Coping With the Loss of Your Spouse
The loss of a spouse is devastating, but there are small things you can do to begin coping with your loss.
The loss of your spouse is a devastating life transition in multiple ways. It brings intense emotions, lifestyle changes, and practical considerations, too. One day you are married, and the next, you are single and experiencing an overwhelming sense of loss. It’s easy to feel like you are drowning in grief that will never end, and the idea of moving forward in life seems impossible. There is hope, though, and it begins with small things you can do to cope with this tremendous loss.
Take Care to Be Kind to Yourself
There is no right or wrong way to react when you’ve lost your life partner. Do not put pressure on yourself to act in any particular manner. Don’t allow yourself to feel ashamed of emotions such as guilt or anger – they are common and expected for many bereaved spouses. If you find yourself often crying, allow the tears to come. If you’ve been feeling numb and unable to cry, that’s okay, too. During such a challenging time, it’s important to quiet that judgmental voice in your head and take it easy on yourself instead. Losing your spouse is not grief that will subside quickly or easily. If you can, tell those closest to you what you need from them. They may not know what to say or how to act, but they want to offer you support and will appreciate your guidance in doing so. Even though it can be hard to ask for help, you do not have to go it alone in your grief. Allow yourself the kindness of accepting help from loved ones, especially in areas that your spouse used to handle for you, be it yard work, finances, cooking, or anything else.
Mind Your Physical Health
Grief is most commonly associated with emotions, but it can wreak havoc on your body, too. You may have no appetite, have difficulty sleeping, or experience physical aches and pains. All of these things are normal, but it’s still important to care for yourself to the best of your ability. This is especially true in the first three months after your husband or wife has died. Studies have shown that the surviving spouse has an increased risk of death during this time. Make an effort to drink water, eat healthy foods, and sleep a healthy number of hours each day. All of this is easier said than done, of course, but taking care of your physical health as you grieve is essential to your overall wellness and healing.
Seek Out Support
Coping with the loss of a spouse will always be difficult, but it’s not uncommon to have extreme feelings of loneliness and confusion. For many people, this can lead to depression. In fact, the early months after your spouse has died is a common time for the onset of several concerning psychological disorders. One of the best ways to fortify your mental health as you grieve is to maintain social support. Your natural inclination may be to turn inward, avoiding family and friends as you deal with a range of complicated emotions. However, studies have suggested that lack of social support after a tragic loss is a key predictor of the onset of mental health issues, such as depression. You are likely to fare much better if you reach out to your loved ones. If that feels too difficult, however, you may benefit from a grief support group. Communing with people who feel the same things you are after losing a spouse can be quite comforting.
Adjust Your Social Life
When you’ve suffered such a life-altering loss, do not expect yourself to step back into the social life you had as a married person. Navigating your social life as a newly single person can be very complex. You may feel nervous about going to parties or other social engagements alone, and you may feel sad to come home to an empty house if you are now living alone. You may not know where you fit in with your friends anymore, especially if you and your spouse often socialized with other couples, and that’s okay. Think about adjustments you can make that feel more comfortable to you. For instance, you may choose to avoid group gatherings for a time and focus on one-on-one interactions instead. If you feel you need a fresh start unattached to history with your spouse, you should allow yourself to explore making new friends, too. The balance you want to achieve is to go at a pace that feels comfortable without isolating yourself from much-needed social support.
Seek Professional Help for Complicated Grief
Suffering profound grief after the loss of your spouse is to be expected. However, about seven percent of bereaved people will develop grief so profound that it interferes with their ability to move forward with life independently. Signs include feeling as though you no longer have a purpose in your life, struggling to perform everyday activities, wishing you had died also, or a loss of desire to socialize in any context. If you think you may be suffering from complicated grief, be sure to speak with your doctor or counselor. Treatment options can help you embrace life and find your place in it as a single person.
Learning to Live with Loss
The coping mechanisms discussed above can be helpful as you learn to accept the end of your spouse’s life – and the end of your life together. However, moving forward means learning to see your spouse’s death as both an and a new beginning. Coping with your pain and grief is a necessary first step, followed by refocusing on your priorities and deciding what is truly meaningful to you as you continue forward in life and forge a new future for yourself.