In the grip of grief

Kaisa from Helsinki is a 45-year-old woman who lost both her parents within a short period of time. Before that, Kaisa had suffered from cancer, from which she recovered. Almost three years have passed since the death of her parents and the illness, but Kaisa still cries many times a day when thinking about her parents. Neither can she stop thinking about the possibility of her cancer recurring.

What can Kaisa do?

Since Kaisa is living in the metropolitan area, she could start by, for example, making an appointment with a crisis worker at the SOS Crisis Centre. Local crisis centres all over Finland usually offer appointments, as well. If she wants, Kaisa can also call the crisis hotline and discuss the things on her mind. The crisis worker can help Kaisa deal with the feelings associated with the cancer and the death of her parents, and help her analyse the reasons behind her lack of strength and constant grief and fear of illness.

Kaisa can contact the crisis worker even if she has no idea why the grief and anxiety do not seem to ease. Talking to the crisis worker may make the situation clearer and Kaisa may find that talking about certain things make her feel better.

Both the death of parents and a serious disease are usually considered crises, and it takes time to recover from a crisis. The process of handling a crisis is so similar to the majority of people that it is possible to talk about the four phases of crises, i.e. shock, reaction, processing and reorientation. However, people may get “stuck” in one of the phases, meaning that it will take a long time before they will regain their strength and joy in life.

Cancer involves many things, which may lead to a traumatic crisis. The illness usually changes the body of the patient and their perception of themselves. It may take time to accept the new self-image. The web pages of the Finnish Cancer Organisations contain, among other things, discussion forums for former and current cancer patients. The discussion forums may provide new perspectives on the patient’s personal situation. It is likely that someone else is experiencing exactly the same problems and feelings. The most common fears concern the recurrence of the cancer and the upcoming control visits.

Kaisa has lost her parents within a short period of time. Even if her parents were old or very ill, it is natural, justifiable and usually inevitable to mourn their death. The death of her parents changed her life on a profound level. She is no longer anyone’s child; instead, it is possible she now belongs to the oldest generation alive. Losing her parents has made her own ageing and passage of time seem very real. Also, having suffered from cancer may have played its part in making Kaisa realise the limitations of life all too strongly. In addition, Kaisa’s parents may have been much more than just a mom and dad to her; for example, they may have been her dear friends with whom to share important things.

After the loss of a close friend or family member, it is normal to think about unfinished businesses or the words that were left unsaid. However, this happens almost every time, whether or not the person had had time to prepare for the death. In some ways, life is always interrupted and eventually we just have to accept it.

Kaisa could be suffering from a prolonged grief process. However, it is also possible that she has become depressed; the symptoms of depression include feelings of hopelessness and lack of prospects. Prolonged grief may also trigger depression. If talking to a crisis worker does not feel right to Kaisa, she could, for instance, visit a doctor in order to confirm the potential depression diagnosis.

Even prolonged grief will generally ease with time but sometimes it is good to make use of the possibilities offered by crisis work or peer support. When the grief begins to fade, the person can see the bright side of life again. Thinking about the dead person or other losses no longer causes anxiety; instead, they can look back with calm and in good spirits. Memories become comforting instead of causing insurmountable grief.