Cancer Featured Wellness

Grief is a process that can’t be rushed

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When someone we love dies, we experience many different emotions, such as sadness, anger, shock, guilt or helplessness to name just a few.

“When a loved one dies, grieving is unavoidable,” says Dr. Dori Seccareccia, psychosocial therapist and physician in the Odette Cancer Centre’s Patient and Family Support Program. “Grief is a normal part of life.”

But everyone experiences grief differently. There is no “right way” to grieve. And talking about it can be challenging, she says.

Grief isn’t something that can be “fixed”.

“There’s no one perfect thing to say or do that will make the grief go away,” Dr. Seccareccia says. “Grief is a process that can’t be rushed and takes a different amount of time for different people.”

After someone close to you dies, you may have good days and difficult days. And, they can be impossible to predict.

“As your deceased mother’s birthday approaches, you might think it’ll be a terrible day and the day turns out better than you expected,” Dr. Seccareccia says.

Then a few weeks later, you might smell her perfume in an elevator and be brought to pieces.

“That’s normal. Grief takes time. Our memories for our loved ones are powerful and can trigger emotions for a long time after a person dies.”

Take care of yourself.

As you grieve, it’s important that you are kind to yourself and take care of yourself.

“Different factors such as guilt, fatigue or feeling numb, can make this challenging at times,” Dr. Seccareccia says. “Try to eat regular meals, exercise and get enough sleep. Try to continue or reestablish some of your routines.”

Other suggestions include trying something new that you are interested in, like a dance class, or seeing a movie with a friend.

“This all may seem very hard at first, but with time, the intensity of grief decreases and life seem to settle,” she adds.

Get help.

The symptoms of grief and depression can look the same. Being sad or “feeling depressed” is common to both. Turn to an expert for help in differentiating the two and getting the best support (if you or your loved one has clinical depression it’s important to see a professional and for some, medications may be helpful).

You may want to talk to a professional grief counsellor, psychologist or psychotherapist.

There are also lots of good online resources. Check out, which is run by the Canadian Virtual Hospice and has online courses, resources and a community.

For friends: Listen. And just be there.

Listen to your friend and try to be supportive. Say less, listen more. And speak in a non-judgmental way.

You can ask: How are you doing? How can I help you? Is there anything I can do? Respect that your friend might also need time and have days they do not want to talk.

There are some things that are not helpful to say. Things like “Everything happens for a reason” or “It’ll be OK” or “At least your Dad isn’t suffering anymore” have been found to be unhelpful to people who are grieving.

It’s not unusual for people to think “I don’t know what to say”, and so they may even pull away and avoid their friend who is grieving.

“But it’s OK to just spend time together,” Dr. Seccareccia says. “You don’t need to come up with the perfect thing to say or feel that you have to make things better.”


About the author


Alexis Dobranowski

Alexis Dobranowski is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.