Dealing with grief: Confronting painful emotions

By Edward T. Creagan, M.D.

Sooner or later, each of us will experience that dagger in the heart called grief — and dealing with grief is a challenge like no other. How can you pick up the pieces, heal the wounds and move on with the rest of your life without feeling like you're betraying the memory of your loved one?

Facing the unexpected emotions of grief

As an oncologist, every day I see people who have cancer struggle with death and dying. Every day, I also see families struggle with the inevitable end of life — families who aren't really prepared for the avalanche of emotions that sweep over them when the final moment comes, even if they knew death was imminent.

I know how challenging and devastating the raw, intense emotions of grief can be, because it's happened to me.

I went for a run one frigid winter morning nearly 30 years ago. When I got home, my son, Ed, then 18, compassionately broke the news — my mother had died. Even though my mother had struggled with breast cancer and alcoholism, the news struck me like a two-by-four whipsawed across my abdomen. I felt drained of every ounce of vitality. It took all the energy I had to keep from slumping to the floor. As the hours evolved into days, it became exhausting — even physically painful — to make any decisions. Our family was completely unprepared for the feelings of confusion and disorganization following the news.

Jan. 07, 2012 See more In-depth