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Living Now: Coping with loss and change

You may be experiencing many emotions as you recover from transplant or care for someone recovering from transplant. While there is much to celebrate, there are also many changes in your life that may lead to feelings that you might not have expected, like grief and loss. 

There is no single best way to work through these feelings. An important first step is to notice and acknowledge your feelings. Then, make a plan to work through them in a healthy way that works best for you. Not talking about your feelings can make it worse. 

Recognize the symptoms of grief 

The first step in healing is to recognize the symptoms of grief. They can include: 

  • Feeling sad, angry, guilty or irritable 
  • Crying, sleeping a lot or very little, loss of appetite 
  • Feeling alone or detached from others 
  • Questioning your faith or personal beliefs 

Work through your grief 

You might find it helpful to: 

  • Express your grief. For example, talk through your emotions with someone you trust, write about your feelings in a journal, take time to cry or express your feelings through art. 
  • Identify emotional triggers like key dates, activities or places and make plans to cope with them. 
  • Commit to taking care of yourself by being healthy and active. 
  • Focus on new, or renewed relationships that nurture and support you. 
  • Work toward accepting your experience and reframing your goals for the future. 

“Grief is a normal and common experience after transplant,” says Hailey Hassel, MSW, LGSW, BMT Social Worker. “It’s important to acknowledge the emotional impacts that occur with changes to your body, relationships and expectations of your future. It can be helpful to talk about these losses with a loved one or a professional. Allow yourself to feel these emotions without guilt. There is no shame in these emotions.”

“Life after transplant is a different challenge than treatment. It has its emotional ups and downs. However, if you lean on your support system and listen to your doctors, your road will be much smoother,” shares Matt, transplant recipient.

Understanding survivor’s guilt 

When first diagnosed, many patients ask, “why me?” Many survivors ask themselves the same question. They grieve the loss of people they came to know, who died during their treatment journey. This can lead to difficult and complex emotions often described as survivor’s guilt. 

Survivor’s guilt can affect your physical and emotional health, relationships, your ability to work and move forward in your life. It can prevent you from feeling truly happy or may make you feel worse after enjoying simple pleasures.

Some survivors find it helpful to think in terms of honoring the memory of those they have lost by living as fully and joyfully as they can. But it’s not always easy to do.

As transplant recipient Evelyn shares, “Your life will be affected forever in both positive and negative ways. Focus on the things you can do instead of your limitations.”