Learning how to help a grieving spouse with the death of their father was likely not the plan going into your marriage. But as relationships grow and mature, you face life's ups and downs as they come. We've all experienced death in some way, but it doesn't make it easier when someone we love dies.
Helping a spouse work through their grief may overwhelm you. Trying to keep yourself together through your own set of challenges may even bring you to your breaking point. How then can you best serve your commitment to your spouse during their time of need? You've made promises of being there for one another. Can you be prepared to offer the best support possible to your spouse?
Tip: Understanding the entire post-loss process yourself can help you support your spouse. Our post-loss checklist can help you understand all of the challenges involved.
1. Say Something Nice
You might have a list of phrases you say to someone who’s experienced the death of a loved one. You know what to say when someone dies. Yet, when it comes to consoling your spouse, you may end up saying the wrong things to them.
Being mindful of the things you say and remembering to choose words of love and kindness will help keep your marriage intact. Not everyone handles grief well. You may find yourself needing to be more aware of what you say to your spouse, and how you say things.
2. Bring Home Flowers
As your spouse goes through the grieving process, give them their space to grieve in their own way. You may experience sudden outbursts of emotion as they process their dad's death. There's nothing expected of you to say during this time.
Giving them the space and privacy needed to go through their emotions is a necessary part of the process. Even though it may feel to you as if you're distancing yourself from your spouse, look at it as taking a step back to allow for their healing to take place.
You may want to bring home fresh flowers or an indoor plant in the weeks to come to let your spouse know that you care about them. The flowers will add beauty to your surroundings, and also make it less obvious when others stop sending flowers and condolences as the days turn into weeks after the death.
3. Be a Shoulder to Lean On
When you took your marriage vows, you promised one another to love and support each other through good and bad times. This would be one of those times where things may be at their lowest. Your spouse will likely need your support during this time, and may not be able to articulate it.
When you grieve, you behave in ways that may be out of character for you. You may lash out when you don't mean to, and you may push away those you love. As your spouse grieves, they may be sending mixed signals that can create resentment and confusion. Try to understand that this is part of the grieving process, and this is when they need you most.
4. Avoid Judgement
During their period of bereavement, your spouse may forgo all personal hygiene routines, and may not show any interest in maintaining the home or yard. As they mourn their loss, these things are no longer important to them. Their world has come crashing down and it will take some time for things to resume to normal.
During this time, you can pick up the slack on household chores and yard work. If you’re not able or wanting to, budget for these services to be done by outside help. Keep in mind that your spouse may resent that you’re paying someone to do it instead of doing it yourself as they normally would. This can be a touchy situation, and one that you’ll have to navigate carefully.
5. Refrain From Giving Advice
Unless your spouse has asked for your input, don't offer your own take on things. This isn’t the time to show that you might know more on the topics of death and bereavement, or what might have caused their father's death.
Even if you are a highly-skilled professional with direct knowledge, keep any advice to yourself until (and if) you're asked. Otherwise, you may come off as arrogant and condescending. Not good things to be at any time.
6. Avoid Saying These Things
When your spouse is the one who's hurting, you may think that saying the right things will come naturally to you. Unfortunately, the closeness of your relationship sometimes makes it that much more difficult to know what to say. Sensitivities may be at their peak due to stress and anxiety. Perhaps the death was unexpected and caught both of you off guard.
Regardless of how the death happened, there are certain phrases to avoid saying. Many things you would say to a stranger may sound insincere when said to a spouse.
The following are such examples of common phrases that may not be the right ones to say to your spouse (followed by how your spouse might be interpreting them).
- Everything happens for a reason. There’s no reason good enough for my dad to die.
- It was their time to go. Was it? Are you insinuating that my dad deserved to die?
- They’re in a better place. Their place was here with me. What’s wrong with me?
- God called his angel home. We are all God’s angels. Should I join them in going home?
- Be strong for the children. I always have to be strong for someone. Who’s going to be strong for me?
- You got this. No, I don’t. I need you now more than ever.
- Time will heal all pain. Please let me know when, and I’ll check out until then.
- Maybe a distraction will help ease the pain. Like a puppy? Do you think getting a dog will make me forget my dad?
- How are you holding up? How do you expect me to be holding up? My dad just died.
- I know how you feel. How could you possibly know how I feel. I just lost my dad. You still have yours.
Tip: If you find yourself being overly-negative while your partner is grieving, you may want to check out our article on grief and marriage breakdowns.
7. Be The Driver
Your spouse may be too despondent in their grief to get behind the wheel and drive. It may be safer for you to "take the helm" of the car and offer to drive them where needed. They may be experiencing reduced concentration and an inability to focus due to their grief.
Preoccupation with the thoughts and feelings brought on by their dad's death may render them a danger to themselves and to others while driving. When you add tears to the mix, they may experience blurred vision. If you’re unable to drive them for whatever reason, try asking for a family member to volunteer to take over the duty for a short while.
8. Maintain The Household
It may be time for you to take over the household in ways that you might never have expected nor wanted to. If you have children, you might have to take on a lot more. Everything from getting the children fed and ready for school, helping them with their homework and taking them to after-school practice — all of these things will now be your sole responsibility.
Managing the daily operations of the house will also fall on you, if it hasn't already. You’ll get to experience all the work that’s involved in making things run smoothly at home. Be prepared to take this on, and don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
9. Give Your Love and Support
Both the easiest and hardest thing to do is to offer your unconditional love and support to your spouse as they grieve.
You may consider asking your spouse how you can help them in order to take the guesswork out of it. This will reduce some unnecessary stress created by not knowing if you're doing enough or what's expected of you.
10. Remember the Death Anniversary
Remember your spouse's father’s death anniversary each year as a way of honoring their death. You can prepare a simple tribute to dad by inviting a few friends and family to your home to share stories about when he was alive. You can use this time to talk to your spouse and guests about any unresolved grief they may be experiencing.
Bringing everyone together to celebrate the life and memory of your loved one, will help move the grieving process along toward healing.
11. Help With End-of-Life Decisions
Your spouse may not be in the right frame of mind to make funeral and burial decisions, nor meet with estate lawyers, CPAs, and other professionals in order to wrap up their father’s affairs.
If authorized to do so, consider taking over these conversations and making these decisions. You may need to obtain your spouse’s permission in writing, or take them with you on your appointments.
12. Give Space When Needed
You’ll know the right time to take a step back from being the loving and supporting spouse you’re trying to be. Sometimes a little breathing room can ease any lingering tension between the two of you.
Giving your spouse their space doesn’t mean that they don’t want you nearby, nor does it mean that you can no longer help them through their suffering. It simply means allowing the process to take place from a slight distance. Be ready to jump back in when asked.
Helping a Grieving Spouse
When your spouse loses their dad, expect emotions to run high. Your spouse may become overly sensitive to everything you say and do. Try to not take things personally, and understand that grief causes people to act out of character.
The loss of a parent is unique to every person, and you may find yourself navigating uncharted territory. Patience and compassion are key when helping your spouse grieve.