Before saying anything else, we want you to know how sorry we were to hear of your loss. The death of a spouse can be traumatic, especially when the survivor has spent a great deal of time serving as the primary caregiver. Our hearts go out to you during this period of grief and readjustment.
We assume that, without your spouse, you are wrestling with feelings of loneliness. You may also be angry about being alone. Sleepless nights and the pressure of sudden responsibilities can take a huge toll on your physical and mental energy at a time like this, and routine things may seem to take more effort. On top of all this, you may be troubled by spiritual questions and doubts.
The intensity of grief often peaks around three months after the death of a loved one, and again when an entire year has passed. At this point your pain may be as strong as at the moment of your spouse’s death. If any of this seems to describe your experience, it may comfort you to remember that you’re not alone. Your feelings of grief and confusion are normal and completely understandable.
So what do you do now? Though you may feel empty, purposeless, lost, and “all at sea,” it’s likely that you still have a great deal to do. In fact, your work is cut out for you. It’s generally agreed that there are four “tasks of mourning” that every bereaved person must pass through in order to deal effectively with the loss of their loved one. Those four tasks are as follows:
Accept the reality of the loss. This first task involves overcoming the natural denial response realizing that your husband is physically dead. Activities such as viewing the body after death, attending the funeral and burial services, and visiting the place where the body is laid to rest can all aid in this process. But it’s also helpful to spend time talking with others about the deceased person or the circumstances surrounding his death.
The point of all this is that you need to grieve the physical finality of losing your spouse and come to grips with the fact that you will not see him again in this life. Once you’ve made it over that hurdle, you have the consolation of knowing that the spiritual life goes on. If your husband was a professing Christian, you have the assurance of Scripture that you will see him again in the life to come, in a place where there is no more pain, sorrow, or death.
Experience the pain of grief. When a loved one dies many people try to bypass the pain by bottling up their emotions or rejecting their feelings. They may avoid places or circumstances that remind them of their loss, trying to take a shortcut through the grieving process. Unfortunately, the only way to overcoming grief is to move through it. The person who avoids grieving will eventually suffer from some form of depression or even from physical problems. Fully experiencing the pain – most often through tears – provides genuine relief.
Adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing. Among other things, this means you will need to assume some of the responsibilities and social roles formerly fulfilled by your husband (or find someone else who can do this for you). For example, a grieving spouse may need help with household chores and cooking. Someone who never learned to drive must either take steps toward getting a license or find other forms of transportation. The alternative is social withdrawal and sitting home alone. If you dread coming home to an empty house, you may want to consider the possibility of taking in a pet.
Take the emotional energy you would have spent on the one who died and reinvest it in another relationship or relationships. This final task is perhaps the most important of all. Many people feel disloyal or unfaithful if they withdraw emotionally from their deceased loved one and form new attachments. If the advice we’re offering here affects you this way, remember that the goal is not to forget your husband; it is to reach the point where you can remember him without experiencing disabling grief.
Old friends can reminisce about your husband but also give you encouragement and permission to rebuild your life. New friendships allow you to begin again as a person with a future. Many surviving spouses find it renewing to become involved in a volunteer ministry. Others enjoy focusing more time and energy on children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
The important thing at this point is to allow yourself time and space to grieve. You might consider seeking out a grief recovery program offered by a local church, or perhaps setting aside an hour every day or so to “work” on your grief personally. In the meantime, remember that God loves you very much, and He is there to help if you’ll reach out to Him. He understands your loneliness and hurt and is more than willing to meet your needs. Our prayer is that you will sense His presence and know His peace – the peace that surpasses all understanding – as you move through this dark valley.