When a Spouse Dies...

The number one stressor on every chart is the death of a spouse.  Few events in life are as painful.  You may be uncertain if you have the energy or the will to survive this overwhelming loss, much less try to heal.  But healing is possible, even though life will not be the same but it can be good again. 

At first, friends hover around, they bring food and offer compassion.  But slowly they drift back to their own normal lives: bills, kids, graduations, cars to repair, doctor appointments, bosses and spouses.  They can go back, but a widow(ers') life can never go back, you sadly,  have a new normal.  

Many Different Emotions

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For the new widow(er), your daily life has changed.  Your lifelong companion is missing – from the morning cup of coffee together, to an empty bed at night.  Loneliness can also set in - aching for the one who shared love, memories and could even finish your sentences for you and you wonder why you should get dressed in the morning now. Your daily routines have changed and there are good reasons to feel disoriented and disorganized. But there is a light and a life at the end of this tunnel of grief. 

Conflicting Emotions are Normal

Don’t be surprised if you feel emotions like confusion, fear, guilt, relief and anger all at the same time. It may seem bizarre to experience laughter and tears all in the same sentence but this is normal.  There can be deep love but angry resentment too,  “Why didn’t she fight harder to stay with us?”, “Why didn’t he take better care of himself – I told him!”.  There can also be anger at

  •  Shocking discoveries, “He was gambling and our finances are in shambles!”, or the “other woman” who showed up at his funeral.  
  • At ourselves, “Why didn’t I insist that (s)he …see a doctor/ eat better/ etc.?”
  • At God, “Am I being punished?”  
  • At injustice: of life, of the medical system, of a criminal act that took them away. 

These are normal emotional reactions.  Express them safely by journaling, talking with a safe person (maybe to God), or expressing them physically through exercise, or art or music etc.  They will slowly diffuse and then it is easier to assess what is realistic. Permit yourself to learn from these feelings and to grow in compassion etc. for the next stage of your life.   

Secondary Challenges

Losing a spouse is hard enough but there are secondary losses too.  Your spouse may have brought security, relationship, dreams and identity to your life.  They may have filled a number of other roles: the cook, the repairman, the accountant or your caregiver.  Now you are doing it yourself and must learn these skills quickly (even through your heartache) - or find help.   

A diabetic man lost his wife suddenly.  He was losing his eyesight and she was his caregiver, giving his daily insulin needles and driving to the doctor. He had to hire a helper immediately but he also lost her pension income and could not make ends meet.  He had to sell their house, which was another grievous loss of memories, of community and also his independence.  Fortunately, he could move in with his caring son.

A widow(er) has lost the one that is most precious to them in the world and their comfort, routines and help in doing life together. It can be an difficult and confusing journey. The most compassionate self-action you can take is to find a support system in the community or support group of caring friends and relatives who will provide the understanding you need.  Your local hospice or hospital chaplain will be able to recommend resources and groups.   This can be a vital help and needed support at one of life's most difficult transitions.   

For you that are suffering loss:

Love and prayers, 


If you are facing loss, find out the best ways to renew your resilience in a complimentary coaching session with me.  Contact me through my resouces page or e-mail me at coach@helgabender.com

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