Talking about grief

'Talking about grief' written in white writing over a photo of a blue sky with white clouds taken by David.

Photo by David

Today we are back with our 5th instalment of our Bereavement series. The aim of this series is to try to shine a light on important issues facing those who have lost a loved one to cancer, and remind everyone that the Community is a safe space where we welcome any conversations about grief and bereavement.

But why is it important to talk about grief and how we are coping after the death of a loved one? And do we all need to be more open about what we go through when we are grieving? 

Today we will explore this further and look at the different ways of accessing support. 

Why is it hard to talk?

Talking about grief can be really difficult, it can be hard for both those who are grieving, and those who are supporting them.

For those who are grieving, you may worry that you will get very upset when talking about your grief and not be able to communicate how you are feeling with your family and friends. At other times however, you may find you can share stories about the person who has passed away and smile at happy memories. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, and talking about how you are feeling can help.

‘But I don’t want to say the wrong thing…’

Talking about grief can also be hard if you are supporting someone who is grieving. Sometimes we worry so much about saying the wrong thing, that we end up saying nothing at all. This can mean that people who are grieving don’t have the time and space they need to talk about what they are going through.

It is understandable to sometimes feel worried about saying the wrong thing. You may worry about upsetting a friend or family member at an already difficult time. However, the most important thing is to make sure the person you are speaking to knows you are there for them, and that they know they are not alone.

It can also help to know that you don’t have to give answers or solutions. Just listening is often very helpful.

Cruse bereavement care (a charity which provides support to anyone who has been bereaved) has support and guidance on their website about ‘What to say when someone is first bereaved’.

How can talking help?

Everyone is different and so is their grieving process. This means that the support everyone needs after a loss will be different too. Some people will find it helpful to talk, others may prefer more time to reflect. It’s important to know what support is out there however, so that you can call on it if or whenever you may need it. 

  • Talking to family and friends

    Talking to those you are close to about your grief can be helpful. Sometimes it can be easier to talk to those we are most comfortable around. They may also know the person who has passed away, and it might feel easier to talk about shared memories or shared grief together. Whether you are talking little and often, or having longer conversations about how you are feeling, it can help to tell your family and friends if you are open to talking about your grief, and let them know you are comfortable for them to ask you how you are feeling.

    • Talking to someone you don’t know

    While talking to family and friends about your grief can be helpful, there may be times when you feel it would be easier to talk to someone who you don’t know. It can sometimes feel hard to talk about your own feelings if your family and friends are also grieving. There may also be things you would prefer not to share with them about how you are feeling. There are lots of different ways you can talk to someone confidentially. 

    Here at Macmillan we have a Support Line that is open 7 days a week 8am-8pm. Our Cancer Information and Support team are here to provide emotional support – even if all you need is a listening ear. That number is 0808 808 00 00. Or, you can connect with an advisor via webchat during these hours by clicking here and selecting ‘General Info & support’ from the dropdown menu.

    Cruse Bereavement Care also has a helpline that is open 7 days a week. The helpline is staffed by trained bereavement volunteers.

    That number is 0808 808 1677 and their opening hours are below: Monday and Friday: 9.30am-5pm Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday: 9.30am-8pm Saturday and Sunday: 10am -2pm

    They also have a live webchat available Monday – Friday 9am-9pm. Click here to read more.

    • Talking to a professional

    Though talking over how your feeling can be helpful, it’s important to speak to your GP if you feel you are not coping with your grief.

    Your GP is here to help you find the right support for you. They may refer you to a counsellor, therapist or another mental health professional who can help. Your GP is there to support your mental health as well as your physical health. 

    • Talking to those who are also grieving

    After a bereavement it can be common to feel isolated and cut off from the world. Losing a loved one can bring up a whole range of emotions. Sometimes you may feel angry, afraid, guilty, relieved, sad and numb and it can be easy to think you may be the only one going through these difficult emotions. Talking about these feelings with others who are also grieving can help you to understand that you are not alone, and that there is no wrong or right way to feel while you are grieving. 

    The Community is a place of peer support, and here on the site you can connect with our members 24/7 in our two dedicated bereavement groups, Bereaved family and friends’ and ‘Bereaved spouses and partners’.

    As one member simply, but powerfully, puts it:

    “That’s what makes this group so valuable- others just get it.”
    Kenickiesmum, Bereaved spouses and partners. 

    To finish our blog today, one of our Community Champions, DaveyBo, is back to share his experiences of coping with bereavement and why he feels we all need to talk more about grief.

    “We all know that at some point we are going to pass out of this world. We know this will happen to us as individuals, but also to every living thing. Despite this, it is always extremely hard to deal with the loss of someone. The closer they were, the harder the loss can be. We all grieve at different speeds and in different ways, but the pain is the same for all.

    “We all grieve at different speeds and in different ways, but the pain is the same for all.”

    Death and bereavement have always been a taboo subject. Many people do not like discussing it.

    Strangely, a huge number of people love watching, or reading murder mysteries whether they are fact or fiction. Why do we get such a buzz from this, but struggle to talk about our own grief, or to someone who has been bereaved?

    “Why do we get such a buzz from this, but struggle to talk about our own grief or to someone else who has been bereaved?”

    There are also lots of adverts on TV about funerals. This shows how people can talk about death, but it is still not an open subject. Many people are scared that they will have emotional breakdowns in public or say the wrong thing to someone causing them to get upset. This would often happen to me.

    “For some reason I would find myself in aisle 8 holding something with watery eyes”

    I could have a list of items for the supermarket for aisles 3, 4, 6, and 9. For some reason I would find myself in aisle 8 holding something and, with watery eyes, mutter, “He used to love this”. Not sure what made me go down the aisle and pick this up – autopilot, or help from my dad to get through my grief?

    I would also have the same issue when watching things on TV, or visiting places he loved. Being alone with no family makes it harder, as I have had to battle through everything virtually alone. I did end up having bereavement support from my local Macmillan team, which helped so much and got me started on my volunteering path.

    Sometimes it can be embarrassing to express emotions in public. However, it is mostly okay because we all go through it at some point, and it is much better to shed emotions than to hide them. It is even harder for men because we have to have this “macho cave man” persona and not let anything affect us – we are just as human and hurt just as much. Men need to learn that it is okay to show emotions, regardless of the situation, because it shows you are capable of facing up to your feelings and not hiding them away.

    “We all go through it at some point, and it is much better to shed emotions than to hide them”

    When my father passed, he was taken from the hospital to a local undertaker. It was going to be one week until the funeral and I got into the habit of going to the undertakers and going into the chapel of rest to see him and talk for about 30 minutes every day. The lid was off the coffin and I was a bit scared in case the body moved due to escaping gasses. One of the staff was nearby in case I needed help and sometimes would have a nice chat with them before heading home. I also kissed my dad on the forehead before leaving, the cold feeling is totally unlike the cold feeling of ice, but I was happy that he looked so peaceful.

    “I got in the habit of going into the chapel of rest to see him and talk”

    In the past, in some cultures, people would have their loved ones in an open coffin in their house for any family member or friend to come and pay their last respects. When funerals took place people would usually stop as the cortege passed, bow their heads and men would remove their hat. Black was worn by those grieving for a year. Today, very few people follow any of these customs - is this because we have lost touch with how to express our emotions, especially in public?"

    I want to thank David for taking the time to share his thoughts and experiences with us today. Talking about grief can be difficult, but it’s important to always remember that there is help and support out there. If you want to find more about accessing the right support for you, our advisors are here for you 7 days a week 8am-8pm on 0808 808 00 00, or via webchat.

    You might also find it useful to read the other blogs in our Bereavement series so far:

    The visit – coping with bereavement
    Bereavement in the media – coping with grief
    Coping with anniversaries – Bereavement support
    Looking after you – coping with a recent bereavement

     

    Anonymous
    • I have just joined the group, so here is a little about my experience. I lost my husband in Jan this year to lung cancer with bone mets. The time he was diagnosed to his death was 3 months and his decline was rapid. I was so busy trying to help him that I didn`t really have time to come to terms with any of it, although we knew it was to be palliative care only and he spent his last 2 weeks in a hospice, where me and our daughter were able to see him every day. We were with him when he died at 6.30 am 13th Jan. Since then, I have coped reasonably well, in as much as I have kept the home and garden going etc. We were married for 6 weeks short of 52 years and he was 71yrs and 7mnths old. As the time goes on, I am finding that I am missing him more and more and find myself in tears everyday for one reason or another. I live on my own with 4 cats, an aquarium and pondfish, so have plenty to do, but even though I see the children and grandchildren, still feel very alone.

    • Hi Mnemosine,

      Thank you for sharing your experience and I hope you have found the blog helpful. I am really sorry to hear about what has brought you to our site. I would like to let you know we have reached out to you personally for some additional support.

      Kind Regards,

      Syed

    • Hello, not sure if in the right place, but feel like everything is coming to peak! In March 2018 I found out a friend had died via fb of all things a few months later my younger brother David had his 4th stroke aged 51.  It robbed him of his left side apart from his leg which he could just about move.  He was in the stroke unit in hasrings for about a month then home to his partner - it was a terrible struggle for them both and by xmas 2018 she put David into a local care home which was devastating to him In June 2019 we found out that my grandchildrens other Nanny Val had a brain tumour after she fell over a few times, it was all very quick, then at the same time after several hospital admissions we found out my Mums breast Cancer had returned.  Val died in October and the same day an auntie died.  We brought xmas forward for my Mum and gave her dinner and xmas cake and presents on 7th December, on Friday 13th Dec we found out it had metastasized.  Dad and I took her in the wheelchair to a garden centre to show ger the decorations.  I dont know why, but I took some photos of her and in the last one she waved.  Mum died on 17th Dec 2019 and her funeral was Jan 15th 2020 just before lockdown.  In June 2020 David was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer after he hadnt eaten since march. David died in my arms on Nov 20th and his funeral was on 17th Dec, exactly a year after our Mum died.  I have up until now been strong, for my dad and my niece and daughter who were also there when he died.  I do take comfort in the fact that i held him when he was born, and held him when he died.  However this week I have had some problems getting new flooring sorted and struggled trying to lay some, then all of a sudden, I totally lost it and smashed the brand new laminate flooring with a hammer and not just once, i then ripped all the underlay to bits and sat there sobbing.  I sometimes hear a song, and it reminds me of David.  I havent really grieved for Mum, because of visiting and helping David... i have watched his funeral again 2 weeks ago which didnt help.  Im sorry if this is long, but I and my daughter have just been back to St Christophers where he died to hang a ribbon on their ribbon tree and when I saw his name I burst into tears...  he died a very slow awful death, they were amazing to us, but it still hurts to know that ny other half has died...

    • Hi Traceyanntanfan,

      It’s Megan here from Macmillan’s Online Community team, I’m so sorry to hear about the loss you've experienced in your family and how you’ve been feeling recently. It can take some time to process grief and there is support available to help you do this.

      I hope that you’ve found the above blog helpful and from reading your comment it sounds like you might be looking to speak with others who are experiencing something similar. You may find joining the Bereaved Family and friends forum helpful as there are members sharing their personal experiences and supporting each other.

      Here on the Community, we see every day how helpful it can be to speak to others in a similar situation and you’re welcome to post as much as you feel comfortable with. If you’re looking for specialist support, you’re welcome to post in the Ask an Expert section where the specialist teams are on hand to offer emotional, practical, and financial support.

      If you’d prefer to talk to them on the Support Line you can do so every day from 8am-8pm. The number to call is 0808 808 00 00 or you can use live webchat and send an email during the opening hours.

      As mentioned in the blog above, Cruse Bereavement Care also has a helpline that is open 7 days a week. The helpline is staffed by trained bereavement volunteers. To speak to someone on the phone you can call 0808 808 1677 and you can also use their live webchat service from Monday – Friday 9am-9pm.

      I hope that the above makes sense but if you have any questions, or ever need any support, please don’t hesitate to get back in touch. You can email us directly to Community@macmillan.org.uk or send a private message to the Moderator account.

      Best wishes,

      Megan
      Macmillan’s Online Community Team