Bereavement support

When someone you know and care about dies from cancer, it can feel a huge loss, affecting you physically and emotionally.

The information on this page will help you to find out more about grief and bereavement, ways to help you cope practically and emotionally and how Maggie's can help.

Bereavement and grief – what's the difference?


Grief is the intense mix of emotions, feelings and physical effects you may feel following the loss of someone deeply significant in your life.


Bereavement is the period during which you grieve, or a state of intense grief.

It’s a time of sorrow and yearning, missing the person you cared about and their place in your life.

It can be thought of as passing through several tasks or stages:

  • Accepting the reality of your loss
  • Experiencing the physical and emotional effects of grief
  • Adjusting to life without the person you’ve lost
  • Re-connecting with happier memories of the person who has died
  • Starting to re-invest in life and relationships.

Colton's story

Colton shares how speaking to a Maggie's psychologist helped him and his daughter cope with their grief when his wife died.

How grief feels

No two people grieve in the same way. The unique relationship you have had with the person who has died was known and felt by only you two.

The pattern of grief you experience will be made up of many things: your relationship with the person, any previous losses you may have experienced, your own personality and background. 

There’s not really a right or wrong way to grieve. You may find that you are:

  • Feeling numb at first, or that things feel a little surreal 
  • On ‘automatic pilot’, managing life normally 
  • Feeling relief mixed in with the sadness, initially, particularly if the person you cared about was very weak and ill before they died
  • Overwhelmed with grief from the beginning
  • Agitated and on edge, although this often settles to a feeling of sadness and calm over time.

Grief seems to hit us in waves. You may feel sad, anxious, angry, guilty, yearning and an ache inside which feels physical. 

Other physical effects can include crying, loss of appetite, poor sleep, aches and pains, tiredness, and loss of concentration.

There may be triggers for an intensity of grief feelings – seeing an old friend, a birthday or anniversary, familiar scents or sounds that remind you of your loss.

There seems to be no particular period of time for bereavement to be less painful. 

Some experts suggest 18 months to two years as the time when grief begins to ease, and become less intrusive but everyone’s grief is different.

Ways to help manage grief and bereavement

If you, or someone you care about is grieving, it can be hard to know what to do to get through this normal, yet intensely emotional time.

There's no quick or easy way through grief, but the following tips may help on the difficult days:

  • Remember to eat and drink, wash and try to get some sleep if you can. It sounds a bit prescriptive, but you need to look after yourself
  • Be aware that you may not be concentrating so well, so pay extra attention driving, watch your health and safety, and try not to resort too heavily on coping strategies involving drugs and alcohol
  • Don’t ignore your own health needs. Many bereaved people seem more at risk of infections, and stress-related illnesses
  • Getting out in the fresh air, and having some exercise can help clear the cobwebs, tire you out for the right reasons, and help reduce the sense of isolation
  • Tending something living – nurturing something, a pet, the family, the garden, can give a sense of purpose and satisfaction.
  • Find some tranquillity – your concentration powers may be shortened at present – but finding a way to switch off can help – by perhaps lighting a candle, listening to music, reading, relaxation CDs, a relaxing bath. Our centres offer workshops, groups and relaxation sessions which help relieve stress
  • Learning to say ‘yes’ to invitations – (trips out, a meal, etc) can help, even if your heart isn’t in it. However, learning to say ‘no’ is important too – you won’t always have the energy to do everything.
  • Support groups, both online and face to face can be helpful. Sometimes in the first few weeks, it’s more about simply getting through. However, after a few weeks you may feel you could do with some additional support
  • Anniversaries of key events can be particularly hard - significant birthdays, the anniversary of your loss, for example. You may find a return of your grief and sadness around these days. Plan ahead how you might spend the day, perhaps take the day off work, or spend the time with family
  • Not everyone will need or want counselling, but if the grieving is feeling overwhelming, then talking to family and friends, your GP, local bereavement groups, the hospice, local church, etc can help. Dropping into your nearest Maggie’s centre is another place to talk
  • If you’re working, and you need time out – talk with your employers. Even further on in bereavement there may be days when grief has a re-surge, and you may need some leave to rest and recover
  • Keeping a journal, or writing in some other form, can be a way of putting the emotions, memories and feelings on a page – releasing the build-up of stress, hurt and longing. Ask about our creative writing groups at your nearest Maggie's.

When to seek further help

Whilst grief is normal, it's sometimes beyond anything we’ve felt before, and that can feel scary. 

Sometimes you may need further support. For instance, if you're feeling:

  • ‘Stuck’ in your grief – finding you’re constantly re-living the bereavement itself, and guilt and anger carry on for months after the loss, or the sadness is too much to bear on your own 
  • Worthless, or that you can’t live without the person you’ve lost, and have suicidal thoughts - do talk to your doctor as soon as possible. The thoughts can be scary, but help is available. 

You may not be aware that you’re not coping, but if your family and friends tell you they’re concerned for you then do look for support.

Talking to a professional can help. This could be through your GP, your nearest Maggie's centreCruse Bereavement Care, your place of worship, or perhaps locally at a hospice.

How Maggie's can help

We're here, in our centres, on the phone and by email to talk about the challenges you're experiencing and for support and advice.

It might simply be a ‘listening ear’ or a one-to-one talk with one of our team.

We can also help you find a support group and recognise if you need further professional help.

Find your nearest Maggie's for contact details.

Last review: Apr 2022 | Next review: Sep 2023

Get cancer support near you

To find your nearest Maggie's centre, enter your postcode or town below.

Sign up for our newsletter

Stay up to date with our news and fundraising by signing up for our newsletter.

Sign up