How to Cope with the Death of a Spouse
Losing a spouse is always a huge blow. When your life has become so intertwined with that of someone you love, figuring out how to live without them, while also feeling the full grief of the loss, is hard. Everyone around you knows it’s hard, but most don’t really know what to do to help. And you probably don’t know what you want – from them or yourself.
Everyone grieves a little differently, so only you can figure out what’s right for you. But here are a few ways to get past the worst of it.
Take all the alone time you need.
It’s okay to want to spend time on your own processing your feelings, or even just sitting with them. You shouldn’t feel like you have to be surrounded by friends and family or you’re doing something wrong. It’s okay to say “no” when people ask to come over or invite you to come out to do something with them,
Up to a point, that is. In the days after your spouse passes, take all the alone time you need. If you spend weeks or even months avoiding leaving the house or spending time with other people, then you’ll start to have a hard time moving past the pain. Don’t feel guilty if your feelings lead you down a solitary path, but also don’t push your loved ones away entirely.
Grieve with your other loved ones if it helps.
On the other hand, if you know you’ll feel better if you keep your loved ones close, then ask them to come around frequently. Some people will have a negative reaction to suddenly being alone a lot of the time after a spouse passes; if you need your friends and family members to help fill in that empty space, let them know. Most will be happy to help.
What people want when they’re grieving varies from person to person. There won’t be any easy answer to feeling better, but you’ll have some idea in the moment of what you need – whether it’s solitude or company – and you’re allowed to do grieving in the way that works best for you.
Don’t dwell on the bad of the moment – share stories about the good.
This is hard, because the pain stays so top of mind right after a loved one passes, and the lack of a spouse who’s been beside you for years is especially rough. But look through pictures, revisit old letters and emails, and make a point to remember the experiences you shared that were meaningful to you.
Talk to your loved ones about their memories as well. Let your words paint a picture of the person you all loved. Some people may feel the impulse to push their deceased spouse out of their memories because remembering hurts too much, but this simply doesn’t work. Instead use those memories as a way to lighten the moment and recall what made them unique and important to you.
Ask for help with the logistics.
It would be nice if the banalities of life would stop for a while once something as devastating as a death of a spouse occurs, but somewhere along the way you’re going to have to deal with the boring, tedious tasks of updating your various accounts and legal documents.
Those loved ones letting you know they’re there for “anything you need?” Enlist them to help you with the dull stuff that has to get done, but painfully reminds you of your spouse. There are some things you’ll have to do yourself, but in many cases family members can take on the tasks without too much trouble. If there’s someone you trust with sensitive information like your passwords and credit card info, ask them to sit down to your computer and get to work:
- Cancelling credit cards in your spouse’s name
- Updating any accounts you have in their address to yours
- Making sure your health insurance, car insurance, home insurance, and life insurance (if you have it) are all in your name
- Making sure your bank and any other financial accounts are all in your name
- Updating any recurring bill payment you have set up with the correct updated bank account or credit card information
- Cancelling any memberships your spouse had that you no longer need
- Rolling over their IRA into yours – if they have one with you listed as beneficiary
- Updating the Social Security office on their passing and setting you up for the survivor’s benefit
You’ll also need to talk to your lawyer about updating your will. And if your spouse was often in charge of taking care of monthly bills, you’ll need to check and make sure you know what all bills you need to pay and when before they start becoming due.
Beware of depression.
Grief is one thing, but if it dips into depression, you need to recognize and seek out the help you need. How can you tell the difference between depression and grief? Look for common symptoms of depression which include:
- Loss of appetite
- Trouble sleeping
- Confusion and memory problems
- Little desire to leave the house or maintain social connections
- Thoughts of suicide
If you experience any of these, especially if they linger after the early days of your spouse’s death, don’t keep it to yourself. Depression is an illness and, like many illnesses, it can be treated. With the right help, you can start to move past it and get your life back.
Consider therapy or a support group.
There’s nothing shameful about turning to professional help to work through the pain of losing a loved one. Many therapists specialize in helping people deal with grief in ways that are healthy. Talking with a therapist can help you figure out what your life can and should look like without your spouse, in a way that matches what you want and respects their memory.
Many therapists and other professionals help run support groups so that you can meet other people dealing with grief like yours. For many people who survive the loss of a spouse, meeting others going through the same thing can be a comfort.
Remove items that offer painful reminders, or create spaces or objects devoted to their memory.
There’s not one right move here, it’s a matter of what works best for you. If seeing your spouse’s old clothes and items around the house brings the pain back anew every day, then stop torturing yourself. It’s okay to gather those things up and take them to the thrift store, or better yet, task a loved one with doing it for you. If there’s a chance your kids or other family members might want some of the items, name a day for them to come over and look through your spouse’s things. They can keep what they want and be in charge of finding something else to do with the rest.
If the idea of removing all items that remind you of your spouse is painful, you can create a specific space to keep the items that mean a lot to you together. Whenever you want to spend some time remembering, they’ll be there for you.
Never feel guilty for feeling happy and moving forward.
It may feel impossible at first, but you will start to have good days. You will laugh, smile, and enjoy your life, likely with increasing frequency as time passes. Know that this is okay. You don’t owe it to the memory of your loved one to spend the rest of your life grieving.
Figure out ways to shape your life to what you want it to be. You can never replace a loved one you’ve lost, but you can find ways to fill the hole in your world that they’ve left behind. Embrace doing the things that make you happy and never let guilt creep into the process of moving on from the pain.