Dealing with grief: Confronting painful emotions

A Mayo Clinic oncologist offers both his personal and professional insights about the grieving process after a loved one's death.

By Edward T. Creagan, M.D.

Grieving the loss of a loved one is a challenge like no other. How can you cope with the loss and heal your emotional wounds? How can you imagine a life without that person while honoring memories you shared?

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 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.

Nearly 30 years ago, I went for a run one frigid winter morning. 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 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. 12, 2018 See more In-depth