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5 Stages of Widower’s Grief and the Benefits of Grief Counseling

The loss of your spouse is one of the most life-changing experiences you can go through. The person you’ve spent years with is no longer by your side, and you have to figure out how to navigate your life without them. Adjusting to life as a widow or widower can be extremely painful, but you do have a future after your loss.
If you’ve recently lost your spouse, understanding the stages of grief for a widow or widower can help you approach the mourning process with a stronger sense of compassion for yourself. You should know what grief looks like for a widow and what steps you can take to accept widowhood while maintaining your mental health.

5 Stages of Widowers Grief

Many people are familiar with the five stages of grief, but mourning a loved one rarely happens in a clear or predictable manner. You might cycle repeatedly through different emotions, or you may feel everything at once. Every widow or widower processes grief in their own way and on their own timeline.
The following are stages of grief you may experience in any order after the loss of your spouse.

1. Disbelief and Denial

For many, a feeling of shock, disconnect, or disbelief is the first stage of widowhood. You may feel like you can’t even understand what’s happening or like you’re living a nightmare. Even as reality starts to set in, you may not truly process right away that your spouse is gone.

2. Bargaining

The bargaining stage of widowhood involves trying to make deals with the universe to bring your spouse back. You might ask your higher power to take you instead, or you may ask what you have to do to bring them back. For many, bargaining is an attempt to take control over the situation.

3. Anger

Anger can be painful and exhausting, but it’s a normal part of the grieving process. Loss is not fair, and it’s natural to be angry in response to the death of your spouse. You might lash out at those around you, or you might release your pent-up anger on your own.

4. Depression

The depression phase of mourning for a widow brings about feelings of intense sadness, hopelessness, or emptiness. You might struggle to get out of bed, or you may feel like your life is meaningless. Although this is a normal stage of grief, you should always reach out for support if you’re struggling with severe signs of depression.

5. Acceptance

Acceptance often happens very slowly. One day, you may find that you can speak about your spouse without crying. Another day, you might feel motivated to go to a social gathering for the first time since your loss. Your life may never look the same, but over time, you’ll develop your new normal and feel a sense of peace.

How to Move Forward After Becoming a Widow

When you lose your spouse, you shouldn’t force yourself to find closure or move on. The pain of grief tends to lessen as the months and years go by, but you have to give yourself time and space to heal.
Here are some steps you can take as a widow or widower to manage your grief in a healthy way:

Allow yourself to feel your emotions.

The emotions associated with mourning are incredibly painful and at times can feel unbearable. However, you have to let yourself feel everything. Trying to suppress or distract yourself from your emotions will only cause you more pain in the long run.
This can be especially challenging for widowers as men are often taught not to show emotion. You might feel like you need to “be strong” and hide your pain, but everyone deserves the chance to express themselves. Whether you experience your grief privately or mourn with family or friends, you should allow yourself to feel your emotions without self-judgment.

Document your memories.

In the early stages of mourning, reminiscing on your time with your spouse may be too painful. Many widows and widowers find joy and healing in documenting their story, though.
If you think it would help you process your loss, you could collect and digitize all the photos and videos of you and your spouse. If writing is a good outlet for you, you could write the story of your and your spouse’s lives. Not only is this a chance to process your emotions, but it also leaves you with a valuable record of your memories.

Strengthen your connections and build new ones.

The loss of a spouse is often the most difficult loss because they’re the one person in the world you’re closest to. During all other hardships, they were by your side. Now, you have to deal with this unimaginable burden without them. Now is the time to lean on your other loved ones for support. As you heal, it can also be helpful to seek out new friendships in your community so that you don’t feel lonely or isolated.

Find sources of meaning and fulfillment.

You might feel like your life is over after you lose your partner. Although you shouldn’t force yourself into new hobbies or ventures after your loss, one of the most important steps toward healing as a widow or widower is rediscovering your sense of purpose.
Your existing hobbies, passions, and community involvement can be wonderful sources of meaning as you recover from your loss. It can be helpful to discover something new, too, as a way of embracing growth and change. You could get involved with a local club or class, or you could find a volunteer organization that shares your values. Directing your energy toward these meaningful activities can help build you up and motivate you to keep going.

Join a support group.

Support groups may not be for everyone, but many people find it helpful to connect with others who are going through similar life experiences. A widow support group can be a valuable source of comfort and companionship, especially if others in your life can’t relate to what you’re going through. You could make new friendships through the group, or you could get helpful advice for moving through the stages of grief.

Talk to a counselor.

Being a grieving widow is not a mental health disorder, but grief counseling for seniors can absolutely help with the process. Widowhood and grief can be extremely isolating, and not everyone is comfortable opening up to friends or family about their emotions. Even if your loved ones are great sources of support, it can still help to work with a mental health professional in a private and trusting environment.
Counseling is your opportunity to express, understand, and process your emotions. Everything you say remains confidential, so you don’t have to worry about being judged or criticized. You can reflect on your life with your spouse and work toward building a new normal. As you work on moving forward, your therapist can help you develop coping skills so that you can carry on during difficult days.
Blue Moon Senior Counseling provides therapy for older adults facing loss and complicated bereavement that can be associated with widowhood. If you’re interested in grief counseling for seniors, reach out to us today.

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