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Common questions about grief

Living with grief raises many questions. This section discusses how long grief might last and what to do when grief feels overwhelming.

Why do I feel so alone after the funeral?

The time after the funeral can be challenging. Between the death and the funeral, you may have been surrounded by family and friends, and busy making arrangements. After the funeral, you may feel the full intensity of your grief. You may find that other people don’t check in with you as often and their lives seem to have returned to normal, but your life is forever changed. It will take time to create a “new normal” for yourself.

How long will grief last?

You might think that you’ll be back to normal after just a few weeks or months, and others might expect this of you too. Try to be patient with yourself. Many people are hard on themselves, thinking things like “I should be over this by now”. Grief is very individual – there is no set time frame or stages. Allowing yourself to grieve is the best way to heal.

Friends and family might say, “Life goes on. It’s time to move on.” Such comments may feel like you are being told not to grieve anymore. People making these comments may feel uncomfortable about grief or may have particular ideas about how to grieve. There is no right way to grieve. At times, you may hide how you’re feeling so others don’t worry about you. Share how you’re feeling with people who are more likely to understand. Those who knew the person may be more empathetic.

“I think time does heal, but the pain is still there and you just learn to cope with it. Sometimes I still cry out ‘Why?’ Darren was so full of life and never complained about anything; I’m still amazed at how he coped with it all.” – Troy

Why do some things make the grief worse?

A trigger can be anything that causes a strong reminder of your loss. Many people say the first year or two can be particularly difficult. With time, most people find they learn to adapt, although birthdays, anniversaries or other special dates might always cause a range of strong emotions. Reach out to supportive friends and family at these times.

You may continue to feel a deep sense of loss for the experiences that the person didn’t get to have and that you didn’t get to share. Some people find comfort in visiting the burial site or another significant location, or in gathering with others in remembrance of a family member or friend.

Other losses could trigger your grief again. This may happen when someone else you know dies or when a pet dies, when a relationship ends, or when you lose a job or special possessions. Events that would normally be joyful (e.g. birth of a baby or a wedding) may have a similar impact as you mourn the absence of someone who should have been there to celebrate. Sometimes you may forget that the person has died, and when you suddenly remember, you may be shocked all over again.

You might find there is a time of day when you miss the person most. Or it may be a song, a smell or a place that reminds you of them, and you may feel upset again.

If the person who has died had a digital presence, this is likely to remain for people to see and interact with. You might find encountering them online upsetting or it might be a way to stay connected to the person who has died and a way to “keep them alive”. If you have been nominated as a legacy contact, you can memorialise their Facebook page.

Why do I feel so up and down?

People sometimes refer to stages of grief, but grief isn’t something you begin one day, move through step-by-step, and come out from unchanged. Grief is dynamic and changeable. This can feel chaotic, but both the ups and downs are part of grief.

Most people find that they don’t get over the loss but they slowly learn to live with the loss. It is common for the way you cope with grief to change. You may switch between feelings of intense grief and activities that distract you from your grief. You may move between focusing on the loss (crying, missing the person, feeling pain) and moving forward (returning to activities, learning new skills, forming new relationships). You may do this again and again. The experience is often described as being on a roller-coaster or a series of waves

Will it always be this hard?

When people find grief particularly difficult, they sometimes worry they will be unhappy for the rest of their life.

For most people, it isn’t like that. After a while, the grief usually becomes less overwhelming, and they start to enjoy things and feel enthusiastic about life again. Many people say that coping with grief is about finding ways to live with the change and adapting to life without the person who has died. It’s not that your feelings about the person lessen, so much as a new way of living grows around the loss.

How can I remember someone?

  • Talk about the person who died with others. It can help you copy, and you may learn something new about the person.
  • Create a tribute page to share stories and photos on.
  • Make a memory box where you can keep things that remind you of the person, such as photos, a favourite item of clothing, perfume or aftershave, letters or cards, a special recipe, and a record of memories of the person.
  • Establish an award in the name of the person.
  • Get creative, for example you could use some of their clothing to create a quilt, cushion cover or memory bear, or paint or draw a picture.
  • Enjoy what they liked, for example cooking a favourite meal on their birthday or anniversary, but their favourite flowers or drink on the anniversary of their death, or share a meal with family and friends on significant days.
  • Get involved in a cause or make a donation to a charity that was special to the person or that helps people with cancer.
  • Frame photos or create a photobook with your favourite photos or cherished handwritten notes or mementos.
  • Plant a tree, plant or flowers to create a special area to visit when you want to feel close to the person.
  • Be prepared for occasions that might be difficult such as birthdays, the anniversary of the death, and holidays.
  • Create special rituals to help you acknowledge the loss, particularly at challenging times. You could light a candle, listen to special music, visit a certain place or cook their favourite meal.
  • Remember shared goals and consider if you still want to do the things you were going to do together.

What if I feel “stuck” or desperate?

You may have times when you feel like you just can’t go on any longer. The pain of grief is too hard or just doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Be kind to yourself – it is normal that some days are much harder than others. With time, you may start to notice a pattern of good days and bad days, with the good days gradually increasing.

Sometimes a person may begin to feel “stuck” in their grief and become very depressed or anxious. Or worse, they may think about suicide, as though not going on is a real option. If this is the case for you or someone you care about, it is important to seek help. Seek professional help if you:

  • find it difficult to get through daily tasks
  • begin to rely on alcohol or other drugs
  • stop eating regularly
  • are sleeping too much or having a lot of trouble sleeping
  • are worried you might hurt someone because your feelings of anger or aggression do not settle
  • are thinking about self-harm or taking your own life.

Getting support may help you feel less alone. Find out about the options for support and talk to your doctor, or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

If you are thinking about suicide, call Lifeline 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 immediately. Both these services are available 24 hours a day.


Understanding Grief

Download our Understanding Grief booklet to learn more

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Expert content reviewers:

A/Prof Lisa Beatty, Associate Professor in Clinical Psychology and Consulting Clinical Psychologist, Flinders University Institute of Mental Health and Wellbeing, SA; Sandra Anderson, Consumer; Dr Alexandra Clinch, Palliative Medicine Specialist and Deputy Director, Palliative Care, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Royal Melbourne Hospital, VIC; Christopher Hall, Chief Executive Officer, Grief Australia; Nathan MacArthur, Specialist Grief Counsellor and Accredited Mental Health Social Worker, Sydney Grief Counselling Services, NSW; Linda Magann, Clinical Nurse Consultant – Palliative Care, St George Hospital, NSW; Palliative Care Australia; Richard Upton, Consumer; Lesley Woods, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA

Page last updated:

The information on this webpage was adapted from Understanding Grief (2023 edition). This webpage was last updated in November 2023.

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