Losing a spouse changes your whole world. One day you are married to the love of your life and the next day you’re alone, shattered, and grieving. Such a life-altering event can leave you broken, numb, shocked, and even fearful for the future ahead. Being in such a long-term partnership may have you facing feelings of guilt for being the one who is still alive. You may even feel angry at your spouse for leaving first or at a higher power for taking your soulmate away.
Know that such overwhelming feelings are completely okay. Between such intense emotions, the lifestyle changes that follow, and the many practical responsibilities that follow the death of a spouse, it’s okay to feel anxious and afraid for the future.
Over time, grief will subside and you’ll find a reason to keep on living your life. We must keep living and allow others to keep living to honor the beloved who have passed. As cliché as it may sound, they would never want you to give up on life. But even if you’re aware of the fact, grieving can be an extremely intense experience, both physically and emotionally.
People who are grieving over losing a spouse often feel like they’ve lost their best friend, feel guilty for not doing everything possible, fear the loss of identity after being defined as a part of a relationship, have concerns over finances and question their own mortality. In addition to feeling like there’s been a hole carved in your chest, there’s also the pressure of putting your own life back together, which can be terribly hard after such a devastating event. But there are a few ways you can equip yourself to cope better.
1. Go easy on yourself
There is never any right way of grieving, people have their own emotions, their own processes, and their own capacities. So many variables contribute to your reactions, including the nature of your marriage, your relationship with your partner, how your spouse passed away, how your children are coping (if you have any), and how dependent you were on each other. All of this proves that how you grieve is unique to you.
It’s important to find balance as the demands of daily life, work, parenting, and chores continue. But that doesn’t mean you don’t focus on fully experiencing the loss you’re living through. It’s okay to be human, it’s okay to grieve. Keep expressing it and keep feeling it. This time is your time to take the best possible care of yourself. Cry as much as you need and let yourself feel the pain.
2. Be aware of your children’s grief
For adults, losing a spouse or any loved one is disorienting but for a child, it can be downright frightening. When you’re in a phase of experiencing so many new life lessons, having such a sense of security taken away can take a major toll on children. Be gentle but honest, without offering details that can be hard to comprehend or extremely upsetting. Encourage your child to express their feelings without pressuring them. Explain to them that it’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to cry and be upset, or to not be sure of what these feelings truly mean. Help your child put their feelings into words and listen to them without judgment.
3. Be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits
Your feelings of grief may leave you feeling fatigued and tired. You may not be able to think clearly or make decisions firmly. Your energy may run low and naturally slow you down. Recognize these signs and respect your body and mind for staying strong all this while. But also cut yourself some slack. Lighten your schedule, get rest daily, eat balanced meals. If you’re unable to take care of yourself, ask yourself a question, “Am I treating me better or worse than I would treat a good friend?” This will answer whether you’re being too hard on yourself or not. Caring for yourself doesn’t mean feeling sorry for yourself but rather honing your survival skills to rise above.
4. Treasure your memories
The best legacy left behind is memories. Treasure the memories that bring you comfort, but also don’t shy away from those that trouble you. Even difficult memories find purpose as you heal. Share your memories with those close to you, with family and friends who will listen and support you. These memories are the ones that still connect you to that very special person in your life.
A part of this could also mean understanding what to do with your spouse’s clothes and personal belongings. Know that you, and only you, should decide when and how you’ll take care of these things. If having them closer makes you feel better, then don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Don’t let external pressures force you to make hasty decisions. It isn’t hurting anything to leave their belongings right where they are, for now, you will get to them when you have the energy to do so.
5. Be compassionate with yourself during special occasions
There will be days when you’ll miss your spouse more than others. These could be special days like birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, or more. Losing a spouse is never easy, even as time passes. And going through these times alone can be extremely difficult to take since such events emphasize the loss of your partner. The reawakening of painful feelings can leave you gutted and drained but don’t try to take away the hurt. Let yourself feel it. Your late spouse’s presence will always be around you, even after the clothes are gone. Give these events a new meaning by doing something in honour of your partner. Maybe volunteer at or donate to an organization that your spouse would support, you could create new family traditions during the holidays that keep your husband or wife’s memory alive, indulge in activities that your spouse used to enjoy to feel their presence.
Remember, grief is a process rather than an event. Patience and tolerance with yourself will bring compassion and healing. A major shift has taken place and as you relinquish old roles and establish new ones, you’ll need to understand that it’s completely acceptable for you to live your life while remembering the one you loved.