Grieving a Spouse

Gabrielle Applebury
Woman grieving at cemetery

Many people say emotional pain is more agonizing than physical pain. No one knows this better than a grieving spouse does. If your husband or wife recently died, it's likely you're having a difficult time dealing with the sadness and anger that often follows such a traumatic event. Understanding what you can do to help yourself through this nightmare may bring some relief.

Tips on Coping with the Death of a Spouse

Nothing can really prepare you for the death of your spouse. While there's nothing you can do to take the pain away completely, it's important to work out your grief and mourning as you go. There are ways to cope and make the pain more manageable.

Recognize the Loss

It can be easy to slip into denial when your spouse dies. Instead of allowing that to happen, remember the good times you had with your spouse, and hold on to them. Your memories will carry you through the hardest days you'll go through. You can also:

  • Journal about your favorite memories.
  • Go through your favorite pictures and frame them or leave them around the house.
  • Create a scrapbook of your wonderful journey together.
  • Plant a special flower or plant in your loved one's memory that will remind you of them when you tend to it throughout the week.

Experience Grief the Way You Need To

Support at group therapy

No one can tell you how you should feel after your spouse dies. If you want to cry or if you don't want to cry that's OK. You need to do what you have to do to get through this time, and no one should dictate to you how to do it. Be patient with yourself as well. You may feel like you are done with the pain, but your mind and body may not be done with it yet. Allow yourself to grieve, so that you can get through it in a healthy way. You may want to:

  • Join a grief support group that will connect you to others that are experiencing similar feelings and thoughts.
  • Talk to supportive friends and family members who will validate how you are feeling.
  • Channel your emotions into art. Expressing emotions can help you process them more quickly.
  • Spend some time with animals. Being around animals can help you connect with your emotions without feeling judged.

Take Care of Yourself

While you may not feel like eating, try to eat some healthy foods throughout the day. Even just a small healthy snack can keep your energy up. The same goes for sleep. Try not to sleep your days away, but neither should you stay up all night. Speak to your doctor if you have trouble calming your mind at night because he may be able to help you.

  • Create a peaceful bedtime ritual that incorporates soothing scents like chamomile and lavender.
  • Ask friends and family for help when it comes to cooking if you do not feel up to it. Prioritize keeping your body healthy during this stressful time.
  • Before bed, read a light book or watch a show that makes you laugh. Make sure you allow yourself to unwind.
  • If you can, go for a small walk or do some light stretching in the morning. These simple acts can help you feel more energized throughout the day.

Avoid Hasty Decisions

Yoga meditation

When grieving, many people are under extreme stress. For this reason, do not make any important decisions, if you can help it. Your mind isn't clear, and you don't want to make a decision that you'll regret later.

  • Prioritize relaxing, especially when you feel overwhelmed with making decisions. Treat yourself to a massage, or do a gentle yoga class to keep yourself calm and centered.
  • Try to stay in the present moment and practice mindfulness. Often grief can leave people stuck in the past, or worried about the future.
  • Take note of any decision that needs to be made in the future and save it for later. You can keep these notes organized on your phone, computer or in a notepad that you keep handy. Reach out to friends and family if your decision is time sensitive. It can be helpful to have another perspective.
  • If you need to make quick decisions, spend some time researching the subjects so you can be as well-informed as possible.

Try Not to Feel Guilty

You are not the reason your spouse died. You should not feel as if you are responsible for anything leading up to and upon his death. Try to reject all these guilty thoughts because they may stem from the survivor's guilt you're experiencing.

  • Practice doing some deep breathing focusing on expanding and compressing your belly. Close your eyes and place all your attention on your body.
  • Acknowledge that how you feel is normal and imagine your thoughts are just bubbles of text floating by. Continue to visualize your thoughts until your mind feels more at ease.
  • Read up about, or listen to podcasts about survivor's guilt. Feeling connected to others who share similar thoughts can be helpful.
  • Talk to others who have lost a spouse or close friend. They probably experienced similar feelings and can shed some light on questions you may have.

Accepting the Loss of a Spouse

As time passes, you will find that you will begin to accept the loss of your spouse. It's important to see this as a process, rather than a single event.

Embrace the Emotions

Embrace the emotions you're feeling. Many people will try to push away the excruciating pain of losing someone they love. They won't talk about it, or they sleep more often, so they don't have to deal with anything having to do with their spouse's death. While this does keep the reality of his or her death at bay, it doesn't do anything for the acceptance process. Instead, cry when you are sad or at least reflect on your sadness. When you're angry, don't be afraid to admit it, and talk about it. Good friends and family members are perfect for this type of venting because they understand, and many of them probably have the same feelings as you do.

  • Keep track of your emotions daily so you can track the progress you have made as time goes on. You may be surprised by the results.
  • Channel your emotions into an activity or creative project like hiking or coloring.
  • Release your emotions through plate smashing therapy or check out the anger room, a place where you can break as much stuff as you'd like.
  • Give yourself a butterfly hug when you are feeling down. Cross your arms over your chest so your hands are placed just beneath your shoulders. Gently and very slowly tap your hands on your body alternating sides each time. This action helps to bring emotions down when anyone feels too activated.

Make Small Changes

Make small changes to your life as a mark of moving forward. It's not easy, but it can help with accepting that your spouse is truly gone. Going through your spouse's belongings, moving furniture around, or even trading in his car for a new one can help you start the journey toward moving on. It will sting, but embrace the emotions, and you'll soon find yourself being able to get through it with strength.

  • Plan a trip you've been thinking about taking. You can always set the date a year out so you have plenty of time to prepare and get excited.
  • Join a club or take a class that sounds fun.
  • Volunteer for an organization that is meaningful to you.
  • Redecorate your bedroom so it feels like a comforting, relaxing place for you to unwind.

Connect Spiritually

Continue the relationship spiritually. There's nothing wrong in continuing the connection you had with your spouse via spiritual methods. Visit the gravesite to talk about how you are doing with your spouse, carry a photo around of him to speak to it when you're having a particularly difficult day, or even write letters about your love, longing and sadness. By bringing your spouse into your life in a new way, you will start to realize that even though he is physically gone, the effect of his love will last a lifetime.

  • Create a daily ritual to check in with your spouse.
  • Do your spouse's favorite activities to honor her.
  • Cook your spouse's favorite meal and invite loved ones over to enjoy it with you.
  • Acknowledge the little daily moments that remind you of him.

Seek Support

Equine therapy

No one understands grieving a spouse as much as someone else who has experienced the same situation. This is why organizations around the United States have grief support groups available for spouses. In the support groups, you'll be able to listen to others who are feeling the same as you do right now. Plus, you'll hear from others who are a bit further along with their grieving process, which will help you because they can provide tips. To find a support group in your area, you can ask the funeral home director, your local social services or even your physician. You can also use the searchable database of the Association of Death Education and Counseling to find a counselor in your area that specializes in helping the grieving.

  • Try equine therapy if you love animals. It's a unique and beautiful way to process your grief. Equine therapists can be found at EAGLA.
  • Speak with an individual grief counselor to help you work through your emotions.
  • Join a grief or widow meetup to connect with others who have experienced similar losses.
  • Many art programs offer special classes for people who are grieving a loss.

Depression Vs. Grief

When people grieve the loss of a spouse, many times the symptoms mimic those of depression. Since traumatic situations often spark depression in people susceptible to the disorder, it's important to be on the lookout for the signs. According to HelpGuide.org, some warning signs that your grief has led to depression include:

  • Suicidal ideation
  • Inability to care for oneself
  • Intense sense of guilt over the death
  • Slow speech and body movements
  • Hallucinations
  • Inability to function or perform daily tasks
  • Change in appetite and sleep patterns

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it's important to seek professional help from your primary care physician, psychologist or psychiatrist. One of them can provide you with a thorough evaluation to determine if you are suffering from depression and give you the help you need to handle your difficult situation much safer and healthier.

Moving On

With patience, compassion and strength, you will be able to overcome some of the emotions you're feeling right now. Just be good to yourself and take each moment at a time. Little by little, you will find the pain lessen as you remember your spouse, and the days ahead will look a little brighter.

Grieving a Spouse