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Grief & Grieving

5 things young widows and widowers should know

The death of a spouse is one of the most world-shattering experiences we can go through. And when your partner dies young, it can be even more challenging. How do you deal with the pain of losing your husband or wife, while learning how to handle everything on your own?

In our culture, many of us are unprepared for what comes next because we rarely talk openly about death. For this reason, young widows and widowers are often faced with bewildering choices, urgent financial issues, and questions about real estate, insurance, and many other practical aspects of life.

All of the decisions you and your partner previously made together now rest on your shoulders—but that doesn’t mean you need to make these decisions alone. Remember these five pieces of advice from experts, and others who have gone through it themselves, when you’re beginning a new life without your spouse.

Seek expert financial advice

Financial planners, attorneys, and accountants can help you get your financial house in order, an important step to ensure a stable future—particularly if you have children.

These experts can help you make sure any jointly held accounts are switched over to your name, cancel memberships and payments you no longer need, and work with you to create a long-term financial plan.

Find your people

The truth is, most people will not understand what you’re going through unless they’ve gone through it themselves. And it’s perfectly OK to give yourself some space from friends and acquaintances who, though they are well-intended, are not helpful or supportive in the way that you need right now.

On the other hand, some people will surprise you with their ability to be supportive and understanding—so some relationships will grow closer during this time. Surround yourself with those who make you feel heard and understood.

Many young widows and widowers also benefit from finding a community of people who have lost a spouse, such as a support group. It can feel deeply validating to be around other people whose partners have died young, to share your story, and to lend support to others.

Accept help when it’s offered

Many young widows and widowers are hesitant to accept financial or practical help from friends and family. We may feel like this tragedy is our own to bear, and we don’t want to trouble those close to us.

While this is an understandable feeling, remember that when loved ones offer help, it’s because they want to. If you have the urge to refuse help, try to think about where that resistance is coming from.

Chances are it is your grief skewing your perceptions, leading you to isolate yourself and making you think it is your responsibility to get through this alone. We can all use a little help. If you can use the assistance, why not let them support you in any way they offer?

When friends and family are doing things like making meals, helping with laundry, or taking over errands and school pick-ups, they are giving you time to process the pain and exhaustion of grief. You’re recovering from one of the most wrenching experiences life can offer—if there’s ever a time to lean on your community, it is now.

Check if you’re eligible for benefits

When your spouse dies, it often means losing some of your household income. Almost all young widows struggle financially for the first few years or so. This is why some companies, particularly larger ones, have benefits set aside for the surviving spouses of their employees. Check with the company’s HR department to see if you have options available. 

Depending on your late spouse’s circumstances, there may be other kinds of benefits available to you, such as life insurance, veterans benefits, union benefits, and many others. Look in your spouse’s papers or consult your financial advisor to find out what you may be eligible for.

Say “no” when you need to

Lastly, but most importantly: show yourself grace. Prioritize your mental health, and don’t beat yourself up for anything that you feel, or for not being able to do certain things. Everyone grieves in their own way and heals on their own timeline.

One of the most common complaints young widows and widowers have is that the people around them feel the need to voice opinions about what they should or should not be doing, and how they should or should not be doing it.

Many report feeling pressured by friends to “get out there and start dating again,” while others hear the opposite: “Isn’t it a little too soon?” Remember that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. In fact, your grief is as unique as your fingerprint.

So feel free to ignore friends and family who think they are helping, but are actually making you feel like you are “doing grief wrong.” That can take a toll on your emotional health during an already difficult time.

The truth is, they don’t know how you feel or what you need—only you do. Trust your instincts, and move at the pace that feels right for you ●

Grief & Grieving

Grief & Grieving

Grief isn’t a feeling. It’s a process. Everyone experiences it differently, and you are the only one who can feel your feelings. But some understanding may help you come to grips with what you are going through.