How To Survive When Your Spouse Dies (Even When You Don't Want To Go On)

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when a spouse dies

Few things are more catastrophic in a person’s life than the death of a spouse.

In this instance, the person you love, the one that’s been by your side for years, is now gone. For many, the thought of life without their spouse is unimaginable, and they cannot picture how they will recover from such a loss and live a healthy life again.

These feelings are completely understandable. Just how does a person pick up the remaining pieces of their life and move forward when a spouse dies? As much as I wish I could suggest a fast remedy or quick fix for overcoming pain and loss, the death of a spouse is not something a person can recover from quickly.

Despite this difficult process, a person can eventually come to terms with this loss and once again find happiness and fulfillment.

While everyone deals with a loved one’s death differently, I’ve learned that there are some fundamental activities and "schools of thought" that can aid in the healing process.

Here are five ways to help you through in the grieving process and cope with the loss of your spouse:

1. Find support groups.

Your family and friends want to be supportive of you and help you through this painful time. While they have the best of intentions, the fact that they haven’t lost a spouse makes it difficult for them to relate to your situation and understand your feelings. Finding others that have lost a spouse or loved one can help you recognize that you’re not alone and others can also relate to your loss.

Finding a support group that deals specifically with grieving the death of a loved one will give you an opportunity to meet and learn from others that are also dealing with a similar situation. Becoming a part of this kind of group can offer a sense of community and help you find additional ways to cope with your feelings.


2. Honor your spouse's life.

It’s easy to focus on the death of your spouse and the pain that you’re feeling as a result of losing them. The thought of anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays without this person may seem unimaginable and even dreadful. Yes, there is a void in your life, but choosing to fill this void constructively and focusing on the beauty of that person’s life may help you to grieve and move on.

After a close friend of mine lost her husband, she took his hobby of making mobiles. He had made several for their home and gave them to friends as meaningful gifts.

After his death, she decided to finish the last mobile he was working on prior to his passing. To honor his life and remember him, the mobile now hangs above her favorite living room chair. She also makes mobiles for her children and their close friends. Picking up his hobby has helped her through the grieving process and allowed her to move on.

Related: 3 Ways To Survive A Massive Loss (And Move Forward With Your Life)

3. Don’t neglect your own health.

The death of a spouse places a tremendous amount of stress on a person’s immune system. After a major loss, a person becomes engulfed in intense emotions and unwanted changes. When he or she fails to take care of themselves, illness and even death can be the end result. This is especially the case for elderly people and those with already compromised health.

It is critical that you’re mindful of your own health and maintain proper nutrition. I suggest asking a close friend or family member to remind you to take care of your physical health. This means asking the person to help you maintain the proper caloric and water intake.

While you may not have an appetite, drinking meal replacement shakes and four to five bottles of water a day can help you maintain your immune system. Granted, this may be the last thing on your mind, but neglecting your physical health can cost your own well-being and even your life.


4. Be gentle with yourself.

Yes, people lose their spouses and loved ones every day, and you may think you should be able to get over it and move on. It’s not that simple! Remember that your loss is unique to you as are your feelings and the way in which you cope with death.

You need to be gentle with yourself and know that recovering from your spouse’s death needs to progress at your own pace and not in an allotted amount of time. What’s more, know that the healing process can be unpredictable and you may experience a roller-coaster of emotions.

This is this a normal part of the healing process and giving yourself permission to have these feeling will help you through this time more quickly.

Related: 15 Quotes I Turned To After Both Of My Parents Died

5. Give yourself permission to move on.

Just as there is no time limit on the healing process, there is no timeframe in which it is OK to move on. People deal with grief differently and you may deal with your grief by dating again or actively seeking another partner. While this may be what you need to heal, others may see this as disrespectful to the deceased spouse, feel that your actions are inappropriate, or that’s it’s too soon for you to move forward.

It’s your life and you need to do what’s best for you regardless of what your children, in-laws, and friends may think. Remember that it is no one else’s business to judge you or tell how or when you to proceed with the next phase of your life.

In fact, often couples that fight a terminal illness together have time to talk about the one spouse’s death and the wishes for the other spouse’s future alone. In many cases, the surviving spouse is merely honoring the wishes of his or her deceased spouse by not dwelling on the death, and instead, moving forward and finding new love and happiness in their own life.


Overcoming the death of a spouse may likely be one of the most difficult events that you deal with in your life, but that does not mean you can’t or won’t move on.

I hope that the points above have given you some additional tools to cope with the loss of your spouse and help you to move on in your own way and at your own pace.

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Jess Brighton is a Minneapolis based Life, Adversity, and Reinvention Coach. Learn more about her coaching services by visiting her website at you have a question about this or another topic, email her at to schedule your complimentary 30-minute strategy session.