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How to help a grieving spouse

Updated: Mar 29, 2023

Grief is a natural response to loss, and grief is deep sorrow caused by loss or tragedy. Grief is often accompanied by difficult emotions that can feel overwhelming and hard to process. The pain of grief also disrupts significant areas of one's life. Coping with grief is necessary to deal with the emotions that accompany loss. However, it can also be challenging to know what to say or do when someone you care about is experiencing grief.

Offering support looks different for different people. It can be hard to find how to support others: what to do or say. When grief or loss affects one's romantic partner, you become the person your partner turns to.

  1. It's ok not to be ok – let them cry, talk, and give them the space to feel the negative emotions. Please do not rush to fix or change it. Crying is a cathartic way to express feelings.

  2. There is no "right way to grieve" – grief does not look like anything. Grief does not always present through sadness. Instead, grief can look like distractions that feel counterintuitive. Give them the space to process it.

  3. There is no timetable for grieving – even though eventually, routines will return to normal, there is no "end" to grieving. Things may continue to come up, even after a long while.

  4. Be comfortable with silence – there isn't anything you can say to change what has happened. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is offer your comfort and support in silence.

  5. Be comfortable with discussing the loss time and again – In that same vein, allow your partner to talk about their grief, even if it is the same conversation repeatedly.

  6. Avoid painful clichés – Do not make sense of loss by saying "things happen for a reason" or "look on the bright side."

  7. A hug can say a million words. A hug can do wonders when words are hard to find or even when words don't do the job.

People grieve differently, and offering support may look different for some versus others.

It is essential to check in and ask how you can be supportive.

Do they need space? Do they need you to check-in? Do they need you to take over?

By simply asking, "Do you feel like talking?" or "What can I do to help," you're letting your loved one know that you're available to listen.

Practical responses look like the following:

Acknowledge the situation. For example, you could say something as simple as: "I know that your father died." Using the word "died" will show that you're more open to talking about the grieving person's feelings.

Express your concern. "I'm sorry that this happened to you."

Be genuine in your communication. Don't try to offer unsolicited advice. It's far better to listen to your loved one or simply admit: "I'm not sure what to say, but I want you to know I care."

  • Be patient: this is going to take time to get over.

  • Be a comfort: continue to be a stress reliever for your partner by offering comfort and assistance.

  • Offer practical help: help with daily tasks, do not wait for them to ask, and make their life a little easier.

  • Advocate for them: you know them better than most. Other people's sympathy can be overwhelming. Help your partner by acknowledging and thanking people on your partner's behalf when needed.

Your loved one will continue grieving long after the funeral is over and the cards and flowers have stopped. The length of the grieving process varies from person to person but often lasts much longer than most people expect. Your bereaved friend or family member may need your support for months or even years. The thing about grief is that we all experience it at one point, so we will be there for one another in a relationship when it comes to grief.

Continue your support over the long haul. Once the funeral is over, the other mourners are gone, and the initial shock of the loss has worn off, your support is more valuable than ever.

Don't make assumptions based on outward appearances. The bereaved partner may look fine on the outside, while inside, they're suffering. Do not pressure the person to keep up appearances and hide their true feelings.

The pain of grief may never fully heal. Be sensitive to the fact that life may never feel the same. You don't "get over" the death of a loved one. The bereaved partner may learn to accept the loss. The pain may lessen over time, but the sadness may never completely go away. It might show up during the death anniversary, the person's birthday, and other special occasions.

When to do something else:

If the bereaved person's symptoms don't gradually start to fade—or they get worse with time—this may signify that normal grief has evolved into a more serious problem, such as clinical depression.

Encourage the grieving person to seek professional help if you observe any of the following warning signs after the initial grieving period—especially if it's been several months since the loss was experienced.

Therapy might be an appropriate avenue for you and your grieving partner to attend to your relationship.

However you offer your support, it is important to note that while you offer support to your partner, you must also be looking for ways to take care of yourself.

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