Cancer in the time of Covid: We are all grieving right now

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Cancer in the time of Covid: We are all grieving right now

Many of us are trying to deal with the deep and gut-wrenching grief that accompanies the death of friends and family members as a result of the COVID -19 virus, cancer, or any number of other illnesses.  The feelings of emptiness and sadness that settle into our hearts can feel unbearable at times.

Other, less obvious losses are also taking a toll on us.  We have spent a year dealing with isolation, loneliness, and uncertainty. We are grieving the loss of our pre-pandemic lifestyles. We are longing for people, routine, and life as it once was.  While there is hope on the horizon, uncertainty continues in the months ahead.  These are unprecedented times and whether it has occurred to us or not, make no mistake, we are grieving.

There are a lot of myths about grief and the grieving process.  The most common is that the experience follows a set pattern of stages and that we move sequentially from stage to stage and eventually reach a place of acceptance of our loss or losses. Unfortunately, grief is often not that clean and predictable but rather a messy up and down, back and forth wild ride of emotions… Sadness, anger, guilt, and fear are just some of the feelings that we experience and sometimes they can rise up when we least expect them.

Another misunderstanding about grief is that everyone experiences it in the same way.  Not so…grief is personal and how it affects us is different for each of us. Many different factors influence how we grieve including but not limited to our individual coping style, our support system, and our personality. The fact that we grieve in response to loss is natural and universal, but HOW we grieve is unique. There is no right or wrong way to grieve and there is no timeline.  Two people who have experienced the same loss may have different reactions in terms of the emotions they feel, the intensity of those emotions, and how long they last.

We must also deal with triggers that bring on intense feelings just when we were beginning to feel a little less vulnerable and emotional.  Common triggers are birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays, but triggers can be as simple and unexpected as hearing a song or seeing a painting or picture that taps into our feelings.

Moving through our grief

First and foremost…remind yourself that as overwhelming as you are feeling, it will get better.  Grief is a normal process and you will survive it. Be patient and gentle with yourself, and do not judge yourself as you move through your pain… Your feelings are valid!

Allow yourself to surrender to your feelings, allow the process to unfold.  -Avoiding stuffing or pushing your feelings away.  If you need to cry…do it! If you need to punch the pillows on the couch…do it!  We have a tendency to stop ourselves from fully experiencing our emotions, often because we are afraid we will dissolve into a puddle of tears on the floor or become a ranting and raving out of control person.  Trust your body to know what you need, when you need to release your feelings, AND to know when to pull you back from the intensity of your feelings.

Engage in activities that provide you with opportunities to “unplug” for a while.  Some people find that listening to music, doing an art project, reading a good book, doing jigsaw puzzles or journaling provides a distraction and gives them some desperately needed space and peace.

Identify and connect on a regular basis with the people who can be there for you to listen and quietly honor your tears, anger, etc.  You may find the people you thought you could turn to are actually not able to support your feelings, but rather, they want to “fix you”.  Most people have very good intentions but are not able to sit with your pain. Consider joining a support group or finding a counselor who you can talk to on a regular basis.  Allow yourself to let new people into your world.

Take extra good care of yourself …grieving is hard work and can be exhausting!  Pay attention to what you are eating and make an effort to eat healthy foods.  Getting enough sleep is also crucial to your recovery and you may need to be very intentional and strategic to be sure you are able to get the sleep you need.  Decide you are not going to watch the news before bedtime, join a mindfulness meditation class or load one of the sleep apps on your phone to help you relax and fall asleep.


Cancer Lifeline’s FREE Programs and Services for CANCER PATIENTS, SURVIVORS, and CAREGIVERS

may provide needed support as you move through your grief

  • Register to join on-line support groups: Nothing can compare to the feeling of being a part of a community of people who truly understand your experience and “get it.” Support groups (all cancers & cancer-specific) meet regularly and welcome new members! For dates and times go to www.cancerlifeline.org/support-groups/


  • Call the Lifeline or use the Lifeline chat: Need someone to listen and help you sort out your feelings? Call the Lifeline at (800) 255-5505 or (206) 297-2500 (Monday – Friday 9:00 am-5:00 pm PST). Lifeline chat (instant messaging service) is also available Monday – Friday, 9:00 am-5:00 pm and can be accessed through cancerlifeline.org simply by clicking the green “We are here to listen” button.


  • Access Cancer Lifeline’s Cancer Specific Psychotherapy and Family Support Programs: Visit www.cancerlifeline.org or contact Pamela Krueger at pkrueger@cancerlifeline.org or 206-832-1271.


  • Access Cancer Lifeline’s Therapist Referral Program: Receive names of therapists in the local community who have experience working with people affected by cancer.  Referrals and support in choosing a therapist are available for patients, survivors, family members, friends, and oncology professionals. Referrals are free.   For more information, please call the Lifeline at 206-297-2500 between the hours of 9 am-5 pm PST.


  • Register for Cancer Lifeline’s Artistic Expression, Nutrition, Exercise, and Stress Management Classes. To register, please visit cancerlifeline.org/classes/  or call the Lifeline: (800) 255-5505 or (206) 297-2500 (Monday – Friday 9:00 am-5:00pm PST)

Join others at presentations that provide solid information & ideas about ways to manage:

  • Mindfulness Practices for Stress Reduction-Feb 18th, 11:00 am-12:00 pm
  • Comforting Yourself in Stressful Times-Feb 20th, 10:00 am-11:00 am
  • Mindfulness and Grief Workshop-Feb 25th, 2:00-4:00 pm
  • Coping with Cancer: Tools for Managing Stress-March 10th, 12:30-1:30 pm
  • Mindfulness to Support Mind, Body & Spirit-March 13th, 10:00-11:30 am
  • The Importance of Self Compassion– Apr 8th, 6:30-7:30 pm
  • Meditation & Sleep Resilience– Apr 10th, 10:00-11:30 am
  • Coping with Cancer: Tools for Dealing with Loss– Apr 14th, 12:30-1:30 pm
  • COVID-19 & Cancer: Managing Isolation -April 28th, 11:00 am-12:00 pm


To register, please visit www.cancerlifeline.org/classes/  or call the Lifeline:

(800) 255-5505 or (206) 297-2500 (Monday – Friday 9:00 am-5:00pm PST


Collage art by Suzanne Baiie, “I think about my heart”