The Grieving Process After Your Husband Dies

You may still be in shock, and barely able to accept that you are a widow. These tips for dealing with the grieving process after your husband dies are from a widow. Her name is Kathleen, and she lost her husband after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

Grieving Process After Your Husband DiesIf you feel helpless and hopeless – and can barely believe you’re a widow or widower – read Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations For Working Through Grief by Martha Whitmore Hickman. Here’s what one person said about this book: Healing After Loss has incredibly insight, hope, understanding and some new ideas delivered in small doses. Since concentration levels are so affected during the grieving process, the one page entries are easy to read or skip, if you need a one that will more fit your moment.

In this article about the grieving process, Kathleen describes the pain she felt after her husband died, and then offers tips widowers and widows who are grieving loss. She’s a writer who has found ways to remain strong and happy, despite her grief that she lost her husband.

I hope her story and tips can help you through the grieving process, at least by showing you that you’re not alone. When you’re mourning, remember Moliere’s words: “If you suppress grief too much, it can well redouble.” Accepting – and maybe even embracing – loss may be one of the healthiest ways to cope with death. This means feeling your pain, sharing it with others, and finding the best ways for you to heal.

The Grieving Process After Your Husband Dies

Guest Post ~ Kathleen Airdrie

There’s no “normal” response to death. Everybody is different, which means you’ll grieve differently than a family member or coworker. Accepting yourself and others’ response to death is an important part of the grieving process. These tips for grieving widows or widowers can help you accept other people’s ways of mourning, and identify your own “best ways” to grieve.

Join a grief support group. Being with people who have experienced similar losses can help you cope with your grief. Just knowing you’re not alone can be reassuring; spending time with people who care helps you deal with your painful feelings. If you don’t find the bereavement group to be supportive, don’t be afraid to try a different one. And, joining a grief support group when you lose your husband will show you how others cope with loss — which will help with your own mourning process.

Here’s how a young widow dealt with the grieving process after her husband died: A Different Kind of Support Group for Widows.

Learn how “cybergrieving” works. Many people are now using sites like MySpace and their own personal blogs to deal with their feelings about the death of a loved one. To deal with grief, visit the blog or website of your loved one and write to them on it. You can write poetry, letters, songs, or even a one-liner, simply stating how you feel and what you think. This tip for grieving widowers or widowers involves finding different or unusual ways to let go of someone you love.

Let go of the past slowly. Feeling your grief, anger, guilt, and all your emotions is important. Let yourself grieve. You may feel like your heart will break or you’ll fall into a black pit and never get out – but you have to feel your feelings before you can heal. Letting go of the past through expression of your feelings is healthy way to grieve when you lose your husband.

If you’re dealing with the grieving process after your husband took his own life, read Coping With Life After Someone You Love Commits Suicide.

Remember that time heals – that old cliche! Time does heal when you’re grieving the death of your husband. Whether it completely heals ALL wounds is a different story, but it does dull the pain a little. Your feelings of loss and sadness may never go away, but with time your heavy burden of sadness will lighten. So will your grieving process.

Sharing your experience with grief and the grieving process is one of the best ways to heal. If you’d like to tell your story of how you lost your spouse, I welcome your comments below.

Kathleen’s Story of Her Husband’s Death

Guest Post ~ Kathleen Airdrie

My husband bravely, but with sadness, faced the truth of his fading good health and active life.  He was a man who loved the outdoors, our canoe journeys on the rivers and lakes, and our gardens.  A musician, he entertained at community events that included wedding receptions and charitable functions.

The diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease was frightening because we knew that there was no cure.  Throughout the following six years as his condition worsened we cried together often.  Deprived of his balance, he couldn’t enjoy the canoe, and with the tremors increasing and his strength lessening, he could not play his fiddle. We faced it together, in our home, until pneumonia ended his life one cold February day.

After my husband died, a profound sense of loss overwhelmed me.  Family members were helpful, but I had the terrible and terrifying feeling of being lost – away from myself. I could hear their voices, understand the actual words, but not really comprehend enough to participate in real conversations. My meals were merely snacks; enough to sustain me. Sleep was fitful.  The loneliness and pervading sense of loss weighed heavily on me.

husband died grieving

“The Grieving Process After Your Husband Dies” image by Laurie

A sign of healing was when a wonderful friend who was supportive during my darkest days of the grieving process shared my first ‘breakthrough’ moment with me. About three months after my husband’s death I told her that a family member reacted angrily to my response that I was just sort of coping.  Raising her voice, she told me to ‘get over it’. I told my friend about how that remark made me sad, but mostly angry, then suddenly realized that the spark of anger was something I’d not felt since my husband’s death.  We saw that as a hopeful sign.

My grieving process shifted while giving all of my attention and energies to the gardens that summer, I gradually regained my physical and emotional strengths. I began to eat better meals and sleep through most nights.  Sometimes I sat in the garden and cried then continued the work with my renewed sense of purpose.  While walking through my gardens a friend commented, “I know how difficult this year has been for you.  Your garden is your victory.”

From that day I knew that I would be all right, or as all right as possible under the circumstances.  No longer a recluse as I was during those awful months, I became involved in a few community activities again and travelled occasionally to visit family members.  Most importantly, I was taking care of myself. Now, it’s not all sadness, it’s not all loneliness, it’s not all wonderful or humorous.  It is a combination of all of those, as are most peoples’ lives.

“Grief is a most peculiar thing; we’re so helpless in the face of it. It’s like a window that will simply open of its own accord. The room grows cold, and we can do nothing but shiver. But it opens a little less each time, and a little less; and one day we wonder what has become of it.” – Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha.

Kathleen’s tips for the grieving process after your husband dies:

  • Tell a family member or close friend what you need, whether it’s a good meal, a good listener or help with daily chores.
  • Try to acknowledge the legitimacy of your feelings; be patient with yourself.
  • While reminiscing with family members or friends, don’t let feelings of guilt intrude if you hear the sound of laughter from them or yourself.

Are you lonely because of your spouse’s death? Read Meeting New Friends – Help for Widows.

If you’d like to share your own story of loss and the grieving process, please comment below.

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14 Responses

  1. Laurie says:

    Here’s some interesting research from Baylor University, that may help widows going through the grieving process after their husband dies:

    “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust” may be the traditional view when it comes to death. But “ashes to tattoos” is one unconventional way people have found to honor their dead, as mourning goes skin-deep, mobile, wearable and virtual this century. It’s all part of denying the “messiness of the corpse” and “returning” the dead.

    It’s all part of denying the “messiness of the corpse” and “returning” the dead to us, whether by paying tribute through car decals, T-shirts, online memorials or tattoos etched in conventional ink or even mixed with “cremains” — cremated human remains, says Baylor University scholar and author Candi Cann, Ph.D.

    “With ‘do-it-yourself’ memorials, people are creating their own ways of memorializing the dead, particularly in a more secularized society,” said Cann, an assistant professor of religion in Baylor’s Honors College. “Some people are alienated from some common traditions such as a long funeral Mass. Cohesive rituals may not be part of their lives.”

    Cann made a presentation on “bodiless” memorials at the recent international conference, “Death, Dying and Disposal,” of the Association for the Study of Death and Society. Photos of unconventional tributes are in her forthcoming book Virtual Afterlives: Grieving the Dead in the 21st Century, based on interviews with the bereaved.

    Such memorials are “the opposite of what occurs in the religious realm with martyrs and saints, and with relics,” she said. “Martyrs and saints bring us closer to holiness and to God through their bodies and narratives of their suffering.” In a secular setting, movies and television shows dwell on the spectacle of corpses — everything from a vampire’s gory victim to a body on an autopsy table as a pathologist and assistant chat nearby. But when death is up close and personal, mourners are increasingly uncomfortable with the reality of the corpse, Cann says.

    Granted, death has never been pretty, and humanity has dealt with that through embalming, purchasing elaborate headstones, and, more recently, embedding ashes in ocean reefs — or even giving the departed a sendoff with a fireworks display that includes ashes. But many modern-day bodiless memorials are “returning” through visual or virtual “replacements” that some people feel are more personal than a memorial in a cemetery or in nature. With tattoos as tributes, “The idea may seem new, but it’s not that far removed from the customs in Victorian England” or the Civil War, when people might wear a lock of a loved one’s hair or a photo in a brooch or watch chain, Cann said.

    “People simply want to carry the dead with them,” she said. “They see a tattoo as forever.” In one photo in Cann’s book, a father displays a tattooed likeness of his son’s smiling face. The young man, who drowned, had longed during his life for a tattoo of Hawaii; in the image on his father’s back, the son sports such a tattoo. Generally, it’s young people who get tattoos to express grief, Cann said. “Often, they choose one of their grandparents that died, because that’s their first loss.”

    To memorialize her grandmother, one young woman opted for a tattoo of a bottle of window cleaner, accompanied by the sentiment “Put some Windex on it” — a frequent admonition of her grandma.
    Then there are tattoos from cremains that are etched into the skin after blending microscopic ash with tattoo ink. Medical experts caution that such tattoos may be risky, and many tattoo artists refuse to do them to avoid legal complications. Some balk at other types of memorial tattoos, too, Cann learned in interviews with them.

    “The artist wants to do something personal, yet they also want to do something representative of their work,” she said. “They might see flowers or angels as boring or cliché, and that’s not how they want their work to be represented.”

    Other expressions of grief are just as personal, but temporary. All-black apparel at funerals has long been an expression of grief, but these days, a “mourning T-shirt” may be the deceased person’s favorite color. It may display dates of birth and death, an image, and an affectionate nickname.

    “A T-shirt also is a way for people who aren’t family or allowed time off from work to say, ‘I am grieving,'” Cann said. Car decals, as well as shoe polish or liquid chalk on vehicle windows, are being used to pay tribute to the dead. And while it has long been common to leave teddy bears or erect wooden crosses at the scene of a tragedy, people are becoming more imaginative. One of Cann’s photos shows a snow-white “ghost bike,” festooned with a maroon Christmas garland and placed at the site of a bicycle accident.

    But “the bike is a clean, pristine version — not the one that was mangled,” Cann said. Besides funeral home websites that allow “virtual visitors” to sign guest books, online mourning has evolved to include Facebook’s “R.I.P.” permanent memorials, as well as virtual tombstones, which allow people to use their smartphones to scan headstone codes and launch websites with an interactive life story for those who visit the grave in person or online. While spontaneous public memorials with flowers and teddy bears sprang up in Newtown, Conn., after the mass murders at a school, as well as after the Boston Marathon bombings and the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, “those spaces are becoming smaller in geography and time,” with people differing over how much is enough, Cann said.

    After the shootings at a theater in Aurora, Colo., memorials were allowed to remain for three months, and then moved to the city’s archives for a future public memorial, while in Newtown, they were removed after two weeks, she said. But when such public memorials are removed, Cann said, they almost invariably return in “the virtual realm . . . The dead will return to haunt us if we do not acknowledge them.”

    I don’t know if this helps widows who are in the grieving process, but it might! Like I said before, we’re all different in how we grieve the loss of our husbands.

  2. Laurie says:

    Everyone deals with grief in their own way, and it changes from day to day! Grief comes and goes in waves, and different people have different ideas on how the grieving process “should” be for widows who lost their husbands. But, there is no right way to grieve – and there is no reason to think that we should all show our sad feelings or huge displays of grief.

    It’s hard to be ourselves when we’re grieving, but it is my prayer that we’re able to let ourselves grieve the way we feel most comfortable. I hope we can let the opinions of others go, so we can move forward in our healing journey.

    In sympathy,

  3. Cheryl says:

    My husband died unexpectedly at home in January. For the longest time, all I felt was numbness. I can only describe the process as a gradual thawing of my emotions, I suppose as I am prepared to deal with them. I have made an effort to move forward one step at a time and stay busy. Although I work and have my moments of fun, I also have my moments of grief and process in private. I don’t feel comfortable providing open access to my every emotion.

    I am having the hardest time dealing with those who feel compelled to comment on how well I’m coping. Sometimes I get the feeling they are disappointed that I’m not providing some huge display of grief. I try to believe that they mean well, but sometimes I’m not so sure.

  4. Carolyn says:

    My husband of 22 years passed away on Jan 29, 2014, after a two and a half year victory over pancreatic cancer. I can’t believe I am a widow. I’m fearful of being alone. I feel guilty that I miss the days when he was sick. They were peaceful days and we were together. I had a sense of purpose.

  5. Laurie says:

    Dear Marion,

    Thank you for being here. My heart goes out to you. Sometimes I get frustrated and irritated with my husband, and I forget to cherish every moment, for the moments are fleeting. You have encouraged me to remember how short life is, and how the people in our lives are a blessing to us.

    It sounds like you’re keeping busy! I no longer believe time heals all wounds, but the scars don’t hurt as much as the raw pain.

    I’m glad you’re feeling better – I think you can see your own healing is progressing! I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers.

    The image of your husband’s slippers won’t quickly leave my mind. Maybe they’ll always stay there with you, and maybe you’ll always wear his dressing gown. If it brings you comfort in the midst of your pain, I think it’s a good thing.

    Stay in touch, ok? I’d love to hear from you again.

    Hugs and blessings,

  6. Marion says:

    thanks for the wise words. I can talk to friends and my sister lies here in pain. But try as a can, it overwhelms me at times. but its only 3 weeks so I know it will all take time. one day at a time…is that what they say.?

    I did go to Al anon and quickly understood that it was not my fault he drank but was so unprepared for a diagnosis of cancer. I always thought his live would go! Still hes at peace now and I feel a little better each day now.

    Thanks for your friendship
    kind regards

    • marion Atkins says:

      HI its 3 months since my husband passed away from Lung cancer. I feel more optimistic now and feel glad to be alive. I am sad that all our plans for retirement did not work out but know that he is watching to see that I make the best of the life I have left. it seems I have joined a select band of women who need to support each other and have reached out to work for a charity twice each week. Helping in the shop to raise funds to feed the very needy here in Spain which is in seripous trouble due to the crisis. Little by little I am able to sort through my husbands things and donate to the shop, but still his slippers are in the snug where I watch TV. I wear his dressing gown to comfort me, all suggested by a friend who lost her husband. I too have had to work my finanes to pay car insurance and tax, house insurance, contact the UK pension depts. etc etc. I draw small lines under each thing I do. Still sad at night but its memories that still bring a tear. however, I need to remember that this may take years to overcome and there will neer be an exact person like him in my life again. only people I have yet to meet. marion

  7. Laurie says:

    Dear Marion,

    I am sorry you lost your husband. It sounds like your last few years with him weren’t exactly “honeymoon” – but life without him is hard, too!

    Just yesterday, I wrote an article about husbands who drink. I’m reading the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, and learning that wives can NOT do anything to change, reform, or even help husbands who drink. Alcohol is a powerful addiction, a disease that you can’t help someone out of unless he wants to quit drinking.

    It sounds like your grieving process is complicated by the fact that you feel guilty that you didn’t do more. I don’t know how you feel, but it sounds like you’re lonely partly because you don’t admit how you feel to people. You say you put on a brave face in the daytime, but you cry at night.

    What would happen if you reached out and told people how you feel? Maybe take the brave face off once in a while, with a trusted friend or even a counselor?

    Sometimes, the best way to heal is to uncover the wound. It’s very painful in the short term, but in the long run it brings health and wellness…and peace.

    Can you talk to someone you trust about your feelings of grief and guilt, and about your marriage? I welcome your thoughts here; writing can help us manage grief and emotions. But, talking and sharing our deepest emotions in person is also very important.

    In sympathy,

  8. marion says:

    I lost my husband on 23rd dec 2013 from lung cancer. The diagnosis just 4 months ago and just 1 chemo and then he died. We had a turbulent last 3 years together as he drank but I feel guilty that I could have helped him more. I live in spain, so much of my support is in the uk. I feel lonely and put on a brave face in the daytime, but cry at night. I need to get on with my life but feel that at 70, it will be hard.

  9. Laurie says:

    Dear Natasha,

    I’m so sorry for your loss. It sounds like it’s been a whirlwind of activity since you lost your husband, and you haven’t had a chance to grieve or even process the idea that he is gone. Maybe you’re feeling both numb and sad?

    Your husband isn’t here to protect you or help you cope with everything, and you’re seeing a side of people – family members! – that you’ve never experienced before. It’s alot to handle, isn’t it? Even if you take it one day at a time, it may still feel overwhelming. Maybe taking it one hour at a time would be easier to handle.

    I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers — and your daughters, too. Counseling will help you process the grief and shock. I hope you find other women to talk to, who have lost their husbands. It’s often so helpful to talk to other widows who have experienced similar tragedies.

    Come back anytime, let me know how things are going.

    In sympathy,

  10. Natasha Phillips-Mason says:

    Thank you for your sharing. I am very lost at present as I lost mu husband, and the love of my life only 25 days ago and due to us being expats it has taken me over 3 weeks to repatriate him and get him back to be layer to rest 2 days ago. THen it was Christmas today.

    My family have flown over and are here but it is all too much. I just miss him dreadfully and am terrified , absolutely terrified of any life without him. All our plans and dreams are gone. He was only young and I cannot see 5 minutes ion the future. There is still so much to be dealt with before normality resumes but I don’t know if I can even do that.

    I am so sad without him and yet I don’t feel a thing at the same time and although this is the longest we have been apart, I cannot believe it is real. Some of my family have been selfish and garnered their own sympathy from anyone they can while not sharing it with me. I am disgusted by some people behaviour and the requests I have had to accommodate. He would never allow me to be treated like that. terrified, lonely, and due to location etc. will not be able t join any groups etc.

    Hope you can let me know if there is one on line i can participate in. can’t see the future without my love.

  11. Laurie says:

    Dear Dee Dee,

    I’m so sorry to hear that you lost your husband. I believe losing your spouse is one of the most painful, saddest things to deal with in life – especially when you have daughters who miss him so badly.

    Thank you for being here. It sounds like you’re still in shock and disbelief, and you’re trying to work through your emotions and still be there for your daughters. It’s so much to cope with at once! Too much.

    Are you leaning on friends and family for support? It’s important to talk through your feelings, and cry with adults who can be there for you. You have to be there for your girls…and you have to find loving people who will be there for you.

    Who is walking alongside you as you grieve the death of your husband? Feel free to share your thoughts and feelings here.

    I wish you all the best – I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers,

  12. DeeDee says:

    I lost my friend, husband and my girls’ daddy to a terrible vehicle accident a few weeks ago. I had just talked to him on the phone an hour and a half before the accident. I had no idea as I was picking up our first of three girls that he was being pronounced dead at that exact time. I picked up all three girls and brought them home from school. I went back to work for my last hour downtown. I received a call on my way home from the sheriffs office asking me to please come home. I was shaking, worried but not prepared. Within 5 minutes I was told that my husband had been in an accident… and died. I screamed at the top of my lungs! My girls came running out and screamed and cried! I screamed and fell to the ground. It was the worst, most unreal, unforgettable, disbelieving and gut wrenching feeling of my life. We were in total disbelief.
    I am strong for my girls but just want to bawl so much of the time. I drive to work in a daze. I drive home in a daze. I can’t believe he is gone forever! My poor sweet girls. He loved them and me so very much. He ALWAYS told us. I am filled with such sadness. I feel like He has left to such a far and away place and has left me here all alone to care for our girls and myself. I thought he would just always be here no matter what. I just can’t believe he is gone. We want him back so very badly. My girls are 15, 13 and 9. We meant everything to him and he is supposed to still be here. I will be getting us all in counciling soon. I am so incredibly saddened!

    • Akshara says:

      I am so sorry for your loss. My 39 year old best friend died on December 11th, 2013. We have three beautiful children, 13, 9 and 7. He died unexpectedly and I miss him with every fiber of my soul. I know what you are going through. Just did my first Smog check on my car, paid the property taxes and cleaned our industrial stove(always his job). I miss him so much. How are you holding up these days? How have you helped your children? I think about this everyday. Know that you are not alone.

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