Coping with death

If someone you love is going to die, it may feel like the end of your world. But it won’t last forever, and you will get through it.

Before they die, the person you are looking after may get very ill. They may go into a hospice and have specialist care. If you want to be there when they die, tell your family. If you would rather not be there, that’s okay too.

After a loved one dies, your family usually starts planning the funeral. You can get involved with this if you want to, and there may be other ways you can say goodbye.

When it’s all over, life at home can feel really flat. Give yourself time and space, and don’t put pressure on yourself. Everyone copes with grief differently.

If you want to stay connected to the person who has died, you could make a memory box, write them a letter or put up a photo of them.

Although it’s really hard, eventually your grief will lift and you will start to feel like you again.

Accepting what is going to happen

If someone you love is going to die of cancer, it feels like the end of your world.

Some of the young carers who helped develop this information have been through it. They want you to know one thing. It may be the worst time in your life right now, but it won’t last forever. You will get through this.

If the person you are caring for has been told that they are going to die, it can be hard for them to accept. This is called denial, and is a normal reaction.

If the person with cancer is in denial, it can be very hard to communicate with them. There are certain things that they may not talk about. While it may be upsetting for you, denial is a strong coping tool and needs to be respected. Some people will eventually accept their situation, but some choose to stay in denial. If that happens, try to accept it.

However, it is also important to ask any questions you might have about what is going to happen, so that you know what to expect. You might also want to say things to the person who is dying, such as telling them you love them, or talking about a special time you had with them.

You might be feeling angry, and that’s okay too.


Before someone dies

Before they die, the person you are looking after may get very ill. Try to be prepared for this, as it will be upsetting.

Young carers’ services, or other organisations that support young carers, can help you and your family put together a plan of what to do in an emergency. This might be if the dying person’s health suddenly gets worse or they die at home.

If they get very ill, or if your family decides that they cannot cope or need a break, the person may go into a hospice. A hospice is a place where people with serious illnesses go for specialist care and support. They have special nurses who provide palliative care (special care towards the end of life), including pain relief for the person who is ill, and support for the person and their family to cope with their feelings.

Hospices are designed to be nice places, and friends and family members are welcome.

Some hospices will let you stay overnight from time to time. If you would like to do this, ask a family member or one of the nurses if this is possible. You can also speak to hospice or hospital staff about things you can do for your loved one, if you would still like to be involved in their care.

Talking to the nurses and doctors can help a lot at this stage. Palliative care nurses will understand what you are going through, and they can help you to make sense of what is happening.

People may think that, because you are young, they need to protect you when someone is dying. If that happens, it can feel really frustrating. You might feel as if you are not being allowed to make decisions for yourself. A young carer worker could speak to your family, or the hospice or hospital staff for you.

Be honest with your family about what you want. If you want to be there at the end, make sure people know that and that they respect your right to do so.

If you would rather not be there, that’s okay too.

We have more information about what will happen in the last few weeks, days, and at the end of life.


When someone dies

If you have decided that you want to be there at the end, knowing what to expect can help to prepare you.

When someone is dying, they can often still hear you, even if they can’t respond, so keep talking to them.

You might not be able to tell the exact moment when the person dies, but there are some physical changes that you may notice. Their body may relax completely and they may look very peaceful. You won’t know how you will feel until this happens. Some people say they feel relieved that the person is at peace. Remember that there are people around to support you. It’s important to keep talking and not bottle your feelings up.


The funeral

Your family will usually start planning the funeral quite quickly. A funeral director or a religious leader may come to your home. They will probably want to talk to you about the person, and hear about your memories. You don’t have to talk to them, but you may find that this helps you feel better.

If you want to get involved with the funeral, make sure you tell your family. The way the funeral happens will depend on your family’s culture and beliefs. Depending on the type of funeral, and your family’s wishes, it may be possible for you to read a poem, do a special reading, or simply talk about the person. Tell the person who is responsible for planning the funeral that you would like to do this, to find out what is possible.

If there will be music played at the funeral, maybe you could help to choose it. Or perhaps there is a special wish that the person told you about – make sure you let someone know.

If you don’t want to go to the funeral, or you are not allowed to go, there may be other ways that you can say goodbye. Perhaps plant a flower, or a tree. You could tie a message to a balloon and let it go. If there is a special place the two of you used to go, perhaps you could visit and say a few words.


What happens now?

When it’s all over, life at home can feel really flat. This is especially true if the person who has died was being cared for at home.

You might have had nurses coming around to help out, or other family members coming to visit. So it can feel very quiet for a while until you get used to the new situation.

Give yourself plenty of time and space, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself.

You may worry that you can’t talk about the person who has died to your family, in case it upsets them. It might be difficult for you to talk about the person who has died, too. But it is important to find someone who you can talk to. It could be a cancer support group, or a trusted friend. Maybe you could talk to a young carer worker or a counsellor. Just make sure you don’t keep your feelings to yourself.

You may also need to sort through the belongings of the person who has died. This can be very upsetting, and feel very final. You might not want to do this for a while, and that’s okay. Talk to the rest of your family, and try to agree with them when would be a good time. If there is anything you would like to keep, such as a watch, a ring, or photographs, make sure you tell someone.


Feeling sad because someone has died (grief)

The most important thing to remember about grief is that it affects everyone in different ways.

Some people cry a lot. Other people keep themselves busy. Try to understand that everyone will cope in their own way.

You may have lots of different emotions, which may come and go in waves. Many people describe feeling shocked and numb in the days and weeks immediately after the death of someone they love.

You may feel very angry. Try not to worry about it, because it is a normal feeling to have.

You may feel guilty. You might think that if you had said or done something differently, the person might not have died. If you are feeling like this, you might find it helpful to talk to a doctor or nurse who was caring for your relative or friend. You could also talk to your GP.

The person you were looking after may have been very ill for a long time, or had symptoms that were difficult to control. You might feel relieved that they are not suffering any more, and there is no need to feel guilty about this.

You may feel lonely, or have a feeling of intense longing to see, speak to or hold the person who has died. If you had a difficult relationship with the person who has died, you may not feel any of the emotions we have described here.

Try not to worry about how often you cry. And don’t worry if you can’t cry. It doesn’t mean you don’t feel the loss. Just do what feels right for you.

Some people become very depressed and stop looking after themselves properly. If this happens, you may need extra support. We have lots of information about what to do if you think you are depressed.

Your grief is unique to you. You will have good days and bad days.

Coping with grief

You might find it helpful to get back to your usual routine quite quickly. Or it might take a long time before you feel ready to face the world again.

Try to make sure that you don’t cut yourself off from life. It can be harder to adjust if you have not been to school or college, or seen your friends, for a long time.

If you feel that you want to stay connected to the person who has died, there are lots of ways you can do this. Write them a letter (it might sound silly, but it works). Or maybe there is a favourite photo that you could put in a frame.

You could also think about making a memory box. A memory box is a container that holds special things to remind you of the person who has died. You could put in photos, some of their favourite music, or letters or cards from them. These things can help remind you of happy times you spent together and offer you some comfort. You might find making the box very emotional, but it might also be nice to think about your memories.

Don’t be afraid to talk about the person that has died, whether it’s little stories or talking about their cancer. And don’t worry if you go over and over the same stories – it’s good to remember.

Eventually, your grief will lift. You will have fewer bad days. And you will start to feel like a normal person again.

There are charities who can help if you are coping with grief. We have information about organisations you can contact.

I used to talk to my mum after she died. It helped me. I still talk to her now – I know she can hear me.

Jamal,15

Having a memory box helped me to cope better after losing my dad. At first when I opened it, it made me sad. Now, I can smile when I open it.

Siana, 14

Back to If you are a young person looking after someone with cancer

Counselling

Counselling is support if you would like to talk to someone about your feelings.

Depression

You, or the person you look after, might feel very low at times.