Coping with the Death of a Spouse
Few events in life are as painful as the death of a spouse. You may be uncertain you will survive this overwhelming loss. At times, you may be uncertain you even have the energy or desire to survive, much less try to heal.
It's Okay to Mourn
Your husband or wife has died. This was your life's companion. You may feel uncertain and confused without their companionship, like a part of you is missing. When you experience the death of someone you love, live with, and depend on, feeling disoriented is natural. Mourning is the open expression of your thoughts and feelings regarding the death of your spouse, and is an essential part of healthy healing.
Your Grief is Uniquely Your Own
No one else had the same relationship you had with your spouse. Your experience will also be influenced by the circumstances surrounding the death, other losses you have experienced, your emotional support system and your cultural and religious background. Because of this, you will grieve in your own special way. Don't try to compare your experience with that of others or to adopt assumptions about just how long your grief should last. Take a one-day-at-a-time approach that allows you to grieve at your own pace.
Talk About Your Thoughts and Feelings
Articulate your grief honestly. When you share your grief with others, healing occurs. Don't be afraid to talk about the circumstances of the death and your feelings. Share the special things you miss about your spouse. Talk about the sort of person he or she was, the types of activities you enjoyed together, and memories that allow for both laughter and tears. It's important not to ignore your grief. It's okay to speak from your heart, not just your head, because we love (and miss) with both!
Anticipate a Multitude of Emotions
The death of your spouse affects your head, heart and spirit, so you will likely experience a variety of emotions as part of your grieving process. It takes a great deal of energy and effort work through such a traumatic experience. You may feel confused, disoriented, fearful, guilty, relieved and angry all at the same time! As bizarre as some of these emotions may seem, they are normal and healthy. Permit yourself to learn from these feelings, and don't be surprised if surges of grief suddenly come out of nowhere, at the most unexpected times.
Find a Support System
The most compassionate self-action you can take is to find a support system of caring friends and relatives who will provide the understanding you need. Find out if there is a support group in your area that you might want to attend. There is no substitute for learning from others who have experienced the death of their spouse. Avoid individuals who are disapproving or who try to tell you how you should grieve. Seek out those people who encourage you to be yourself and acknowledge your feelings— both happy and sad.
It's not unusual to feel worn out and fatigued when you have lost a loved one. You may find your ability to think clearly and make decisions greatly impaired. You may even find that a low energy level slows you down a bit. Pay attention to what your body and mind are telling you. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals, and don't feel guilty about lightening your schedule as much as possible.
Take the Time You Need With Your Spouse's Personal Belongings
Only you can decide what needs to be done (and when), with your spouse's clothes and personal belongings. Don't force yourself to go through these things until you are ready. You may not have the energy or desire to do anything with them for quite some time. Some people may try to measure your healing by how quickly they can get you to do something with these belongings. Don't let them make decisions for you. There is no harm in leaving your spouse's belongings right where they are for the time being.
Holidays, Anniversaries and Special Occasions Can Be Very Difficult
You will probably find that some days make you miss your spouse more than others. Days and events that held special meaning for you as a couple, such as your birthday, your spouse's birthday, your wedding anniversary or holidays, may be more difficult to go through by yourself. These events make the absence of a loved one much more noticeable. If you belong to a support group, this would be a good time to have a special friend stay in close contact with you during these naturally difficult days.
Hold Your Memories Close to Your Heart
Memories are one of the best legacies a spouse leaves when they die. Treasure the memories that comfort you, and explore those that may trouble you. Even difficult memories can help us to heal. Share memories with those who listen well and support you. Recognize that your memories may make you laugh or cry. In either case, they are a lasting part of the relationship you had with your spouse. You may also find comfort in finding a way to commemorate your husband or wife's life. It's important to remember that healing doesn't mean forgetting.
Honor and Acknowledge Your Spirituality
If faith is part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your belief system. You may feel angry at God for taking your spouse, this is a very normal part of grieving. Locate someone to talk to who isn't critical of any thoughts and feelings you need to explore.
Grieving and Healing Go Hand in Hand
To restore your capacity to love, you must grieve when your spouse dies. There is no time clock to indicate the completion of your grieving process. We don't actually get over grief; we learn to live with it, just as we choose to go on living. Grieving is a process, not an event. Give yourself time and compassion, just as you would a friend. When you allow yourself to grieve, you are moving toward a renewed sense of meaning and purpose in your life.