How to Survive the Loss of a Spouse

11/15/2011 12:15 am ET | Updated Jan 15, 2012

The death of a spouse is rated as one of the most distressing events in life -- an event that one spouse in every couple must eventually face. Almost immediately, the surviving spouse is hit with a wall of worries, issues and concerns. A widow might worry about how she'll manage the household finances, who will do the repairs, whether she should sell his vast collection of tools. A widower might be stunned to realize that he doesn't know the last name or number of the house cleaner, can't cook anything other than a frozen dinner and can't bear to go into their shared closet, because it still smells like her perfume.

Here are some strategies for surviving spouses that may ease the pain a little bit and help move you through the long healing process.

Initially, try to avoid major decisions.
Even minor decisions that can be put off are best left undone for a time after the loss of a spouse. Extreme grief can make people's thought processes foggy and even irrational. It's a good idea to postpone major decisions for a time, such as selling the extra car or moving closer to your family. Give yourself time some to adjust to having to make big decisions on your own and to get your problem-solving faculties back.

Consider giving away personal items.
For the surviving spouse, clothes, jewelry and even knick-knacks can trigger feelings of grief. Some have found it helpful, even comforting, to give personal items away to family members first, then friends, and then to donate to rest to a local homeless shelter or charity. It's often easier to look at a treasured photograph of your loved one than to look at his or her hairbrush.

Get busy with a passion.
One of the best ways to ease symptoms of depression is to immerse yourself in an activity you love, such as gardening, hiking, playing bridge, or golfing. It's not unusual for grieving spouses to admit that they have come to relish having the free time to "selfishly" devote to their long-neglected passions or pursuits.

Allow yourself to grieve, cry and feel.
Burying your feelings won't make them go way. For most people, the pain of loss, especially that of a spouse, doesn't ever go away completely. And it may take a long time to get used to. Some people find it helpful to write letters to their lost partner. This can help you sort out your feelings, and still feel connected to the love and life you shared.

Find a sympathetic friend or two.
You will find that many people are uncomfortable talking about your lost loved one. It's beneficial to have a few people who understand your need to continue to talk about this person. Not talking about him or her only increases your feeling of loneliness. You don't want to make your late spouse the focus of every conversation, but it's comforting to discuss your thoughts and feelings with someone who listens well, is compassionate, and understands your need to share.

Consider medication.
Antidepressants aren't for everyone, nor are sleeping pills. But it's not uncommon for a person in the throes of intense mourning to suffer from depression, which can include serious physical side effects, including insomnia. Talk to your physician about your emotional and physical symptoms. Sometimes short-term treatment with medications can ease your discomfort and really help you feel better.

Remember: You will be happy again.
This is the single-most important thing to know. You will be happy again. Make no mistake, you will continue to miss your beloved spouse, but you will have a full and happy life again. There will be moments of grief, but you will find over time that you will focus more on pleasant memories and happy times. Life really does go on.