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Adjusting to Life after the Death of a Spouse

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If you are a senior and mourning the death of a spouse, you’re not alone. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 48% of women age 65 and older and 14% of men are widows.

But knowing the statistics doesn’t make it any easier to figure out how to cope with the changes in your life when a spouse dies. Here are some tips to help you adjust—and warning signs to watch for—when you’re learning how to live again after the death of your spouse.

What are the physical effects of mourning death?

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) says that you can expect to feel a number of emotions when a spouse dies—fear, anger, guilt, and shock, for example. You may even feel numb for a period of time. The point is, everyone grieves differently, and there is no right or wrong way to mourn for a spouse, and your feelings of sadness may last weeks or even months.

In fact you may even experience some physical symptoms while you’re mourning death, according to the NIA:

  • Trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Loss of appetite or interest in food

While these effects are perfectly normal, they should also be temporary. If you find that your feelings of intense sadness or physical disturbances continue for a long time, they may point to signs of depression. You should make an appointment with your doctor if you feel unable to manage the daily activities of life when a spouse dies.

An article published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine suggests the acute phase of grief may last up to two months, although it may take a year or longer for the milder symptoms of grief to completely disappear after the death of a loved one. Grief should not be prevented because it is a healthy response to loss.

What can I do to feel better when a spouse dies?

The NIA offers a number of suggestions you can try while you’re mourning death of your spouse. Not all of these ideas may make you feel better right away, but they will help you look after yourself during your time of grief.

  • Take care of your body by eating healthy food, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep. Avoid drinking too much alcohol when you’re grieving.
  • Seek the company of family, friends, and members of your church community. If you are having trouble eating alone, invite someone to share a meal with you, either at home or at a restaurant.
  • Talk about your spouse with your loved ones, especially your children. They may be dealing with grief, as well, and sharing memories together may make you all feel better.
  • Don’t make any major changes if you don’t have to when a spouse dies. Avoid moving into a new home, taking a new job, or making other important decisions while you are grieving.
  • Join a support group where you can share your feelings and experiences with others who are in the same situation. You may learn new ways to cope with your feelings and manage your grief. There are even online support groups for those mourning death; if you have trouble getting around, you can still find a grief community online.

When should I seek professional help for grief after the death of a spouse?

If you feel acutely sad, or your grief is making your life unmanageable after a few months, don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor or even a professional counselor. People mourning death of a spouse may be at risk of developing depression or substance abuse problems, according to the Library of Medicine article referenced earlier. If you feel that you can’t deal with your grief or are using alcohol or medications to manage your feelings, get help right away.

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