How to Cope with the Death of a Spouse

In the 1960s, two psychiatrists began studying how major life changes can affect our health and wellbeing. What they found was that, more than financial troubles or dealing with chronic illness, the most stressful event was the loss of a husband, wife, or life partner.

If you or a loved one have experienced such a profound loss, please know that there is a way forward. Our family-run funeral home has helped guide grieving families through loss for decades. We’ve learned that although every situation is different and each individual finds their own unique way to cope, there are some things that can be extremely beneficial to begin healing.

Making it through the funeral service.

Grief manifests in many ways, but it’s common for individuals to feel emotional numbness, fatigue, and unable to find the motivation to do tasks or talk to others. The funeral—be it a church funeral, a memorial service, a celebration of life or a graveside service—is a crucial step toward healing. Gathering with family, friends and our community to share in our grief and to honor our loved ones is a time-tested ritual that helps us say goodbye in a healthy, meaningful way.

Be kind to yourself.

It is particularly important to take care of yourself during this time. Grieving a spouse is considered the most stressful major life change because of the serious effects it can have on your physical and mental health. If you’re unsure of how to practice self-care while grieving, it helps to focus on the basics: Stay hydrated. Eat regular meals. Get sleep. Continue taking medication as prescribed. And reach out to talk to someone if you’re struggling to do any of these things, or need emotional support.

There are resources available to you.

Losing a spouse creates an unfathomable space where a person once lived, laughed and loved you. But you are not alone. Many individuals find great comfort in group support or individual grief counseling, or with in-person or online support groups. Community centers and non-profit programs in your area can often provide grief support, as well as help with other things that can be challenge during this time, such as food, social activities, healthcare or transportation.

We also recommend:

Keep up with friends, family and hobbies.

Losing a spouse disrupts your life. But it’s our routines that can help us return to a more normal rhythm of life. As much as you can, continue with any regular hobbies and social activities. Even the simplest activities from before—like going to church or a weekly lunch with friends—can provide some stability while you figure out a new routine. It can be extremely healing to be in the company of friends and family while you all cope with the loss of someone you love.

Have the difficult conversations while you can.

The earlier you have the “if something happens to one of us” conversation, the better you will feel. Being prepared for practical and financial issues will allow the surviving spouse to focus more time and energy on healing, as well as lift a substantial burden on the other person when the time comes. We suggest talking about:

  • Your wills. A will can take a tremendous amount of stress off the surviving spouse.
  • Finances. Have a central location for important information, such as bank accounts, bills and life insurance policies. If one of you handles all the finances, discuss how comfortable the other would be taking on that responsibility or if a trusted advisor or relative could manage them.
  • Healthcare directives. Discuss who will be responsible for these decisions and what your wishes are around life support and organ donation. The surviving spouse will take comfort knowing they honored their partner’s wishes.
  • Funeral arrangements. What are your wishes for your funeral? Do you want to be cremated? Is there a specific place you want to be buried or your ashes scattered? Consider pre-planning your funerals so the surviving spouse won’t have to worry about planning or paying for a funeral while grieving. Our advanced planners can answer any questions you may have about funeral pre-planning.

Provide support to someone who has lost a spouse.

By now you have some idea about the challenges new widows face. You can help in many ways. A simple phone call or letter, or sympathy gift of flowers will show them that you care. Dropping by with a hot meal or offering to run an errand or do a chore for them can be more beneficial than you may think. Continue to invite them to events and outings, doing things you’d normally do together. Always be understanding if they find couple’s activities too painful. And be patient. There is no timeline for grief. Your friend or loved one will be feeling the loss of their spouse for the rest of their life.

As we have for over 60 years, we are here for the people of New York in their time of need. Call us at any time at (585) 244-0770 in the Rochester and Brighton area or (585) 872-6380 in Webster.