What to do When a Spouse Dies Suddenly: The First Steps You Should Take

No matter your age, the loss of a spouse unexpectedly is life-altering. Accepting that your significant other is gone can seem impossible, and you might even find yourself in a state of shock. While you may be frozen in grief, there are things that need your attention. So, what are you supposed to do when a spouse dies suddenly? We’ve broken down the first five steps you should take to make it easier to get through what needs to be done so you can properly grieve. 

Make the Appropriate Phone Calls 

If you were alone when you found out about your spouse’s passing, you’ll need to notify family and friends. The best thing you can do is to call the one person you trust the most and have them act as your spokesperson to call the remaining people on the list. Try not to make anything public until all close relatives are informed. 

After the initial phone calls, you’ll need to contact a secondary list of people. Be ready to repeat the same information over and over as you talk to different people. Having all the necessary information written down in front of you will streamline these phone calls and help you get through them without breaking down. 

You and someone you trust will need to make phone calls to the following people: 

  • Funeral home director 
  • Church/priest
  • Attorney
  • Social security administration
  • Your workplace
  • Your spouse’s workplace

Organize End-of-Life Planning 

You will need to quickly gather together all the documents and items related to your spouse’s end-of-life planning. Prioritize them in order of importance, and be sure to pull out copies of your spouse’s will, insurance policies, marriage certificate, birth certificate, death certificate (get copies), financial records, and social security card. 

If you are not the executor of your spouse’s will, be sure to reach out to the person who is as soon as possible after your loved one passes away. 

Get Help Quickly 

If you are retired, enlist the support of your adult children as soon as you can. If you have young children, lean on siblings, parents, or close family friends to support you during this difficult time. Don’t be afraid to ask and receive support when you need it. Assign specific tasks to family members and friends to help take the burden off you. 

Finding a support group early in the grief process can also be a major asset as you navigate the first few weeks after your loved one dies. 

Don’t Neglect Your Needs

You might not know what to do when a spouse suddenly dies, and it’s easy to neglect your needs. You may not feel emotionally ready to face the day, let alone ensure you’re eating, showering, and caring for your health. While it’s normal to forget to take care of your basic needs while you’re dealing with the shock of your unexpected loss, you must get yourself out of bed and get dressed as much as you can. It will help you start processing your grief and ensure you don’t get yourself physically ill. 

Face Your Grief

Knowing there’s so much on your to-do list when your spouse passes away can sometimes distract you from your grief. You may find yourself living in a fog for a while, and it may take some time before the impact of your spouse’s passing really sets in. 

The overwhelming grief that comes from an unexpected loss could hit you at any moment. Accept your feelings as they come, and be present with your grief as it comes and goes. Dealing with your emotions is the only way to start the healing process. 

Moving On After the Unexpected Loss of a Spouse

After a month has passed and you’ve dealt with all the immediate aspects of your loved one’s passing, you can focus more on yourself. Try to join a support group once you start feeling alone in your grieving process. 

After the initial shock has worn off, it’s common for people to stop checking in with you – this is when you need support the most. A support group can offer you guidance and help you realize you’re never truly alone in your feelings. 

As the months continue to pass, start focusing on your financial affairs, getting your insurance policies updated, and thinking about what you want for this new chapter of life. Meeting with a grief counselor can help you make smart choices for the first year or so after your loss to set yourself up for success later on. As you move through your feelings, you’ll start to feel the fog lift and know that you’ll eventually get through your pain, and life will be waiting on the other side.

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