When an ex-spouse or partner dies, society's rules for when and how to grieve can be perplexing. In many cases, a grieving ex may have lost their place within the ex's family and is no longer considered by society when offering condolences and support to the bereaved. Being ignored can confuse and further isolate bereaved exes who don't know if they should feel sad, and they don't know how to process their grief when facing the death of an ex-partner.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Is It Normal to Grieve an Ex Partner?
- What Can Grieving an Ex Partner Look or Feel Like?
- Tips for Dealing With Grief After Your Ex Dies
- Tips for Helping a Loved One Deal With Grief After Their Ex Dies
Grieving exes might feel a rush of past emotions flooding in dating back to when their relationship ended. Many people may not fully understand the grief from their failed marriages or relationships, which can compound the grieving process when an ex dies. They go on living their lives doing the best they can to make sense of what's happened. In time they forget about it and move on without ever finding closure.
Is It Normal to Grieve an Ex Partner?
Grieving the death of your ex-partner is very typical whether you have fond memories of them or if they remain a touchy part of your past that you would rather forget. The factors that influence your grief response include the length and depth of your relationship when you were together and the type of connection you maintained after the breakup.
People do often grieve when an ex dies, but the reasons can be as long and complicated as to why their relationships ended in the first place. If you find yourself grieving your ex's death, even if you’re in an entirely new and committed relationship, rest assured that this is normal, and you’ll get through it in time.
What Can Grieving an Ex Partner Look or Feel Like?
Whether sudden or expected, death produces a range of emotions from shock to sadness to anger that forms a part of the stages of grief. How you learn the news of an ex's death seems to contribute to how you react.
For example, if you receive a notification via text from an acquaintance, you can expect to feel shocked and uncertain. Your mind might not immediately register the information coming from someone who isn't your ex's close friend or family member. At times, you might even feel angry at how you learned of their death, especially when the family doesn't call you directly.
Tips for Dealing With Grief After Your Ex Dies
There are several ways to navigate your grief after the death of an ex successfully. Although you might face complications as you work through your loss, breaking down the stages of your grief helps. Complicated grief happens when you haven't worked through earlier setbacks like your breakup or divorce. Your grief compounds after each loss making it more challenging to work through.
As a result, you may need to revisit your pain and suffering from the initial heartbreak to resolve it before tackling your emotions stemming from their death. Here are a few ways to get through your suffering.
1. Take time to process the news
Hearing the news of your ex’s death might come as a shocking and unexpected surprise. Perhaps they died suddenly and unexpectedly, or maybe you knew that this day would come but didn’t expect to get the news indirectly. Regardless of how you obtained the information, your ex’s death represents an end to a significant part of your life and past. You may want to take a step back from your everyday routine to let the news sink in to determine how you feel about it.
2. Be kind to yourself
There isn’t any reason to beat yourself up for all the what-ifs and things left unsaid between you and your ex, especially if you hadn’t each obtained closure for that part of your life together. Living in regret holds you back from living your life fully.
Make sense of your loss so that you can grow and learn from it without being judgmental toward yourself. If the two of you had any unresolved personal business, this is the time to put it behind you. You may never find the resolution you were looking for. Release the past, grow from your experience, and move on.
3. Acknowledge the death
After hearing the news, the way you deal with your ex’s family and any remaining mutual friends can mean the difference in how well you process your grief. Your grief experience directly ties to how you cope when your ex dies. You need to acknowledge their death in a way that symbolizes the end of you knowing them, and that brings closure to any remaining ties to your ex’s family. Unless the two of you share minor children or legal or financial relations, there’s no longer a need to remain tethered to their family.
4. Normalize your feelings
Understand and accept that it's OK to grieve over your ex's death. It's entirely normal for you to do so even though society says that it's not socially acceptable or even expected for you to do so.
There are no typical or expected support resources to help facilitate your mourning. Even among close friends, you may feel lonely as you struggle to make sense of your grief. Society doesn't account for exes when providing grief resources and bereavement support to the family and friends of the deceased.
5. Pay your last respects
Whenever you have an opportunity to participate in any formal death rituals like attending the memorial service or funeral, do so, but make sure to follow proper funeral etiquette for exes.
If you can’t make it, or you aren’t welcome to attend, you’ll need to find your own path to grieving and mourning your ex’s death which might include:
- Sending a sympathy card
- Placing a phone call to express condolences
- Visiting their grave in private
Tips for Helping a Loved One Deal With Grief After Their Ex Dies
Many people don’t know how they should react or feel after getting the news that their ex has died. The information they get can be second-hand, confusing, or incomplete. In some instances, they no longer keep in touch with their ex’s family, and they have to hear about the death from mutual friends or people from their past.
There are several ways to help a loved one deal with getting the news and how to manage their grief. The tips below might offer some ideas of how you can be there for someone dealing with this type of loss.
6. Validate their loss
Recognizing and validating a survivor's emotional needs is essential for supporting them. In some instances, ex's feel shunned or no longer part of the inner family circle and might not know where they fit in even when they spent a more significant portion of their lives either married or partnered with their ex.
Perhaps no one from their ex's family called them directly to give the news and offer their condolences. Being there for a loved one dealing with this type of scenario involves acknowledging their past relationship to their ex and how their deaths affected them.
7. Show up and be present
Whenever your ex dies, you can expect to deal with a lot of confusion. There's confusion about where you stand with your ex's family, how you're supposed to feel, and what you should do after getting the news.
Your loved one may need your help sorting through their feelings and the formalities following their ex's death. They may want you to be there, lending your support as they process the news. Expect they'll need you to talk them through the next steps of what they should do now that their ex has died.
8. Make time to listen
Your loved ones may benefit from you helping them process this potentially awkward time in their life by listening to them talk about their past experiences with their ex. They may want to explain what their ex meant to them, their relationship, or vent about their ups and downs.
When a person such as an ex no longer thinks they have a right to mourn a particular loss, they risk experiencing disenfranchised grief. A person dealing with disenfranchised grief is one whose suffering isn't sanctioned or recognized by society, especially the family and friends related to their ex.
9. Buy a sympathy gift
Consider sending your loved one flowers or another type of sympathy gift to let them know that you’re thinking of them during their time of sorrow. Even when your loved one doesn’t share fond memories of their ex, they may still experience grief in whatever way it manifests for them.
Sympathy gifts are a nice gesture that shows your loved one that you care and acknowledges their loss at whatever level they’re experiencing it. Some other gift ideas include self-care items such as:
- Personalized grief journal
- Softly scented candles
- Bubble bath or foot bath
- Plush robe
- Bottle of wine
10. Accompany them to the gravesite
An ex may not get a formal invitation to attend the funeral or memorial service. You can safely assume there's no invitation when the surviving family doesn't extend a phone call advising of the time and place. In most cases, it may be ill-advised to show up without first notifying the family of their plan to attend.
In the event that the deceased's family denies attendance, plan on a future date with your loved one to visit their ex's graveside so that they can pay their last respects in private and say their goodbyes. Doing so will help them find closure with this chapter of their lives and move forward.
11. Memorialize their past relationship
Your loved one will benefit from honoring and memorializing their past relationship so that they can mark the end of their ex’s life and put that part behind them. Together, you can develop a way that makes sense for your loved one to honor their ex.
Consider creating a scrapbook of old photos they’ve held on to that include their ex while reflecting on the positive memories with them. You can also participate in a private end-of-life ritual like writing a eulogy or setting up an online memorial.
How to Grieve an Ex
Grieving and acknowledging your ex’s death can mean setting yourself free to build a new life and future. While getting through your grief formally signals an end to that particular part of their life together that you can now close.