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What is grief?

Everybody grieves differently when a loved one dies following a brain tumour diagnosis, but this information could help you understand what you’re experiencing. Here we discuss grief, its effects and its theories, such as the five stages of grief. 

Whilst everyone is different, there are numerous theories or models of grief, which can be used to help us understand and make sense of the feelings we might experience when grieving.

On this page, we’ll cover: 

An older woman experiences grief as she sits on a sofa

What is grief?

Grief is a natural response to a big change in your life, whether that’s a breakup, falling out with a friend, the loss of a job or a loved one dying.

This information is mostly focused on the grief you might experience after losing a loved one following a brain tumour diagnosis. 

Everyone’s grieving process is different and there’s no wrong or right way to grieve after a loved one dies following a brain tumour diagnosis.

What you experience will be dependent on: 

  • the relationship you had with the person who you lost 
  • your personality 
  • your previous life experiences 
  • the support you have around you 
  • the circumstances surrounding your loved one’s death
  • your culture, religion or beliefs.

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What is anticipatory grief?

Anticipatory grief is when you begin to grieve for a loved one before they have died. It’s most common for people who have a loved one who’s been diagnosed with a terminal or life-limiting illness, although not everyone experiences this. 

Anticipatory grief is a very normal and natural response to the knowledge that someone you love is going to die. It can begin from the moment a loved one receives a terminal brain tumour diagnosis and can be just as intense and overwhelming as grieving for someone after they have died. 

When a loved one is diagnosed with a brain tumour you may experience many losses. All of which can contribute to the feelings of anticipatory grief. For example: 

  • the loss of the future you’d planned for 
  • the loss of hope 
  • the loss of independence 
  • the loss of security
  • the loss of a loved one’s previous personality 
  • the loss of your social life. 

You can find some more helpful resources on Cruse and Marie Curie.

This video is aimed at healthcare professionals and is not specifically related to people affected by brain tumours, but it is helpful in explaining anticipatory grief.

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What are the effects of grief?

There is no right way to grieve and we will all do this in our own way. However, there are some emotional and physical effects that can be common.

The below video discusses what it feels like to grieve and how it can affect us.

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What are the different models of grief?

Everybody grieves differently and there’s no right or wrong way to grieve. But, psychologists have come up with various models of grief.

These models can be used to help us understand and make sense of the thoughts and feelings we might experience when grieving.

This information can be useful in helping you to navigate the grief process. 

The five stages of grief – Dr. E. Kubler-Ross

One of the best-known theories of grief is psychiatrist Dr Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief.  

Dr Kubler-Ross recognized that while grief is not a linear journey. There are a series of points in the grieving process that people may experience many times as they adjust to life without their loved one. 

Someone might not experience all five of the stages of grief. Or, they may not be experienced in any specific order. In fact, it’s perfectly normal to experience more than one stage at a time and move backwards through the stages – for example, moving between accepting and not accepting. 

There’s also no set length of time that each stage will last but simply being aware of the stages of grief can help to create an understanding of where you are emotionally. 

The five stages of grief are: 

1. Denial  

Denial may feel like your loved one is still alive or a refusal to believe what has happened. This can often stem from being in a state of shock.  

2. Anger 

You may feel intensely angry about what has happened. It’s very common to look for someone to blame or be angry at yourself. 

3. Bargaining 

This is a sense of the ‘what if’s’ and re-hashing the past in your mind. It may include religion or superstition, for example, promising to do things differently or act in a certain way to try and bring your loved one back, or to try and ensure no one else dies.   

4. Depression 

As understanding of the reality sets in, you may experience a deep sadness, pain and longing for your loved one. Some people will shut down and withdraw and struggle to find purpose or meaning. 

5. Acceptance

Reaching a place where you feel able to accept what has happened and are able to begin looking to the future and exploring new opportunities. 

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Tonkin’s model of grief – Dr Lois Tonkin

Dr Lois Tonkin’s model of grief is based on the principle that rather than ‘moving on’ from our grief over time, we in fact ‘grow around’ it.  

Dr Tonkin says that our grief will always be a part of us, but, as life continues to grow, the grief becomes less overwhelming and dominating. This model shows how we can still grieve for our loved one, whilst also carrying on with our lives and that we can forge a new life, which includes that loss as part of it. 

Illustrated image of Tonkin's model of grief showing stages of a plant growing around grief.

Nora McInery discusses her notion that “we don’t ‘move on’ from grief – we move forward with it” in her powerful Ted Talk:

The dual process model – Margaret Stroebe and Henk Schut

This is a model created by Margaret Stroebe and Henk Schut. It’s based on the notion that grief has two main states and people switch back and forth between these.  

The two states are ‘loss-oriented’ and ‘restoration-oriented’ 


This is where you may spend time thinking about your loved one, for example, how much you miss them, and focusing on your thoughts and feelings relating to them not being here. This may involve feelings of sadness, loneliness and anger. 

Restoration oriented 

This is where you’re able to get on with daily life and can ignore or distract yourself from your grief for a period of time. This may be things like cleaning, doing an activity with the children, going to work – anything that might give you a respite from your pain. 

Stroebe and Schut theorise that it is the movement between these two states that is healthy when grieving, as it allows us to acknowledge and validate our loss, whilst also giving ourselves space and time to be distracted from it. This movement can help us to feel less overwhelmed by our grief and to tackle our loss bit by bit. 

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If you have further questions, need to clarify any of the information on this page, or want to find out more about research and clinical trials, please contact our team:
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