Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital

Experience of Grief

Cancer Diagnosis: The Experience of Grief

What are the symptoms of grief?

For both the person facing death and survivors after the death of a loved one, it is natural to experience many symptoms of grief. These can include:


Physical symptomsEmotional symptomsSpiritual symptoms
  • Lack of energy; fatigue
  • Headaches and upset stomach
  • Excessive sleeping or, conversely, overworking and excessive activity
  • Memory lapses, distraction, and preoccupation
  • Irritability
  • Depression and, conversely, feelings of euphoria
  • Extreme anger or, conversely, feelings of being resigned to the situation
  • Feelings of being closer to God or, conversely, feelings of anger and outrage at God
  • Strengthening of faith or, conversely, questioning of faith

What are the different stages of grief?

Grieving is a normal response to a loss. The loss can include the loss of your normal daily routine, the impact of the diagnosis on other family members, and the financial impact of the diagnosis. The grieving process varies from person to person in terms of the order in which one deals with the stages of grief, as well as the time it takes to go through the stages of grief. The person with cancer, spouses, parents, siblings, and other family members will all experience grief. Grief is usually divided into five stages:

Discussing death

Most people need honest and accurate information regarding their illness, treatment plan, treatment options, and prognosis. People communicate their fears and concerns in many ways: crying, yelling, ignoring others, seeking information from others, and writing letters. These feelings of sadness, confusion, anger, and fear are all acceptable.

It is important to understand that each person and family is different. Given that different cultures have varying beliefs about death, there is no one single right way to discuss death. In general, an open communication style allows the dying person to express his or her fears and desires. This openness does not happen overnight. The ultimate goal in discussing death with a dying person is to optimize his or her comfort and alleviate any fears. If the person is not ready to discuss death, the most helpful step spouses, family, and caregivers can take is to wait until he or she is ready. Let the person know you are willing to talk to him or her whenever he or she is ready to do so. Forcing information will usually result in anger, distrust, and emotional distance from others. Waiting until someone is ready to handle the situation will allow for better communication.

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