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What’s Next? Dealing with a Spouse’s Death

What’s Next? Dealing with a Spouse’s Death
Kevin Cleary

Grieving, especially for a spouse, is not a one-size-fits-all process. This is especially applicable to those who have been the primary caregivers to their spouses. The emotional toll can be incredibly high. While we may think that there is a “playbook” for the proper way to grieve after such a monumental loss, that thinking is actually flawed. We here at HPFY may be able to shine a light on the grieving process that you may find helpful.

The Death Of A Spouse

The Grieving Process

Just like each person is different from others, everybody grieves differently, but grief is a natural process and you may experience emotions ranging from sadness or loneliness to even anger or rage. Regardless of your loss, you can move on and heal if you understand your emotions and seek support or help if needed. The Kubler-Ross model identifies some general steps in the grieving process and they can include:

  • Denial: This is the first stage of the grieving process in which we can’t believe this event has happened. We often cling to a false, mistaken, or preferable reality. It is this denial that helps us minimize the pain of our loss.
  • Anger: The second step in this process often starts with “why me” or “how can this happen to me.” Often we become frustrated at the loss of our loved one and we can focus our anger at those who are closest to us. Unfortunately, anger can leave us isolated at a time when he could truly use the comfort and assurances of others.
  • Bargaining: In order to avoid what caused our grief, we sometimes rationalize a bargaining ordeal in order to offset the loss. This third stage often involves the saying “if I could trade their life for mine.” This is often directed at a higher power and can be accompanied by regret of past behaviors. This bargaining allows us to feel a sense of control over a situation that we actually do not have control over.
  • Depression: As we experience the fourth stage of grief, we often despair about our own potential mortality. Individuals experiencing this step may exhibit behaviors such as silence, refuse visitors, and appear in a general funk or (forgive my choice of words) mopeyness. If that’s actually a word. While this is a normal step in the grieving process, if you notice a loved one struggling with depression professional help may be required. The website lists a great national database of associations that may help. If you need help or know someone that does try
  • Acceptance: It is at this final step that we can move on. Often it is during this step that we accept our human mortality and inevitability. It is during this step that sadness or regret may still be felt, but the other emotions (denial, anger, etc.) associated with our loss can diminish or disappear.

While the Kubler-Ross model presents five clear steps for grieving, it is important to realize that each person grieves differently than another. As you can notice, there is no timeframe for each step and somebody in the grief process may experience each step at a different rate. Some may get through it quickly while others may process the loss significantly slower.

Five Stages of Grief

Grief, Guilt, and Regret

In many cases, the primary caregiver at home is a spouse. Often these caregivers experience guilt after the death of their spouse. You often hear phrases such as “if only I had done something different” or “if I had only spoken up” as we look back when dealing with a spouse’s death. We frequently can get the concepts of guilt and regret mixed up. Here’s a good rule of thumb:

  • Guilt: Many feel that the emotion of guilt is tied to doing something that we know is wrong at the time that we do it. This can be tied to either ethical/moral or legal situations.
  • Regret: This is the emotion we feel when we look back on our actions and feel that we should or could have done something differently. It often revolves around an action that we did or didn’t do that may have changed an outcome.

These are just one way of defining these two terms. You may or may not agree with what I have just put forth but understand these are two completely different emotions. Be sure not to confuse the two during your grief process.

Dealing with Reminders

Okay, once you have experienced acceptance everything will be peachy, right? Well not exactly. It is inevitable that we will be reminded of our loss from time to time. Whether it is the anniversary of their death, a birthday, or another important moment you shared, there will be reminders of them and your loss. These reminders can even be triggered by sight, scent, and sounds that can bring on a flood of emotions. This can trigger a wide range of emotions such as anxiety, guilt, sadness, and loneliness to name just a few. The Mayo Clinic suggests several steps to take during these tough moments. They include:

  • Be Prepared: When an anniversary or other important date is approaching understand that this may trigger some sad emotions and use them as a healing moment.
  • Plan a Distraction: During times that you may anticipate feeling alone or sad, plan a visit with friends or schedule a gathering with those around you.
  • Reminisce: If we remember all the good times we had with those we lost it can help minimize the pain of remembering our loss. This can help you take the focus off of the actual loss and emphasize the good times you had.
  • Start a New Tradition: This can be something as simple as planting a tree or shrub or a charitable contribution in their name. This honors your loved one and make a positive out of a negative.
  • Don’t Isolate: As stated before, one of the steps in the grieving process is depression. We should try to avoid isolating ourselves and connect with family and friends. The participation in support groups that have experienced the same emotions is a great way to process your grief.
  • Embrace Your Emotions: Believe it or not, it’s okay to be sad and lonely after the loss of a spouse. Just as long as you also experience the joy and happiness you shared with them also. It is celebrating the special times you had that may bring about some laughter and some tears.

Stages of Grief

Grieving for a spouse is an amazingly intimate time and you may run the full gamut of emotions during this time. It is not a sign of weakness to show that we are sad or lonely, but part of the natural healing process of grief. Don’t run or hide from your emotions, embrace them so that you can come out of it healthy and maybe happier!!


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HPFY Kevin Cleary

Kevin Cleary

Kevin Cleary has been a Health Products For You contributor for many years and has a degree in marketing. His health and wellness journey has a very personal meaning and has guided him in his content writing for HPFY.

In 2006, ...

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