5 Ways To Adjust To A New Life After Becoming A Widow

When we take the vows "till death do us part," most of us never imagine actually losing our spouse. We naturally envision a long life filled with decades of memories. However, although rare, young people do sometimes become widows in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women have a longer life expectancy than men. Women married to men also tend to be younger than their spouses, making it even more likely that they will one day become widows, per Medium. The Administration on Aging studied older Americans — defined as 65 or older — and found that, in 2019, nearly one-third of older women were widows. There were 8.9 million women in that age group who had suffered the loss of a spouse, compared to 2.6 million men. While the average age of becoming a widow in the United States is 59, the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to even more women becoming widowed at a younger age due to the fact that men are more likely to die from the virus.


Whether younger or older, becoming a widow is a traumatic experience. Yet there are ways to help get through the grief and learn to live life again.

Take care of business

Though it's the last thing you want to deal with after becoming a widow, it's important to take care of a myriad of financial and legal matters right away.

You'll need to collect important documents including bank, mortgage, and credit card statements, real estate deeds, investment accounts, and retirement accounts, such as IRAs and 401Ks (via Next Avenue). Then you'll need to find out about any existing pensions, and contact Social Security and any life insurance policies. It also helps to reach out to your late spouse's company to ask about any other benefits they were entitled to, which you may now claim.


Another thing that may seem bizarre at first is that you should request at least ten copies of the death certificate as various agencies will require it in order to process your benefits (via Kiplinger).

This is overwhelming during a normal period, but especially when you're in shock and grief. Lean on a trusted friend or family member who is particularly adept at business matters to help.

Allow yourself to grieve and feel

Once the hustle and bustle of the funeral are over and the business matters are taken care of, grief, anger, and even guilt may hit you at an alarming speed (via Dignity Memorial). Not only are you just now beginning to process all that has happened, but you may also attempt to get back to your regular day. Going through each day and night without your spouse can be one of the most painful feelings in the world.


On top of that, you're left to take care of things your spouse used to do, while also becoming adjusted to doing things without them, from eating meals to sleeping alone. Naturally, you may feel the need to call or text them throughout the day and sit down to share meals in the same spot you ate each day, or even go to the favorite coffee shops and lunch spots that you went to together (via Heal Grief).

While the routines you did together may be the hardest parts, unfortunately, truly feeling the loss and embracing it is the only way to heal. Adjusting to your new normal may take some time, so be gentle with yourself.

Make your health a priority

Though you may not think you need to see your doctor, losing a spouse can cause physical changes so make it a priority to take care of your own health. A study performed by Rice University found that people who lost a spouse had 17% higher levels of inflammation in their bodies (via Science Daily).


The study's lead author, Chris Fagundes an assistant professor of psychological sciences at Rice University explained, "Depression is linked to higher levels of inflammation, and those who lose a spouse are at considerably higher risk of major depression, heart attack, stroke and premature mortality."

He continued, "This is the first study to confirm that grief — regardless of people's levels of depressive symptoms — can promote inflammation, which in turn can cause negative health outcomes."

It's important to get a medical check-up as well as try to get enough sleep, take a daily walk or get some sort of regular physical activity, and eat healthy food (Goldstein Family Grief Center).

Counter the loneliness

As family and friends get back into their daily routine, you may feel the loneliness creep in. Although you may have many caring family and friends, often people don't know what to say and avoid reaching out for fear of disturbing a grieving person (via Time). While experiencing the daily reality of living alone when your spouse used to be by your side, it's vital to reach out to your loved ones and let them know if you need support.


Yet for other people, their spouse was the person they did everything with and they may not have had a wide social circle. Still, seeking out social support is important, and joining group activities in your community or church can be a good outlet. Some people prefer to speak to those who understand what they're going through and there are several support groups for widows online for just that.

Exploring mental health resources may also be beneficial. Look for a therapist who fits your needs; a skilled therapist who specializes in grief and dying can help you process the multitude of confusing feelings that may come up in your grief journey (via Well Clinic). They can also become an incredible means of support. Grief counseling can help you make shifts to move into your new life and also help you feel less alone.


Be gentle with yourself

Grieving a spouse is one of the hardest things to do and there is no rulebook. According to Verywell Mind, you may feel intense sadness one day, be able to get through the whole day without crying the next, and then feel sheer anger the following day. It's all a normal part of the process.


Amy Greene, Director of the Center for Spiritual Care at Cleveland Clinic, said, "While death ends a life, it does not end the relationship. Adjusting to the new reality takes time and does not follow a totally predictable pattern (in spite of what many people will tell you)."

Even after months and possibly years have passed, there will be certain times of the year including their birthday, an anniversary, or holidays when intense feelings may resurrect. Losing such an important person in your life may cause you to question everything and leave you feeling unsettled and anxious. Try to do something every day to help quell your painful thoughts and calm your spirit (via Center for Loss). Meditation, yoga, prayer, or simply listening to music or reading can do wonders for a grieving heart and mind.


Finally, remember grief has no set timeline so allow yourself the grace of the journey.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.