What to Do When Your Spouse Dies

widows and widowers
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When your spouse passes away, you're faced with an overbearingly stressful life event. Although the experience will force you to deal with the tough feelings of grief, taking care of your physical and mental health is key. The Irish philosopher Edmund Burke states it best, "The true way to mourn the dead is to take care of the living who belong to them." Don't try to avoid, deny, or postpone grief—it's a natural part of life.

What to Do When Your Spouse Dies

It's understandable that you'd want to curl up in a ball and stop participating in life when you are grieving. As tough as it is, pushing yourself to take some action will make you feel more in control of your life. The first thing to do is accept your wide assortment of feelings. Allow people around you to listen to you as you share your feelings, thoughts, fears, and hopes. Emotions you can expect to experience include:

  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Uncertainty
  • Frustration
  • Loneliness
  • Helplessness
  • Disappointment
  • Panic
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Guilt
  • Numbness
  • Relief

Steps to Take

Like your feelings, it's good to be aware of the physical impact you may experience after the death of your spouse. Tiredness, shock, extreme lack of energy and motivation, lack of appetite or over-eating, and crying are common reactions to grief. Take care of yourself by eating healthy foods, drinking water and avoiding alcohol, sleeping regular hours, getting exercise, and finding ways to make yourself smile and laugh.

Try to not make major decisions about selling a home, moving, and more until the first year of being alone is over. Rather, take this time to find a way to remember your wife or husband that you feel comfortable with. No one should make you do something you don't want to do. For instance, you could set up a financial trust to fund a scholarship, pay for medical bills, or help a church or community. Alternatively, attending a support group could help. Consider a local hospice, religious institution, or counseling center. There are often ones available specific for widows and widowers. 

Talk to Your Family

If you have young children, talk to them honestly about the death of their mother or father. Don't give any impression that he or she has simply gone away. Be on the lookout for changes in their behavior and seek counseling quickly if you sense they aren't handling the grief they feel in a healthy way. Some families try to find meaning in the senseless death of a loved one by wanting to do something good for others. Seek out a meaningful project that would honor your loved one's memory. 

This Too Shall Pass

Don't try to set a goal for when you won't be feeling sad. Time-tables just don't work when it comes to the grieving process. Although it may seem impossible to you now, you will adjust to this monumental change in your life. Just because you are readjusting to life without them, you won't forget them.

There will be many times in the future when something will trigger a memory of your spouse, and feelings of sadness may overwhelm you momentarily. This is normal. To honor them, you can donate your deceased beloved's organs so that others may live. You could also work on an environmental or political cause that would have been important to your spouse. Do little things that bring you joy, like planting a memorial garden in a park or at a church.

Remember, there is no right one way to grieve. For example, you don't have to visit the cemetery if that doesn't bring you peace. Do what is right for you.

Ask for Help

If you need help, ask for it. Don't expect friends and family to be mind readers. You may need to seek out a bereavement counselor. Ask your local hospice or health insurance plan for a referral.

If your grief remains deep and unresolved after an extended period of time (like a year), you may have a mental health condition that requires treatment and medication. Grief can turn into clinical depression if it is prolonged or complicated by other factors. Similarly, if you find you have turned to drugs or alcohol to cope, you may have developed an addiction or dependency. These conditions require professional help.