by DONNA MCKINNEY
WHEN MY HUSBAND DIED in 2015, as the early days of churning emotions settled into new routines and patterns, I realized my life as I knew it had fundamentally changed. How to move forward in this new life filled my thoughts. Wondering if my feelings were common to what others experienced, I sat down for conversations with friends who had experienced a spouse’s death and asked how they were navigating the loss. From personal experiences, here are some helpful strategies for coping with life without your spouse:
People who have experienced the death of a spouse described those early days as a time of disbelief. Their world had shifted sideways. For some, death came suddenly, sneaking in like a thief. For others, death followed illness, so the timing was not unexpected. In both cases, they used similar words to describe the feelings when a spouse dies: numb, shock, raw, and gut wrenching.
Mark Harper said he understood that, “This is reality, but the feelings of loneliness and isolation were there. Especially coming home from work … and knowing you’re coming home to an empty house.”
As time passes, raw emotions ease. But there are wild swings between good days and bad days where little details, like seeing a spouse’s favorite food in the grocery store, can trigger a fresh wave of grief. Know to expect these roller-coaster emotions that come with grief.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
Sometimes during grief, we neglect important things that keep us healthy. Skipping meals or overeating, not sleeping or sleeping too much, and skipping regular exercise can slide into bad habits. “Stay active,” is Teresa Crawford’s advice. “There were some days I made myself walk when I didn’t want to do anything.” After her husband died, she stayed active by hiking all 41 North Carolina state parks with a friend.
CONNECT WITH FRIENDS
Faithful friends are a treasure when you are grieving. If friends are offering help, allow them the gift of ministering to you in your grief. Good friends can handle both your tears and happy memories. Let them walk with you through the mourning.
If you are friends with someone whose spouse has died, here is how you can help. “Just be yourself,” Teresa Crawford said. “Laugh together. Cry together. Include me in normal activities. But don’t treat me as somebody wounded or as a victim.”
Anthony Locklear said his relationships with close friends and his young adult daughters have truly deepened since his wife’s death. “I’m cared for and loved on in a way I hope everyone can feel,” he said.
Mark Harper recalled his church family rallying around him after his wife died. Uninvited, they showed up and mowed the grass, repaired a leaky faucet, and cleaned his car. When friends want to help, offer a hearty thanks, and allow them to serve.
TALK TO SOMEONE
Some people might want to talk with someone other than friends or family. Talking with a pastor, counselor, or health care provider can be helpful, especially for someone who struggles to function in daily living because of the grief.
Others benefit from a grief support group. These groups can help remind your heart that others share the same feelings of loss and struggle. GriefShare® is one such group. They meet in churches and can be a helpful resource.
GIVE YOURSELF TIME AND GRACE
Grief is hard work. So do not apologize for the emotions. Be patient with your heart as it heals. And look for ways to build new traditions that are grounded on the foundation of your marriage but that also help you navigate this newly shaped life.
Anthony Locklear admits the holidays are difficult times. So he and his two young adult daughters are building new traditions. “We look at them [the holidays] as an opportunity to make a new memory. We are going to honor this thing that we used to do, but we are going to put a twist to it.” So for his family, Thanksgiving included the new twist of a trip to the beach.
LEAN ON GOD
Perhaps the most important message these people shared is that life goes on after a spouse dies. And for all three of them, their faith in God was key. Truly, the promise of Psalm 34:18 rings true, “The LORD is near the brokenhearted; he saves those crushed in spirit.”
Anthony Locklear said that God has simply confirmed the things he knew in his head, prior to his wife’s death. “Cognitively, I think I knew a lot of these things, but now it’s unshakable. Everything I knew before has been made real.”
Mark Harper said that his faith has carried him. “Knowing that this was not the end,” he said. “Knowing that she would be with Jesus. Knowing that she would be surrounded by His glory there in His presence. Knowing that I wasn’t going it alone.”
“Can’t really imagine this season without faith,” said Teresa Crawford. “I say to myself quite often, God is near.” It is this comfort of knowing that God is near that allows believers to navigate this challenging season of life, with the peace only He can provide.
NAVIGATING THE FINANCES
One challenge after a spouse dies is navigating the family finances. It can be especially daunting if the spouse who died was the one who handled the finances. But there are things a couple can do, while both spouses are living, to make things more manageable when a spouse dies.
Here are some financial strategies for couples to consider, suggested by Bethany Griffith, Financial Advisor, Abacus Planning Group, (CFP, EA):
- Review estate-planning documents, such as the will or power of attorney, to confirm documents are current and people named in the documents are aware of their responsibilities.
- Discuss health care wishes — such as end-of-life care, a living will, and health care power of attorney — with family members.
- Get organized. For example, create a financial statement of all assets and accounts, access safety deposit boxes, make a list of bills and payment dates, enroll in auto-pay for bills where possible, document passwords for all accounts, and locate life insurance information.
DONNA MCKINNEY leads adult Bible study at Salem Baptist in Apex, North Carolina. She writes Bible studies for Lifeway Christian Resources and children’s books on science, history, and sports. She describes her life since her husband died as daily evidence of God’s kindness and faithfulness.