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10 Tips for Dealing with Losing a Loved One to Cancer

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End-of-life care educator and grief worker

Published on:

Losing a loved one to cancer means that a lot of emotions and grief can bubble to the surface. If you’ve recently lost a family member or friend to cancer, it’s important to recognize that you aren’t alone — and it’s normal to have all kinds of different feelings.

Jump ahead to these sections: 

  1. Join an Online or In-Person Support Group
  2. Talk to a Close Friend
  3. Listen to Music That Reminds You of Your Loved One
  4. Go on a Weekend Grief Retreat
  5. Read Books About Others' Experiences with Grief
  6. Create Art, Keepsakes, or Another Physical Reminder
  7. Work with a Therapist or Grief Specialist
  8. Start a Journal (and Use It Every Day)
  9. Read, Reflect On, and Share Quotes
  10. Create a Memory Box

Take the time to tune into your emotional, mental, and physical needs during this time. Allow yourself the time and space to process the loss. Here are some ways you can cope after a loved one’s death.

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1. Join an Online or In-Person Support Group 

Do you feel isolated in your grief? If so, you might consider attending a grief support group. These are often hosted by local funeral homes, hospices, and hospitals. A facilitator will welcome you to the group and invite you to share as little or as much as you want. You will have the opportunity to share your story and memories of your loved one.

The group facilitator often provides tools to help you work through your loss. Remember, grief doesn't have a timeline and you are welcome to attend many group sessions as you want. 

2. Talk to a Close Friend 

Surround yourself with a group of friends you can call at any time to share your grief. These friends will become your support system and it's okay to lean on them when you feel sad. Ask your friends to be an unconditional listening ear and let yourself be open and honest.

Processing grief can be hard to handle on your own and talking to a close friend can help you get through the difficult moments. It's okay to be vulnerable and let your friends know that you need their love and support. 

3. Listen to Music That Reminds You of Your Loved One

Music has the power to bring out emotions and it can also help heal the ache in your heart. If you enjoy listening to music, consider creating a playlist of songs. Take the time to let the words and music move through you. Check out this list of songs about death that can help you process your grief. 

You can also choose some instrumental tracks. The sounds of the different instruments can help soothe your pain and bring some moments of calm. 

4. Go on a Weekend Grief Retreat 

Caring for someone with cancer can take a lot out of you. You’re likely due for some self-care time if you cared for your loved one — even if you only cared for your loved one for a short time.

Why not attend a grief retreat or go on a small trip or weekend getaway? Allow yourself to take dedicated time to be with your grief. Get lots of rest, eat nourishing food, and let yourself decompress from your role as caregiver. It’s your time to nurture and care for yourself. 

5. Read Books About Others' Experiences with Grief

Reading books about grief can offer helpful insight into the grief process. You can find non-fiction books that can help you learn about the psychology and stages of grief. There are also memoirs and articles written by people who have gone through a similar loss.

You can read grief books at your own pace and whenever you need encouragement. Grab a cup of tea, find a quiet space, and let the words comfort your heart. You can close the book at any time if the emotions become overwhelming. Go easy on yourself during this difficult time. 

6. Create Art, Keepsakes, or Another Physical Reminder

There's an old saying, "When I got busy, I got better." If you are feeling up for working on a project, this could be a good time. Channel your grief and sorrow into a meaningful project. This might be crocheting, a photo collage, a piece of art, writing, or any other project that calls you. When grief is present, you might feel vulnerable and isolated. Making art is a great way to channel the energy you are feeling into something tangible. The physical release of creating something can be very productive during grief. 

7. Work with a Therapist or Grief Specialist 

The grief journey is personal, but you don't have to walk through it alone. A therapist or grief specialist is a wonderful resource to help you cope. Either type of specialist can act as a sounding board for your thoughts and help guide you on your path. Grief specialists will provide you with tools and tips on how to transform your grief. It's important to research therapists and grief specialists before you select one.

Make sure the specialist you choose has the educational background and knowledge you’re looking for. Also — it’s okay to see more than one specialist. Trust your intuition and make sure you feel safe with the professional you select. 

8. Start a Journal (and Use It Every Day)

Writing in a journal each day can help you express your grief and release emotions. You may decide to journal first thing in the morning or the evening. Let your stream of consciousness flow and write down anything that comes to your mind or heart.

It doesn't have to make sense and you don't need to overanalyze what you write. Journaling is a great way to release thoughts that are floating around in your mind. Take the time to express your grief in words. If words escape you, draw a picture of your grief instead. This type of exercise is a tangible way to track how your grief can transform over time. 

9. Read, Reflect On, and Share Quotes

You can find quotes on grief that resonate with you and post them in your home or write them down in a journal. They might resonate with you because they’re from people who have walked a similar path.

Here are some quotes that might speak to you:

  • “Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.” —  Vicki Harrison
  • "There is a sacredness in tears… They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition and of unspeakable love." — Washington Irving
  • "So it’s true, when all is said and done, grief is the price we pay for love.” — E.A. Bucchianeri 
  • “Grief expressed out loud, whether in or out of character, unchoreographed and honest, for someone we have lost, or a country or home we have lost, is in itself the greatest praise we could ever give them. Grief is praise because it is the natural way love honors what it misses.” — Martín Prechtel
  • "Life is full of grief, to exactly the degree we allow ourselves to love other people." — Orson Scott Card
  • “The risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief – But the pain of grief is only a shadow when compared with the pain of never risking love.” — Hilary Stanton Zunin
  • “You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly — that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” — Anne Lamott

You can also check out our selection of legacy quotes, rest in peace quotes, and quotes for the death of a friend.

10. Create a Memory Box 

A memory box is a special way to honor your loved one after he or she dies. It can be a shoebox you decorate or a box covered in fabric. You can fill the box with keepsakes of your loved, their pictures, sympathy cards and anything else that reminds you of him or her. Store this box somewhere in your home where you can access it at any time.

Take time to sit and reflect on your grief when the box is open. Let the waves of emotion wash over you and trust that you will be okay. This memory box can become the external form of your infinite connection to your loved one. 

Life Can Be Good Again 

You have gone through a heartbreaking loss and it will take time to recover. Your life won't ever be the same, but it can be good again. Be patient with yourself and make space for the grief in all the ways it will manifest. Have compassion for yourself and don't try to rush your healing process. 

Grief may feel overwhelming at times, but remember other people have lived through it. It is possible to transform your loss and learn about yourself in the process. 

Welcome it all and trust that you will make it through this challenging time. Life will be different without your loved one and it's okay to let it be. Your grief is your proof that you have loved someone through cancer and beyond.