Bereavement in the media - coping with grief

'Bereavement and the media' written in white over a photo of a lighthouse and the sea taken by David.

Today we are back with the third instalment of our series on coping with bereavement. This series aims to start conversations about grief and loss and provide reassurance that there is support out there if you have lost a loved one to cancer.

Today we wanted to spend some time thinking about bereavement and the media and the effect it can have on those who are grieving. Whether you are watching your favourite television program, listening to the news on the radio, or scrolling through social media, today we are going to explore how the topic of death can sometimes feel like a trigger for those who are grieving, and how to navigate your relationship with the world on your screen or over the radio.

We are also welcoming back our Community Champion DaveyBo today who helps support members in our bereavement groups on the site. David is here with some more of his thoughts on this subject and supportive words on coping with bereavement.

Firstly, let’s talk about the news

This past year and a half has been difficult in so many ways, and many of us have tuned into the news and social media more than ever before.

For some people, watching the news is an important way to keep up to date with the world around them. It may be a key part of your daily routine to watch or listen to the news, or to go on social media. For some people who are grieving however, it can be upsetting to hear discussions of death and illness or hear stories of people passing away. If you are feeling this way, it can sometimes be good to take a break from listening to the news or going on social media.

Below is some advice from Cruse bereavement Care's website about taking a break from the news. It’s from their page called Coronavirus: coping with talk of death and dying’.

Advice from Cruse bereavement Care:
‘It can help to take regular breaks from the news and social media. You may want to limit yourself to a few trusted news sources and check only at certain times of the day. You may also like to take regular breaks from social media.

Make a pact with your family – or with yourself – that you will obtain news at certain, limited points of the day instead of watching repeated and stressful information all day long.’

Television as a distraction and a source of comfort:

Television can also be a very welcome distraction and a way of relaxing during stressful times. Some people may find it difficult to watch programs that they used to enjoy with someone who has passed away. For others, it can be a way of connecting with their loved ones and thinking about them.

I don't watch programmes I used to enjoy watching with my husband either. In fact, I don't watch much TV nowadays anyway.”
Dustie, Bereaved spouses and partners group

“I’ve just been watching Line of Duty, we used to watch it together and I am able to watch it on my own imagining what Pete would say about it. It gives me something to talk about to others as everyone seems to watch it!”
Sausagedog1, Bereaved spouses and partners group

The most important thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong way to feel. On some days you may feel like watching a television show that you enjoyed with your loved one as a way of seeking comfort. On other days, it may feel too difficult.

Try to listen to your feelings in a non-judgemental way and do what feels right for you in the moment. As always, you can share how you are feeling in our Community Cancer forum 24/7 and receive support from others who may be in the same situation.  

Below, Community member Jonta explains how important simply sharing how you are feeling can be.

“Once again one person shares their thoughts and sadness about what some people may think isn’t an important topic like watching TV, but for me and all of you lovely souls that have commented on this thread, this really is a very important thing to us.”
Jonta, Bereaved spouses and partners group

Television can be a relaxing part of your everyday routine

When you are grieving, it can be helpful to try to create a gentle daily routine. In vol 1 of our bereavement series, we talk about how routine can be a helpful way of structuring your day so that you are looking after yourself. As part of this routine, it’s important that you set aside some time to relax and rest.

This could include some activities that can provide you with distraction. For example, watching old films and television series. Television and films can provide us with a dedicated time to relax and get lost in a plot or narrative. Watching programs that bring you comfort can be a very good way of relaxing and taking some time for yourself.

Coping with difficult topics on television

It can also be hard to know how to cope when the topic of death or bereavement appears when you are watching television, especially if you weren’t expecting it to come up. If you are having a difficult day, you may want to choose to watch a program or film you have seen before so that you know the topic of death or bereavement won’t appear. If you feel it would be better for you to have the distraction of watching something new however, there are lots of ways you can seek support if you suddenly feel upset when watching television.

Some people may even find it helpful to watch shows that are about bereavement or grief. One Community member, Geoff999, below describes how they felt when watching a program where the main character was coping with a recent bereavement:

“His every thought and behaviour matched all that I have, and still am, experiencing. I freely admit I sobbed my heart out whilst watching and at one stage thought that it wasn't healthy for me to continue. But I pressed on. It’s amazing how much locked up grief I shed. I reviewed memories that I realise now I had unconsciously put away as being too painful to remember. Today I feel much lighter for the experience. I’m not saying it’s tackled my grief as I can’t see that ever going away because I was with my soulmate Anne for 50yrs and loved her beyond comprehension.”
Geoff999, bereaved spouses and partners group

How to cope if you find you are upset by what you have seen

  • Pause - Sounds very simple, but one thing you can do in that moment is to pause the program and take some slow deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Sometimes taking this moment to pause can help you to focus and understand how you are feeling.

  • Talk it over - If talking helps, you can pick up the phone and talk through how you are feeling with our Information and support advisors over the phone.
    That number is 0808 808 00 00 and our support teams are here for you 8am-8pm 7 days a week - even if you only need a listening ear. If you would prefer, you can also live chat to our teams via our webchat facility by clicking here and selecting ‘General info & support’ from the dropdown menu.

  • Talk to your Community - Post on the Community about how you are feeling to speak and others for peer support. We have dedicated groups where those who have lost a loved one to cancer can come together to support each other. Our ‘Bereaved family and friends group as well as our Bereaved spouses and partners’ group are safe spaces where you can post about anything you may be feeling.

  • Write it down – Taking a moment to write down how you are feeling can be really helpful. You could use the below template to help you put down your feelings onto paper from our Macmillan booklet When someone dies – coping with bereavement’.

Image of three columns with the headings: How I'm feeling today, what makes this feeling worse, what makes this feeling better.

  • Get some guidance from a bereavement counsellor – sometimes we all need guidance from a specialist, and at AtaLoss, (a website dedicated to providing information on bereavement support) you can live chat with a trained bereavement counsellor Monday – Friday 9am-9pm. Click here for more information about their grief chat facility

How we see grief in television and film:

We wanted to end today with some words from our Community Champion David about how people who are grieving are sometimes shown in the media. When you have lost a loved one, some people may think there is a certain expectation to act or feel a certain way. Of course, there is no wrong or right way to grieve, an everyone is different. However, sometimes seeing how a grieving person is shown to be acting in a television show or film can bring up difficult feelings.

Even though we know that the television show is fictional, it can be easy to put pressure on ourselves to be feeling a certain way. This added pressure can be difficult, and it’s important to remember that everyone reacts differently when they have lost a loved one. However you are feeling, finding the right support for you is the most important thing.

David’s thoughts:

‘Death is often portrayed in many different ways in dramas, soaps and films.  It needs to be remembered that much of this dramatized and shortened to have more effect and fit everything into the time allowed.  Sometimes they show families arguing before, during and after funerals and sadly this does happen.  However, there are also times when it is dealt with very emotionally and sensitively which are the saddest to watch.’
David, Community Champion 

We want to thank David for sharing his thoughts as well as his wonderful photography today. David is one of our Community Champions. Community Champions are volunteers that dedicate their time to supporting our Community members. David provides support in our Bereaved family and friends’ as well as our ‘Bereaved spouses and partners’ groups. Our discussion groups are here for you at this time, you can post in our groups 24/7 for peer support.  

If you have lost a loved one to cancer, the Community and Macmillan are here for you. Below are some more resources that you might find useful at this time. Remember you can also contact the Community team for support by emailing

- ‘Bereaved spouses and partners’ group
'Bereaved family and friends’ group
Macmillan Support Line
After someone dies – coping with bereavement
Cruse bereavement care

You may also find it useful to read the other two blogs in our bereavement series so far:

Coping with anniversaries – Bereavement support
Looking after you – coping with a recent bereavement