What to Do When Your Spouse Dies

widows and widowers
Philippe Lissac /GODONG/ Creative RF/ Getty

If your spouse passes away, your are faced with one of the most stressful events you will ever have to experience. It is easy to completely look yourself in grief. But, you absolutely must continue to take care of your physical and mental health. Perhaps Edmund Burke states it best, "The true way to mourn the dead is to take care of the living who belong to them." This means, as hard as it is, you must take care of yourself during this difficult time.


The Realities to Face

  • Don't try to avoid, deny, or postpone grief. It is a natural part of life.
  • Donate your deceased beloved's organs so that others may live.
  • Accept your wide assortment of feelings. Feeling sad, angry, fearful, uncertain, frustrated, alone, helpless, disappointed, panic, confused, depressed, guilty, numb, relieved, etc. is to be expected. Hopefully, you will have people around you who will listen to you as you share your feelings, thoughts, fears, and hopes.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Try to not make major decisions about selling a home, moving, etc. until the first year of being alone is over. 
  • 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 look out 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. 
  • Find a way to remember your wife that you feel comfortable with. No one should make you do something you don't want to do. 
  • You could set up a financial trust to fund a scholarship, pay for medical bills, or help a church or community.
  • Work on an environmental or political cause that would have been important to your spouse.
  • Plant a memorial garden in a park or at a church.
  • You don't have to visit the cemetery if that doesn't bring you peace. Do what is right for you.
  • 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.
  • Attend a support group at a local hospice, religious institution or counseling center. There are often ones available specific for widows and widowers. 

    If after an extended period of time, say approximately one year, your grief remains deep and unresolved, 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.  

    *Article updated by Marni Feuerman