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Seeking Help and Support for Grief and Loss

Working through grief can be hard, but there are things that can help. This includes some steps you can take on your own and others that will need support from other people.

Coping with grief and loss

If you have lost a loved one, the following tips might be helpful :

  • Let yourself feel the pain, sadness and other emotions. Let yourself cry or express your feelings in other ways.  
  • Find ways to express your emotions. You might want to share your feelings with people you trust.  Or you could keep a journal to help express and work through your emotions. Some people find they can best express how they’re feeling through art or music. Find a way that works for you.
  • Be patient. Let yourself heal in your own way and time. Know that it can take months to years to cope with a major loss and accept your changed life.
  • Don’t compare your grief to others. Each person has their unique way of grieving.  
  • Forgive yourself for all the things you did or didn’t say or do. Forgiving yourself and others can help you heal.
  • Try to keep your life as normal as much as possible. For most people, it is best to not make any major life changes (for example, moving, changing jobs, changing important relationships) during the first year after you lose someone.
  • Find ways to distract yourself, like going to a movie, dinner, or a ball game; reading a good book; listening to music; or getting a massage or manicure.
  • Take care of yourself. Try to eat well, exercise and get enough sleep. Walking, swimming, dancing, yoga, or other activities that you enjoy can help you feel stronger and more relaxed. And allow yourself to do things you find relaxing, like hot baths, naps, and reading a good book.
  • Avoid drinking too much alcohol or using other drugs. This might dull your emotions so that you take longer to go through the grieving process. Using these substances might also increase the risk for unresolved grief and other problems.
  • Prepare for holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries knowing that strong feelings might come back. Decide if you want to keep certain traditions or create new ones. Plan what you want to do and who you want to be with during these times. Do something to honor the memory of your loved one.

Getting support

Family members, friends, support groups, community organizations, or mental health professionals (therapists or counselors) all might be able to help as you resolve your grief.

Talk with them about your loss, your memories, and your experience of the life and death of your loved one. Don’t think you are protecting your family and friends by not expressing your sadness. Ask others for what you need.

Join a bereavement support group.

Being with other people who have lost a loved one can help you feel less alone.  They can offer practical advice and information. Many hospices, hospitals, and community organizations have these types of support groups.  If you can’t find a group near you, online groups may be helpful.

Bereavement counseling

Bereavement or grief counseling helps people cope with the loss of a loved one. It gives people a safe place to get in touch with, share and work to accept and resolve the emotions that can come with grief.  This counseling can also help people learn how to live their lives without their loved one.

Bereavement care is offered through hospices for up to 13 months. If your loved one wasn’t in hospice, check with your cancer care or palliative care provider for help.

Family changes after a loss

When a loved one dies, it affects all their family members and loved ones. Each family finds its own ways of coping with death. A family’s reactions are affected by their cultural and spiritual values as well as by the relationships among family members. It takes time for a bereaved family to recover.

Families need to grieve together as well as each member on their own to help the family cope. Each person will have different needs. Family members should try to be open and honest with each other. This is not the time for family members to hide their feelings to try and protect one another.

The loss of one person in a family means that roles in the family will change. Family members will need to talk about the effects of this change and how things will work going forward. This is a time to be even more gentle and patient with each other.

Losing a child

Losing a child may be the hardest thing a parent ever has to go through. People who have lost a child have stronger grief reactions. They often have more anger, guilt, physical symptoms, greater depression, and feel a loss of meaning and purpose in life. A loss is tragic at any age, but the sense of unfairness of a life unfulfilled can make the anger and rage parents feel even stronger.

A longer and slower grief process should be expected when someone loses a child. The grief may worsen with time as the parents see other children grow and do things their child never will.

Bereaved parents especially may be helped by a grief support group. These groups may be available in the local community. You can ask your child’s cancer care team for referral to counseling or local groups.

Helping someone who is grieving

Many people feel awkward when trying to comfort someone who is grieving. You may not know what to say or do. The following tips may be helpful.

What to say

  • Acknowledge the death. It’s okay to use the word “died.” Example: “I heard that your loved one died.” This shows that you are open to talk about how the person feels.
  • Share your sorrow. Example: “I’m sorry to hear that this happened to you.”
  • Don’t hide your feelings. Example: “I’m not sure what to say, but I want you to know I care.”
  • Offer your support. Example: “Tell me what I can do for you.”
  • Ask how they feel and listen to the answer. Encourage them to talk about their feelings and share memories of their loved one.
  • Don’t try to force them to talk. Not everyone is ready to share how they are feeling.
  • Don’t offer false comfort or minimize the loss. They need you to listen, not say things like “they’re no longer in pain” or “you’ll get over it in time”. Avoid telling the person “You’re so strong.” This puts pressure on them to hold in feelings and keep acting “strong.”

What to do

  • Just be with them. Even if you don’t know what to say, having someone near can be comforting.
  • Be patient. It can take a long time to recover from the loss of a loved one. Just be there in case they want to talk.
  • Offer to help with errands, babysitting, shopping, housework, cooking, driving, or yardwork. Sometimes people want help and sometimes they don’t. They may not take you up on your offer, but remember they’re not rejecting you. And don’t be afraid to offer again as time goes on.
  • Continue to offer support even after the first shock wears off. Recovery takes a long time.
  • It may help to check in with the bereaved on anniversaries of the death, marriage, and birthday of the deceased, since those can be very tough.

Watch for signs that the person needs professional help

If the grieving person begins to abuse alcohol or drugs, doesn’t take care of themselves, becomes ill, or talks about suicide, it may be a sign of complicated grief or depression. Talk to them about getting professional help.

If you believe someone is thinking about suicide, don’t leave them alone. Try to get the person to get help from their doctor or the nearest hospital emergency room right away. If that’s not possible, call 911. If you can safely do so, remove firearms and other tools for suicide.


The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

American Society of Clinical Oncology. Grief and Loss. Accessed at on November 15, 2023.

Hospice Foundation of America. What is Grief? Accessed at on November 20, 2023.

Mental Health America (MHA). Coping with loss: Bereavement and grief. Accessed at on November 14, 2023.

National Cancer Institute. Grief, bereavement, and coping with loss (PDQ®). Accessed  on November 14, 2023.

National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. Bereavement care. Accessed at on November 14, 2023.

Tofthagen CS, Kip K, Witt A, McMillan SC. Complicated grief: Risk factors, interventions, and resources for oncology nurses. Clin J Oncol Nurs. 2017; 21(3):331-337.

Last Revised: December 19, 2023

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