Living Grief: A Life That Contains Chronic Diseases and Illness

Living Grief: A Life That Contains Chronic Diseases and Illness

More than a cold or the flu, living a life that contains chronic illness is one that proves to be very difficult.  There is a silent pain that you go through.  Your illness may be visible to those around  or invisible to the rest of society, but the pain is real and prevalent.  There is a loss of sense of self, purpose, goals, dreams, and hope.

Why Grieve?

Most often grief is associated with the death of someone, not something.  When you think of grief, usually a funeral is involved.  Grief, however, has many faces.  A living grief is one in which the item or situation being grieved is still alive or very much present.

In Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ book, On Death and Dying, she identifies the five stages of grief:

  1. Denial – a conscious or unconscious refusal to accept facts, information, or the reality of the situation. “I feel fine.”; “This can’t be happening, not to me.”
  2. Anger– anger can manifest itself in different ways. People can be angry with themselves, or with others, and especially those who are close to them. “Why me? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me?”; ‘”Who is to blame?”
  3. Bargaining – negotiation to postpone or find some sort of compromise that will change or delay the outcome. “I’ll do anything for a few more years.”; “I will give my life savings if…” “Can we still be friends?”
  4. Depression – sets in as you move towards acceptance. It’s natural to feel sadness, regret, fear, and uncertainty when going through this stage. “I’m so sad, why bother with anything?”; “I’m going to die soon so what’s the point?”; “I miss my loved one, why go on?”
  5. Acceptance – this stage is marked by a coming to peace with the loss. “It’s going to be okay.”

These are the stages that you can expect to move through.  They do not necessarily go in order, but you will move in and out of these stages. Grief is not an item to be contained, but a process to be experienced.


Many facing chronic illness say that they no longer feel in control of their life.  You can no longer do the activities that you once enjoyed doing; you no longer can eat the food you once enjoyed.  Now you have to take more acute care of yourself and micromanage your schedule even more.  There is no longer a sense of individuality and wholeness, but more of trying to rediscover who you are.


According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in 2005, 133 million Americans had at least one chronic illness.  One quarter of those with chronic illness deal with daily activity limitations. Making adjustments to your daily life is often one of the most difficult things to do.  You are often comfortable with your pre-illness lifestyle or schedule, and that may not be attainable at this point. Whether you have just found out about your chronic illness or have been dealing with it for years, there are adjustments that may need to be made.  There may need to be more or less physical activity, dietary changes, social involvement, or making time to rest.


Some actions that are helpful during this time include;

  1. Staying connected – not only to a therapist, but to friends and family.  The journey you’re on is difficult, especially when trying to do it alone.
  2. Journaling – Writing has an incredible impact on our thinking process.  It forces us to verbalize the inner turmoil and tension that we’re not able to sort out in our head.
  3. Give yourself permission to grieve – So often we forget or don’t realize that this is an event that needs to be grieved.  Give yourself permission to do so, in your time.
  4. Ask for help – Because a chronic illness may not be visible to someone on the outside, there is often shame in asking for help.  Not only is it important to your physical wellbeing, but your emotional wellbeing as well.
  5. Attend support groups – check your local area for support groups that pertain to grief or chronic illness.

What Now?

Perhaps you just found out about a chronic condition that you now need to learn to care for, or maybe you’ve been fighting the reality of your illness for as long as you can remember.  Please know there is help available.  This is not a journey that needs to be taken alone.  Follow this link to schedule an appointment to talk with someone about working through the grief process.



Kubler-Ross, E. (1969). On Death and Dying. New York: Simon & Schuster.

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