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How to grieve the loss of a spouse

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Your morning coffee together, your afternoon walks to the park, the way you always wanted to leave the party at the same time: There is so much to miss about your partner when they pass away. It’s common to feel a bit adrift in the world without your better half. Mourning the loss of a spouse can be an isolating experience. 

Well-meaning friends may tell you “Don’t worry, you can meet someone else” or try to distract you from your grief. However, feelings are complicated when you lose a spouse, and grieving doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all timeline. It’s normal to need some time to readjust to life after the loss of your life partner. 

Below we’ve outlined some ways to cope with the loss of a spouse. While you move through the stages of grief, consider these coping mechanisms. 

How to cope with the loss of a partner

Grieving the loss of a spouse is a major, life-altering event. Give yourself grace while you mourn and begin to rebuild your life. 

1. Give yourself permission to grieve

First, give yourself permission to fully grieve your loss. Other people may have an opinion about how quickly you “should” feel. That’s not important. Allow yourself to wade through the stages of grief at your own pace. 

2. Find a support network

Grieving the loss of a wife or husband can be lonely. Your primary support group is gone, but a grief support group may connect you with others who are feeling a similar pain. Your inner circle of friends and family can also be a well of comfort. Reach out for support — people may be more eager to listen than you think. Turning to familiar hobbies may also help you to reconnect with the things you love about life. 

3. Watch for signs of complicated grief

As Bridges to Recovery explains, there are differences between standard grief and what is called complicated grief. You may be experiencing complicated grief if any of the following symptoms sound familiar. 

  • Do you have feelings of intense sadness lasting more than one year? 
  • Is it hard to focus on anything but your loss? 
  • Do you feel that life has lost meaning for you? 
  • Do you struggle to take care of day-to-day tasks after at least one year? 

Take care of yourself by identifying these red flags and reaching out for help. 

4. Move forward at your own pace

Grieving the loss of a spouse takes time. Don’t rush into major decisions — only move forward when you’re ready. Maybe this means postponing a life decision until your mind is more clear. Focus on what’s best for you and your family at the moment. 

5. Monitor your mental health

Grieving the loss of a husband, wife, or life partner affects your mental health. Depression, anxiety, and substance abuse are common among surviving spouses. According to one study, just over 50% of all people surveyed said that the sudden loss of a loved one was the most traumatic experience of their life. Be gentle with yourself as you process and come to terms with your new reality. 

6. Take care of your physical health

Similarly, your physical health can take a toll right after a spouse passes away. Sleeping, eating, and taking medications might fall by the wayside. It’s sobering, but a surviving spouse’s chances of death increase for three months after their partner dies. Consider scheduling an appointment with your general physician if you have concerns about your health as you grieve. 

7. Keep a schedule 

Getting lost in the haze of your own grief is easy. Following a daily schedule may be helpful. Things like setting a consistent wake-up time, showering at the same time each day, or going for a 20-minute walk will give you a sense of normalcy and something to look forward to. 

8. Seek professional help as necessary

There are ways to process grieving the loss of a spouse on your own. For instance, journaling, listening to songs to help you grieve, and doing a bit of daily exercise may be healing. However, it’s alright to need professional help too. Intense grief can have real physiological effects that are best treated by a therapist or psychiatrist. Many times, these doctors can work in concert to best help you cope with your grief. 

Do you ever get over the death of a spouse?

You never “get over” a major loss, but acute pain will give way to bittersweet memories over time. Rather than looking at your grief as a process with an end date, it may be helpful to view it as an ongoing process that will come in waves. At first, the swell of emotion will be overwhelming. After a few years, the tides of grief may barely reach your knees. 

How long does it take to stop grieving over a spouse?

The grief timeline is different for everyone, but there are some patterns that might be helpful for you to consider. Most grieving spouses feel the most severe symptoms of loss within the first year. One study of grieving people conducted by Cambridge University found that most symptoms of grief peaked at about six months. If you are still feeling the same way for a year, you might need additional support. 

Allow yourself to grieve your loss

When a spouse dies, there is both practical and emotional fallout. You may have lost the person who used to manage your finances or the person who would have cheered you on when you joined a tennis league. 

Watch out for symptoms of prolonged, complicated grief and enlist a loving circle of friends, family, and professional healers. This transition will take time, but the acute grief you feel right away will subside over time. 

During your grieving process, give yourself permission to center your own mental and physical health, even as you may be looking after others. And if you’re tending to someone you love who recently lost their spouse, learn how to send your condolences

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