The death of a spouse is one of life’s most difficult and painful experiences. Losing a spouse can be overwhelming, leaving you feeling disoriented, isolated, and alone. It’s important to understand that the grieving process doesn’t have a standard timeline. Anyone who’s gone through it knows the process is unique. There is one pretty universal thing, though. According to research, up to a third of people who lose their spouse will be mentally or physically affected (or both). The impact is real, and it can be devastating. Studies show that surviving spouses even have an elevated mortality risk.
Although grieving can feel like it lasts forever at times, know that there are ways to cope with your loss, including online grief counseling. We’ve put together 9 tips that will help you move forward after the loss of a spouse.
Read on to learn how to deal with grief after losing a husband or wife.
1. Understand the Stages of Grief
Surviving the death of a wife or husband can be overwhelming and confusing. It can leave you feeling lost. Understanding the stages of grief, though, can help you cope with your feelings.
How to do it: Review the following stages below, so you understand what you’re going through and why. Note that the stages of grief don’t necessarily go in any specific order, and you can revisit them multiple times. There are many books about grief that walk you through each of these stages.
Denial is often an initial reaction to losing a spouse. It helps protect us from the pain we feel when faced with reality or when we can’t accept what has happened. During this stage, feeling isolated from others is common.
As denial fades away, anger might take its place. Anger can be directed at yourself, your loved ones, God or a higher power, fate itself, or even your deceased spouse.
Anger often manifests through bargaining as you try to make deals to undo the tragedy that has occurred.
Depression commonly follows anger. As you come face-to-face with reality, you might reflect on everything you lost. Dreams shared, plans made, and memories created — now gone forever.
Don’t confuse acceptance with happiness. It’s an understanding that certain things are beyond your control. After the loss of a spouse, acceptance might bring hope as you start to heal and allow yourself permission to look toward new beginnings as a widow.
2. Know That Your Grief is Not Forever
Grieving the death of a spouse is both natural and necessary. When we’re in it, it can be difficult to believe our intense grief won’t last forever. In fact, you might constantly wonder how long does grief last? Does it ever go away? While the grief never really goes away, it’s really important to trust that you’ll eventually heal from the intensity of the pain and find peace.
How to do it: Remind yourself that you’re strong and can get through this. Using affirmations or journaling for your mental health can be helpful ways to navigate your intense grief.
3. Give Yourself the Grace to Feel the Pain
Losing a husband or wife is an emotional rollercoaster, and it’s okay if you don’t always feel in control. Allow yourself time and space to experience your emotions without judgment or guilt.
How to do it: You may find comfort in talking with friends or family members about how you’re feeling.
4. Find a Support System
Whether it’s a close friend or family member who is willing to listen, or it’s an online forum or support group where people share their experiences, having people around who understand what you’re going through can make all the difference during this difficult time.
How to do it: Consider joining a local bereavement group for additional support. You can find strength when you spend time with others who’ve gone through similar losses. If you don’t feel comfortable in a group setting, find one or two people you can go to any time, day or night.
5. Take Care of Yourself
Taking care of your physical health is just as important as your mental health after losing a spouse. It won’t be easy but try to take care of yourself during this time. Self-care can be instrumental in your survival during the weeks and months you’re grieving.
“Grief impacts us physically and mentally. We go through many different emotions and thoughts. Be kind and compassionate towards yourself and focus on self-care and taking care of your needs. Therapy can help you process the stages of grief.”– Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, LMHC
How to do it: Eat healthy meals regularly, exercise daily (even if only for 10 minutes), get enough sleep each night, and avoid unhealthy habits (like smoking and drinking alcohol excessively) that could worsen symptoms like depression and anxiety associated with grieving.
6. Honor Your Loved One
Honoring the memory of your loved one can seem hard at first, but celebrating happy moments can ultimately bring peace into your life again over time.
How to do it: Look back on old photos, watch home videos, or talk about funny stories — anything that helps keep their spirit alive can be comforting.
7. Reach Out to Friends and Family
Even though being alone might seem easier, make an effort every day to reach out to people socially. It’ll help you rebuild connections with others while still allowing space for you to process your feelings.
“It can be hard to move past the loss of a spouse. Going through the mourning process is part of healing. It’s important to acknowledge your thoughts and feelings during this time. Surround yourself with family and friends so you can get the support you need.”– Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, LMHC
How to do it: Being social while grieving a spouse can feel unbearable. Start small by attending events within familiar circles — try church groups, book clubs, or other groups you once got together with — then gradually work towards larger gatherings once you’re more comfortable doing so.
8. Remember There’s No “Right Way” to Grieve
Everyone experiences loss differently — some people need more alone time, while others prefer distractions like volunteering or spending time with friends. Do what works best for you while you’re surviving the death of your wife or husband. Your comfort zone is perfectly acceptable — don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
How to do it: Give yourself time and space when and where you need it. There’s no playbook, and your feelings and needs are entirely valid.
9. Seek Help Through Grief Counseling
If your feelings become overwhelming at any point during the grieving process, seek professional assistance from therapists specializing in grief counseling.
How to do it: Grief therapy techniques can help you cope with bereavement issues. If you’re struggling, reach out for professional help as soon as things feel too much to bear.
Find Ways to Survive the Loss of a Spouse with Talkspace
Grief is a normal and necessary part of the healing process, but it’s important to remember that you can eventually find peace and acceptance. With Talkspace, you can find support in navigating your journey after losing a spouse.
Talkspace offers online therapy sessions, providing an accessible way to connect with licensed therapists from anywhere, at any time. Talkspace is making it easier for people struggling with different types of grief. You’ll receive support from experienced professionals explicitly trained to help you deal with bereavement-related issues so you can heal emotionally over time.
- Parkes CM. Coping with loss: Bereavement in adult life. BMJ. 1998;316(7134):856-859. doi:10.1136/bmj.316.7134.856. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1112778/. Accessed December 19, 2022.
- Moon JR, Glymour MM, Vable AM, Liu SY, Subramanian SV. Short- and long-term associations between widowhood and mortality in the United States: Longitudinal analyses. Journal of Public Health. 2013;36(3):382-389. doi:10.1093/pubmed/fdt101. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4181424/. Accessed December 19, 2022.
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