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Grieving After the Death of a Spouse

By April Sanders ; Updated June 13, 2017

Everyone grieves in different ways, and regardless of what well-meaning friends and loved ones might tell you, there is no right or wrong way to grieve the death of a spouse. What you do need to know, however, is that it is normal to experience a wide range of emotions -- and even some physical problems -- during the grieving process.

Grief Can Change

The definition of grief is "deep sorrow," but someone who is grieving the loss of a spouse will likely also feel other emotions ranging from depression to fear to anger. If your deceased spouse was the primary breadwinner, for example, you may go through periods of fear as you wonder how you will pay the bills. You may even be angry that your spouse left you alone to deal with them, even though you know this is irrational. Irrational or not, feeling angry is common after the death of a spouse, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's National Institute on Aging. Allow yourself to grieve without feeling guilty. The only way to work through your feelings is to allow them to happen.

The Mind/Body Connection

How we feel emotionally can have a physical effect on our bodies, and grief, being such a strong emotion, can cause physical problems. If you are grieving the loss of your spouse, you may have trouble sleeping; after all, you've slept with your spouse beside you for many years. You may suffer from a loss of appetite. Alternatively, you may sleep and eat too much -- depression can cause both overeating and oversleeping. Your doctor may be able to help you with physical symptoms caused by the grieving process. If you feel depressed to the point that you are thinking about harming yourself, tell a loved one or your doctor, as you may require treatment.

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Forget the Stages of Grief

The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. You may have been told that you need to go through all five stages before you will be "over" your spouse's death, but this is not the case. First of all, although you will eventually come to terms with the death of your spouse and have more good days than bad ones, you will never be "over" it in the sense that it will no longer affect you. Secondly, a grief study conducted in part by Dr. Toni L. Bisconti of the University of Akron showed that surviving spouses oscillate from one stage to the other, often swinging back and forth between happy and sad, angry and calm. The study, which was published in 2007 in the journal "Death Studies," showed that over time the oscillations become less frequent and severe until emotions stabilize.

Finding Your Way

In time, most people who lose their spouses to death will be able to come to terms with their loss. The best way to do this is to take care of yourself during this difficult time -- not only is it the best gift you can give yourself, but it will help your loved ones feel better as well. Always be willing to ask for help. If you don't feel like cooking, for example, ask a friend to help you out with some casseroles or take you out to dinner. Try to get out and enjoy the activities you once enjoyed with your spouse -- it's a good way to keep your memories alive. Ask a friend to join you. Keeping active and keeping company with loved ones are both good ways to care for yourself during this difficult time, and both can help lessen your grief.

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