When Your Spouse Dies

John Kennedy Saynor

In recent years, the term A family has been re-defined. This has occurred because of an increase in divorce, separation, remarriage or alternative lifestyles that determine who you consider your family to be. With this in mind, I use the term spouse to refer to that person with whom you share your life, your love, your hopes and your dreams.

You may be legally married.  Perhaps you are living together in what is legally known as a common law relationship.   Unfortunately, the time comes in every relationship when one spouse dies and the other is left to mourn the loss.  Regardless of the nature of the relationship – whether it was good or bad – the loss will be significant. It may help you to know that what you are experiencing is similar to others who have experienced the death of their spouse. Members of  a support group were asked to share what they had lost when their spouse died.

Here are some of those losses.

  • giving and receiving love
  • the uniqueness of a spousal relationship
  • dreams for the future
  • their history as a couple
  • sharing the big and small things of life
  • dependency on each
  • other financial, emotional or social support
  • joie de vivre
  • acceptance by their spouse
  • identity as a spouse
  • companionship
  • daily routine
  • physical intimacy
  • romance
  • friendship
  • their future as they thought it would be

You can probably identify with many of the losses listed above.  There may be other losses you can add to this list.   The flip side of the coin is that you may actually be relieved your spouse is gone.  Perhaps you, like may others, have been unhappy for years in this relationship.  Even though you may feel a great deal of relief that the other person is gone, you may be surprised to find yourself grieving.  Why am I grieving? people in this situation ask me.

Well, try to understand that we not only grieve the loss of things we had, we also grieve the loss of things we had hoped to have but didn’t.  Look at the list above, perhaps you are mourning the loss of many of those things you didn’t have.

You may also mourn a number of other losses like:

  • the chance to make the relationship work
  • the courage to get out of the relationship.
  • the loss of romantic adventure.
  • the loss of someone to fight with!
  • the loss of routine, even if you didn’t like it!

Don’t be surprised to find yourself grieving over someone you may not have loved.  If that is the case, then you may find it helpful to seek help from a professional who can help you sort through these feelings.  

1.  Loneliness   Probably the overriding emotion when a spouse dies is loneliness.  In the first year, you will experience the loneliness of going through all the major holidays, birthdays and anniversaries alone.   Each day may have moments of gut-wrenching loneliness that you think you will never get over.   It will be important for you to reach out to one or two people and perhaps a professional who can support you
2.  Disorientation  The map of your life has changed.  Not only do you not know where you are going, you probably don=t want to go anywhere.  You would gladly go back to where you were especially if you were happy.  In time you will slowly begin to find your way again.  You will set new directions for your life.  You will sense you are going somewhere again.
3.  Overwhelming sadness Grief has often been described as a dark cloud.  Generally, people don’ t think of grief in positive terms. That’s because initially, at least, there isn’t anything positive about it.  The sadness for many is overwhelming.  It is the reason why people can’t sleep, don’t feel like eating, are unmotivated and just feel like withdrawing and crying all day long.
4.  Longing for physical intimacy   Depending on your own need for intimacy, you may find yourself longing for intimacy.  This may surprise you if it comes soon after your spouse’s death, but it is normal and healthy.   You aren’t being disrespectful of your spouse.   In fact, it is a compliment to a good relationship.   But be careful!  Some people make the mistake of rushing into new relationships before they have taken time to properly process their grief .  Ultimately this is not good for the person or their new relationship.  Regardless, only you know when you are ready.

5.  Anxious to get on with your life This may seem contradictory to the four previous points, but grief is like that – a series of contradictions.  If you are young, then you will quite naturally want to get on with your life.  There may be a lot you want to do in relationship to your career.  You may have children who will still give you a much needed reason to live and to plan for the future.  It may be that your spouse had a long illness and you will quite naturally feel relieved it is all over.   You aren’t being disrespectful to your spouse by feeling this way.  Use all your spouse gave you emotionally, spiritually, psychologically and mentally to forge new paths.  Let your new life be a tribute to the time you had together.


1.  Give yourself permission to grieve. People often ask, What do I have to do? The best answer to that question is, Grieve. You are a grieving person and that is what you should be doing right now.

2.   Be patient with yourself and the process. Recovering from a significant loss will take time: perhaps years. But healing will come. You will begin to see the light again and life will have new meaning.  

3.  Consider joining a support group.  You will receive a great deal of support and insight by meeting with those who have experienced a similar loss.  

4.  Remember the good times.  While this will be painful at first, eventually the memories will be a comfort. Good memories will also make you grateful for the times you had together and gratitude is a great healer.

5.  Learn from this experience.  Spend time thinking about what gained from the relationship.  How did the relationship prepare you for what you are going through?  How has this event affected your values and priorities? How would you like to spend the rest of your life?

6.  Draw on your spiritual resources.  All of life is a spiritual journey.  The journey through grief is a unique part of that journey. You will be taken to places you never thought possible and to growth you never imagined.  Listen to the words and music of your spirituality and allow them to sustain you at this time.      

One last thing.  Although your loved one is no longer with you physically, his or her love, influence and memory will never leave you. There will be days when you will be doing things that he or she would have wanted you to do.  Then there will be days when you will say, If Bob knew I was doing this he would roll over in his grave! or If Jean could see me now, she would die laughing!

Let the memories and the stories be a comfort to you and give you the courage to carry on.  

©John Kennedy Saynor.  Used with permission. Copies of this brochure are available at The Ross Funeral Chapel in Port Hope, Ontario.  For further information about how to access this brochure as well as others in the series, please call Jamieson Ross at 905-885-4931 or email him at rfc@eagle.ca