Life after loss

Moving on in a positive way after losing your loved one from cancer may be difficult, but it is possible.

  1. A period of readjustment
  2. Small steps forward
  3. Reidentifying your identity
  4. A changed path
  5. Moving past the negativity

Estimated read-time: 8 minutes

A period of readjustment

After suffering the death of a loved one from cancer, you will enter into a period of readjustment as you learn how to live your life after loss.

It may not feel like it now, but you will recover… you will, one day.

After the intense grieving passes, weeks, months or even years down the line you will then face a new challenge; moving on with your life as you now know it but without your loved one.

Following the shock of a traumatic event such as a bereavement, most people will in time regain the balance in their mental health and return to the level of personal optimism experienced before.

This is a moment of mixed feeling; you are happy to be distancing yourself from the trauma, yet at the same time saddened that this new life moves you even further away from the old life you had with the person you lost.

Confused after a cancer death

Eventually there will come a time when you feel comfortable enough to move into a new phase of your life.

Adjusting your sails and facing a new direction does not mean that you no longer love that person. It means that although cancer took their life, you won’t let it take yours.

From now on, you can now write the script that they cannot. In their fight against cancer, they had no choice but to lose. But this does not mean that you need to lose the quality of your life.

You need to find strength and confidence to go on. It will take determination and focus, but you will find ways to deal with the loss.

So, how can you move on after a death from cancer?

  • Acknowledge that it is time to move on, but not forget the life you had together.
  • Defy the heart-stopping grief by remembering the good times again.
  • Seek help for the depression you can’t shake and work on controlling the anxiety which has redefined your life.
  • Find a positive outlet for your grief; charity work, a project, a challenge etc.
  • Look for your opportunity to grow as a person; focus on re-building through self-improvement.
  • Honor your loved one by living well; healthily and fully.
  • Keep putting one foot in front of the other and believe that life is still out there and it can still be good.

Small steps forward

The days after suffering a loved one’s death from cancer will pass whether you like it or not.

There will come a time that lying in bed suffering is no longer an option. More often than not life’s responsibilities will not have even afforded you that comfort.

In the wake of a close bereavement, there is a lot to organize and do. You are functioning on auto-pilot, in a fog of grief you are swept along by those around you. Encouraged to go through the motions and do what is expected of you culturally in grief, seemingly there is no other choice but to keep going.

Strangely, there is a benefit of all this busyness; these small manageable daily goals will ensure that you will hold yourself up by focusing on a positive routine. The bigger picture may be too daunting for now, but at least there is some good done in the day.

By maintaining this crutch of activity, you are able to claw back a sense of purpose in your life. There is comfort in keeping going, having a routine and refusing to be sucked under. In keeping focused and active you will gain a positive sense of achievement, however small.

Know that you have the inner strength to let go of anxiety, the fear of the future, the sadness and regrets of what has happened. The reality is that these events are now in the past, there is nothing left that you can do because the outcome has already played out.

It is time now to reach out, talk, heal and stay focused on getting to a more positive place. Getting there is an effort worth making; now is the time to choose to value your life too.

Reidentifying your identity

Cancer interrupted your life and finding your feet in the aftermath can be extremely challenging. Your identity may feel lost. You may even struggle to remember what you were like as a person before this unwelcome visitor took over your life; dominating your thoughts and hijacking your wellbeing.

Unmistakably, after all this you are left forever changed.

What you have gone through and witnessed is to say the least, ‘an experience’.

Many people have not lived through the death of a person very close (yet), so it can feel like a lonely place. After being rocked by such a trauma, awakening from the nightmare may well leave you feeling like you are in a no-man’s land.

You are now unsure of where in life you are or even who you are. You feel completely unsure of the future and your future self.

The positive spin is that it is now, as a result, your biggest opportunity for personal growth.1 Having seen what lies ahead of all of us, knowing that you don’t get out of this life alive; how will you choose to spend the rest of your days?

All you can do is to seek out a better quality of life and become a better version of your future self.  Be kinder to yourself and others, do more good, have more fun and live as full a life as you can.

Take the time you need to re-assess your priorities and ask yourself the difficult questions about what you really want out of life going forward. You may not have many answers for now, but try to re-discover your meaningful purpose in life; a reason for being, for getting out of bed in the morning.

By staying focused and prioritizing your own personal growth you will be able to lift yourself out of the trauma and find yourself eventually in a better place.2

A changed path

Discovering a life after loss may not come easy, but there is still more to come in your life’s journey even with your loved one gone.

Look at an old photo of yourself before the trauma. Yes, you will never be that person again living that life, but you are wiser and stronger than you have ever been.

That was the person you once were, the person enjoying the happy life of ‘before’. However, there is life ahead and it can be good, if not great again.

Draw inspiration from all that you once were, build upon what you have gone through and find strength from the changes you have experienced and survived. It is time now to acknowledge your past, the traumatic period of your life and look towards successfully reshaping your life.

Living positively after a cancer death

Having lived through the death of your loved one, having seen what is ahead close-up, you have witnessed first-hand what lies ahead. You probably knew that life was precious before, now you have this cruel insight, you now know that you need to make every day count.

You still have the gift of life, you are still breathing, still able to do things, still able to achieve what you want to.

Appreciate the freedom which comes from having everything taken away. You have been forced to take a major step back from life and examine exactly what your priorities are, what you now want.

You also have to space now to figure out how to do that, with purpose.

This is not a selfish act, wanting, in fact needing to find another life. This is a healthy step forward and any future happiness (yes, happiness) cannot be laced in survivors-guilt.

To have positive life grow out of the healing from the death of your loved one somehow feels distasteful and unnecessary. To move on without them to share your life with is simply cruel. But what choice do you have?

To honor your loved one by coming through this stronger and still able to have a good life would be an amazing legacy. What better feeling to have in your heart than to move on in a way that they would have surely wanted for you?

Moving past the negativity

Don’t waste any more moments of your precious life after loss on negativity, stress and worry.

Become aware of your thought process, challenge what your inner voice is saying and put a stop to the internal bullying which holds you back.

It is now time to stop the ‘what ifs’. This is a soul-destroying form of mental punishment and self-torture. It is completely futile and only serves to keep you trapped in a world of pain where repetitive thoughts turn can turn into the chronic repetition syndrome linked to PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder).

Do not indulge yourself in this rampant form of self-sabotage. Constant ruminating only traps you in the moment forcing you to analyze and re-examine every moment from diagnosis to death. It can only rob you further of the present.

No matter how hard it is to bear, or how much you imagine what could have been, this is the reality you are living. Nothing, absolutely nothing can be changed; except your future.

They say that it is not what happens to you in life but how you deal with it. So, you have two choices; cope well or cope badly.

Whether you like it or not; today is the first day of the rest of your life. It will soon be time to turn the page as you move slowly into the next chapter of your life and live well once again. You owe it to your loved one and yourself.

Moving on after cancer

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References

  1. Southwick, S. M. & Charney, D. S., 2018. Resilience. 2nd ed. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
  2. Bell, S., 1996. Stress Control. 1st ed. United States of America: SkillPath Publications.

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Bethesda (MD): National Cancer Institute (US) (2020) Grief, Bereavement, and Coping With Loss (PDQ®). PDQ Cancer Information Summaries [Internet]. [Online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK66052/ (Accessed: 13th July 2020).

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Related Topics

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Grieving after a death from cancer

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