The loss of a spouse

The death of a spouse is possibly the most devastating experience one can encounter.

The sense of loss and grief is so overwhelming that one may feel split in two, as though a part of themselves has been lost.

It is normal to experience deep sorrow and heartbreak when a spouse dies. When one’s spouse passes you go through the grieving process, from initial shock and disbelief, through waves of deep sorrow and pain, to looking back on memories, feeling regret, and loneliness, perhaps even anger and depression. Eventually, it becomes possible to begin rebuilding one’s life. Joy and happiness are still possible down the road.

Grief is a broad concept. It encompasses the loss, the sorrow and finally the state in which the bereaved find themselves. In order to cope with the loss of a loved one, one must go through a period of grief that expresses the difficulties of letting go. Gradually, one must revisit all their memories, as well as all the plans and dreams, and accept the permanence of: “Never again.”

(from the Corporation des Thanatologues du Québec website)

The 5 stages below can be linear, however, it is common for the bereaved to regress before resuming the process. Understanding one’s feelings and emotions and sharing them with loved ones or with other people who are experiencing loss is key to working through grief.

Shock and Denial
This short-term phase of the grieving process occurs when we learn of the loss. This is a time of varying intensity practically devoid of emotions. After this short stage of the process, the reality of the loss sinks in.

This phase is characterized by feelings of anger over the loss. In some cases, guilt may set in. One is plagued with many questions.

A more or less lengthy phase of the grieving process that is characterized by deep sadness, second thoughts and distress. The sadness and range of other emotions can be so great that in this phase the bereaved may feel as if they will never overcome their mourning. However, the following stage, acceptance, will provide some relief.

The last stage of the grieving process when the grieving person is getting better. There is a much better understanding and acceptance of the reality surrounding the loss. The bereaved person may continue to feel sorrow, but is once again able to function normally. They have reorganized their life in the light of the loss.

Cautionary note. These stages are not necessarily sequential. There is no inevitable path. Some people may emerge from grief and move on to the final stage of letting go, yet the feelings they may have carried are not considered insignificant.