Coping with the Death of Your Spouse

Rebuilding Your Life When Your Spouse Dies

Senior woman placing flowers on grave in cemetery
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The death of a spouse is the ultimate marriage crisis. One day you are married. The next day you are single, alone and grieving. Nothing is forever. The bottom line is that you will need to know how to journey on this rough passage, through a maze of details, decisions, forms to fill out, shock, loneliness, anger, confusion, fear, a broken heart, and depression. However, there can also be acceptance and new beginnings.

 "Everyone will someday lose everything they have ever loved or cared for. That’s the truth of life itself ... But our grief is not simply about losing a loved one or facing our own mortality. Whether it’s losing a job, a marriage, a dream, or our youth, we all have had our hearts broken. Each of has lost our innocence, and made mistakes, and done harm and been harmed along the way. We all have with our individual stories of the when, where, how, what, and who of our heartbreaks.. Each of our stories is tenderly unique and yet all of us have a story ... grief is the human condition; the tie that binds us all together." David Treadway, Ph.D., "Good Grief: Celebrating the Sorrows of Our Lives." on PsychologyToday.com (2012)

"Everyone experiences loss differently, and the last thing people need when they are in terrible pain is to feel that they are doing something wrong because they can’t figure out a way to make themselves feel better. Remembering that sometimes nothing helps can stop you from blaming yourself in the middle of your grief."
Will Schwalbe, "The Loss of a Loved One: How To Get Through It" on HuffingtonPost.com (2013)

Stages of Death and Dying

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote many years ago about the "stages of grieving": denial (shock), bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance. It is important to realize that these stages don't have any particular order and that some people may find themselves back in a stage they thought they had already conquered.

These stages are a normal part of grief. Do not allow yourself to get caught up with having to do things within a certain time frame. You will know the right time to empty drawers and closets and deal with personal items like wallets and purses. Wait until you are ready.

"And my first item on each day’s list is this: Wake up. If I can check that off, I’ve already done something and can get on with the business of living and trying to honor the memory of those I love who are no longer here." Will Schwalbe, "The Loss of a Loved One: How To Get Through It" on HuffingtonPost.com (2013)

It is Okay to Cry When Your Spouse Dies

Pain is necessary. So are tears. Crying does help. Crying is a healing device. Dr. Joyce Brothers describes tears as "emotional first-aid."

Tears contain leucine-enkephalin which is one of the brains' natural pain relievers. Tears also contain a hormone that encourages the secretion of tears - prolactin. Women have more prolactin than men, which is one of the reasons why they can cry more than men.

Dealing With Others

Many people are uncomfortable with death. As a result, they will say and do dumb things. Try to be forgiving of these folks that have no clue what to do or say.

They often don't realize that it is okay to mention your spouse's name, or look you in the eye, or to give you a hug.

Holidays and Special Days for the Surviving Spouse

Your life is changed and changing. The calendar will have a different effect on you as your wedding anniversary, Valentines' Day, special events, birthdays, and holidays come around. These dates must be dealt with. Plan ahead for them and do what you want to do. Don't let yourself be manipulated by family and friends.

Looking to the Future

Dr. Joyce Brothers wrote in her book, Widowed, "And if there should ever be another good man with whom I share my life, there will still be that empty corner of my soul. I know what I had and what I lost. I hope I will not spend the rest of my life alone. But if I do, I will not be sorry for myself.

Life goes on, and I am ready to join the parade again."

The U.S. Census states that on the average, widowers will remarry within three years of the death of their wives, and widows remarry within five years. Experts state that it is important, though, to marry for love ... not because you are lonely.

*Article updated by Marni Feuerman