers who are experiencing intense grief may actually exhibit physical symptoms. Some people experience frequent illness, trouble sleeping, exhaustion or headaches during the grieving process.

Coping with Grief

When you are a cancer caregiver, it is important that you recognize that your grief is normal. By accepting the emotions you feel, you begin the healing process. Don’t feel as though you have to deal with the grief you feel on your own, and give yourself time to come through the grieving process. Some ways to help yourself heal include:

  • Acknowledge Your Grief: Let yourself feel; don’t ignore your grief. Unresolved grief can affect your abilities as a caregiver and can also be detrimental to your emotional and physical health. Some people find that talking with friends or loved ones or writing in a journal help them deal with the emotions that come up with the grieving process.
  • Seek the Support you Need: There are a number of support groups for cancer caregivers and family members of cancer patients. Many people find these groups to be hugely beneficial, as other members share similar emotions and experiences that the caregiver’s friends may not be able to relate to. If the grieving process is overwhelming, you may consider seeking counseling.
  • Take Care of Yourself: In addition to your responsibilities to the cancer patient for whom you care, you also have an obligation to take care of yourself. Make sure you get enough sleep and exercise, eat a nutritious diet, and don’t try to avoid your grief by turning to drugs or alcohol.
  • Be Prepared: Certain times of year, such as holidays and birthdays, can be especially difficult for cancer caregivers or grieving loved ones. Know that these events may be problematic and be sure you have the proper support system in place.
  • Move On: Remember that you are a whole person with needs of your own. It’s not wrong to take a few moments for yourself. Keep up with your friends and make time to do the things you love.

Each person experienced grief differently, and there will always be good days and bad days. It’s important to know the signs of grief so that you can properly deal with the emotions you are feeling. If you feel your grief is lasting too long or inhibiting your life too much, it may be time to seek help from a professional.