Coping with the Grief of Losing a Loved One to Mesothelioma

A mesothelioma diagnosis is a challenging time for patients, friends, and family members. When a loved one dies of mesothelioma, the raw feelings of grief can feel overwhelming. It’s almost impossible for humans to experience loss without feeling some form of grief.

The grieving process is natural, takes time, and involves many different emotions and behaviors. Fortunately, you don’t have to go through this alone. There are many places to seek counseling, both through support groups, and professional organizations. Dealing with loss also involves learning more about mental health, knowing the difference between grief and depression, and determining how all these factors can affect daily life.

Common Grief Responses

How a person reacts to loss is called a grief reaction or response. Each response differs from person to person and can change over time. No two people experience loss the same way, but common categories of reactions include:

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Negative and painful feelings are very likely to arise from the situation; as those who experience loss also experience a wide range of emotions. These feelings can encompass:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Denial
  • Depression
  • Despair
  • Guilt
  • Helplessness
  • Loneliness
  • Numbness
  • Relief
  • Sadness
  • Shock
  • Yearning

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It’s not uncommon for those who’ve lost a loved one to have cycles of uncontrollable thoughts. Some thought patterns may include:

  • Disbelief
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Lack of Focus
  • Preoccupation

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Physical Responses

Grief can even affect a person physically by causing new or familiar physical sensations. These include:

  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Nausea or upset stomach
  • Physical numbness
  • Tension or weakness in the muscles
  • Tightness or heaviness in the chest or throat

This is an icon representing irritability.


A grieving individual may also have issues adjusting to daily life, or find certain tasks that were once easy are now more difficult. For example:

  • The need for excess activity, or staying busy
  • Increased irritability or aggressiveness
  • Problems falling or staying asleep
  • Loss of interest in eating or socializing
  • Low energy
  • Restlessness or uneasy feelings

Coping Mechanisms for Grief and Loss

Various coping strategies can help people anticipatory grief, manage grief and loss. Certain strategies may work for one person, but not for others. Some coping mechanisms can include:

Allowing Acceptance

Allow yourself to grieve. Don’t try and hold it in or push it away, because everyone grieves differently. Some people feel guilty for their feelings as if they should be over the situation already. It’s essential to face your emotions, even if you don’t think you should have them. Set aside some alone time just to scream or cry to let things out, especially if you’re more of an introvert.

Learning Patience

Even if you feel you should be done with the grieving, be patient. Grief isn’t linear, and It helps to remember you don’t have to be “okay” in any specific time period, even if you feel you should be “over it.” Take your time.

Letting It Out

Those negative feelings and emotions can be released in more positive ways. Occupy your mind by letting your truth come out in more creative and physical outlets. You can:

  • Talk to someone. Processing a situation is often easier when you talk to someone you trust. Reassure the person you’re not looking for advice or answers, and just need them to listen.
  • Journal. Jotting down your thoughts is a great way to express your sadness if you don’t feel comfortable telling anyone else. Looking back on your written account can also help you remember how far you’ve come.
  • Produce music or art. If you enjoy making music or creating art, releasing your feelings through this medium could prove extremely beneficial during the grieving process.
  • Exercise. This is another great way to clear your mind and help cope with feelings. Engaging in physical activity gets the blood flowing and increases endorphins, which boosts your mood. However, don’t force it. Participate in the physical activities that you like, and don’t push yourself too far.

Take a Break From Grieving

Just as it’s important to let yourself feel your emotions, it’s also healthy to get away from those feelings to engage in enjoyable activities. Attempt to distract yourself from the pain by taking a soothing bath, dancing, yoga, playing video games, or even having dinner with friends. Other options include:

  • Stay on course. Sticking with a routine can be very helpful when you’re grieving. Avoid significant changes, like moving, or switching jobs, as they may be too debilitating at first.
  • Let go. A very healthy aspect of grief is learning to forgive yourself and let go. Release all the things you may have regretted doing or saying, and concentrate on the good times.

Grief Vs. Depression

The symptoms you experience after the death of a loved one are sometimes mistaken for depression, so it’s essential to learn the difference. Most likely, negative emotions are connected to grief, but not in every situation. Each condition has a specific definition, and it can be helpful to learn more about them and protect your mental health.

Grief is commonly a physical, cognitive, emotional, behavioral, or spiritual response to loss, and will dissipate over time. Depression is a clinical condition that could potentially become deadly if left untreated. Criteria for depression include:

  • Chronic depression or irritability
  • Excessive sleeping, or insomnia
  • Extreme weight loss due to lack of appetite
  • Lack of interest or pleasure in activities
  • Recurring feelings of guilt, thoughts of death, or suicide
  • Slow movement, fatigue, loss of energy
  • Trouble focusing, making decisions, and concentrating

There are similarities between depression and grief symptoms, but the differences are significant. The specific differences include:

Grief Depression
Loss can be identified Source for loss may not exist
Focus is on loss Focus is on self
Feelings of pleasure come and go Rare or no feelings of pleasure
Physical symptoms come and go Physical ailments are prolonged
Comfort can be attained from others Desire for isolation
Variety of emotions Feeling “stuck” in one place
May or may not experience guilty feelings Generalized guilt
Most likely to maintain self-esteem Common feelings of self-loathing
Desire for death in order to be reunited with a loved one Thoughts of death due to feeling worthless, undeserving of life, or unable to cope

Talk with a physician or mental health provider if you or a loved one are experiencing feelings of depression. Depression is typically treated with therapy, medication, or a combination of both, but grief does not generally require medications.

Comforting Someone Grieving

Trying to comfort someone who is in a state of grief is a very sensitive situation that must be treated with care. Here’s some insight on how particular age groups may see death:

Infants (birth – 2 years)

  • Doesn’t understand death and may continue to ask for missing parent
  • Is aware of separation and may grieve the absence of parent or caregiver by crying, responding less, and changing eating habits
  • Receptive to the sadness from surviving parent

Preschoolers (3-6 years)

  • Concerns about who will take care of them and being left behind
  • Curious about death, and capable of seeing it as sleeping or temporary
  • Difficulties expressing feelings and thoughts and may misbehave
  • Feelings of guilt or responsibility
  • Very affected by sadness from surviving parent

School Age (6-12)

  • Realizes the finality of death, but may see it as an object, such as a skeleton or spirit
  • Understands that death happens to everyone, and may be interested in specific details, including what happens to the body afterwards
  • May experience a broad range of emotions
  • Issues discussing their feelings
  • Feelings of guilt, insecurity, clinginess, and abandonment
  • Receptive to help from family or friends

Teenagers (13-18)

  • Have adult understanding, but lack adult experience and coping skills
  • May have difficulty expressing feelings and act out aggressively, abuse substances, or become promiscuous
  • Often questions faith or understanding of the world
  • Not receptive to support or help from family, and may spend more time with friends

Connecting with your children in a healthy way is important. Be specific and direct with them, and use proper terms such as “dead” instead of something like “going away”. Do not add pressure on them by remarking on “how strong” they are being. Have short conversations and understand the same information may need to be relayed more than once. Children ask a lot of questions repetitively when trying to comprehend a situation, so try to encourage those inquiries.

If your child doesn’t seem to understand, you can try explaining the situation to them in different ways, such as using books or drawings. Share your grief carefully as well, and try to provide the affection and reassurance your child might need. Try to maintain routines and consistency while encouraging your child to hang out with friends and engage in other fun, age-appropriate activities.

Most importantly, remain patient. If necessary, have your child speak with a grief counselor, psychologist, or other mental health professional.


A family caregiver often suffers throughout the entire process, as they assist the patient every step of the way, and are the most present. As the patient grows sicker, often, the caregiver will grieve more. During this process, the caregiver commonly experiences a large variety of emotions, such as anger, guilt, hopelessness, sadness, and stress. They may even experience depression.

It may be helpful for a caregiver to take some time for themselves, away from the situation. They may feel guilty or selfish for doing so, but this step is crucial in the grieving process. After the passing of the loved one, removing yourself from the environment and associated memories could be a relief. It’s time to refocus that love and attention, giving it back to yourself. Reframing the situation can do wonders for emotional, spiritual, social, and physical reinvigoration.

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Resources and Support

Fortunately, there is no shortage of resources and support for grieving loved ones. Many organizations offer helplines, counseling, access to treatment centers, information, and more, confidential and free of charge. Some organizations that could prove helpful are:

Help Lines

Call these national helplines:

American Cancer Society
National | Available 24/7 | 365 days a year
1-800-227-2345 | Live Web Chat

Cancer Care
National | Available Mon – Thurs: 10 AM – 6 PM EST | Fri: 10 AM – 5 PM
1-800-813-HOPE (4673) | [email protected]

Cancer Support Community
National | Mon – Fri: 9 AM – 9 PM EST
1-888-793-9355 | Live Web Chat

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
National | Available 24/7 | 365 days a year
1-800-662-HELP (4357)


Contact these organizations to arrange counseling sessions:

American Counseling Association
National | Available 24/7 | 365 days a year

Cancer Care
National | Available Mon – Thurs: 10 AM – 6 PM EST | Fri: 10 AM – 5 PM
1-800-813-HOPE (4673) | [email protected]


These include articles and books about coping with grief and related topics. You can read online, download, or print these guides:

American Counseling Association
National | Available 24/7 | 365 days a year

Support Groups

You don’t have to go through this alone. These organizations have directories full of support groups in different areas:

American Cancer Society
National | Available 24/7 | 365 days a year
1-800-227-2345 | Live Web Chat

Grief Share
National | Available Mon – Fri 8:30 AM – 5:30 PM EST
1-800-395-5755 | [email protected]

If you or a loved one are experiencing grief or depression from losing a loved one to mesothelioma, reach out for help. Download our free guide to learn more.

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