Life After Losing a Spouse to Cancer: 11 Tips for Coping

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When you hear the dreaded news of a terminal cancer diagnosis for your spouse, you may both experience a shocking and permanent shift in your relationship.

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Regardless of which one is going through this battle with cancer, it’s not easy to cope with its effects. This disease, the treatments, and the outcome can forever change the dynamic of a married couple.

Here you’ll find ways of coping with your loss and helping your spouse both before and after they’ve succumbed to this terrible disease. 

Tips for Coping When Your Spouse is Dying of Cancer

Attending to a spouse dying of cancer may not be one of the easiest things you can do. You will likely not ever find a more challenging part of being a spouse. Below are some ways to help you cope with the pain of knowing that your spouse is dying of cancer.

1. Accept that life has its challenges

When you receive the news that your spouse is dying of cancer, you may go into shock and disbelief. You may even go numb at the information and feel nothing at all. These are some of the different types of grief that manifest when getting devastating news like this. 

Once the news settles in, you’ll need to come up with a plan to prepare both you and your spouse for the end of their life. Preparations may include getting end-of-life planning documents in place, notifying friends and family, or spending the last few moments together doing whatever it is you and your spouse want to do.

When you accept this news as another one of life’s challenges, you’ll be better able to meet those challenges without your marriage falling apart. 

2. Never give up hope

Even when someone has been diagnosed with a terminal condition, never give up hope — miracles have been known to happen. This is not to say that you should spread a false hope of recovery, but it is to say that things aren’t over until they’re over. Take every day as a new opportunity to make your spouse’s life a little bit brighter and more meaningful.

Together you can devise a plan that will not only encourage the two of you to look forward to the future, but that will keep your spouse from falling into deep despair over their condition.  Hope can mean a lot of different things to someone who’s dying. 

It can mean the following at different times:

  • Strengthening and reconciling relationships with friends and family
  • Helping them explore spiritual matters
  • Controlling their symptoms

3. Draw on your spirituality

Everyone’s time here on earth is limited, and no one knows how long they have before they die. Sudden and unexpected things happen all the time that cut short the life of someone who you’ve expected to outlive you. 

Your religious or spiritual upbringing may help shed some light on why the body has to die and whether the spirit lives after death. Consider reading to your spouse from religious or spiritual texts that you think they might like to help them reflect on what they’re going through.

Doing so may bring them some spiritual peace they may have been lacking. You can also ask the chaplain to pay a visit to discuss death and dying from a different perspective. 

4. Grow closer to your spouse

These are the final days and weeks that you’ll be spending with your spouse in this lifetime — make every moment count. Even when your spouse is too weak to indulge in idle conversation, have a one-sided communication with them. Tell them about your day, how you’re feeling, and what they’ve meant to you through the years. 

Your spouse, who is dying, is not dead yet. Take care not to treat them as such. Their mind is still very much alive and able to discern what you’re saying.

The love, respect, and compassion that you provide to them will make their transition to the end of life easier on them, and you’ll have peace in knowing that you did everything possible to make their last days more comfortable. 

5. Ask for help

Depending on whether your spouse is receiving care at a hospital, a facility, or at home, you may have access to the hospice team assigned to overseeing your spouse’s care. Not everyone will have the opportunity to receive hospice care, but for those who do, know that there is an excellent team of professionals ready to help you at no additional cost. 

As a spouse of someone who’s dying of cancer, you’ll have access to mental health resources, respite care providers, and the chaplaincy staff. You’ll need to let them know what your needs are so that they can set up a plan to help you.

Don’t be afraid to be open about the help that you need. There is no shame in admitting that you need some time off from your caregiver duties or that you are struggling with finding meaning in your spouse’s death. 

6. Join a support group

There are many groups for people who have lost a spouse available to meet in person or online.  Consider joining one even before the death of your spouse so that you can have an added layer of support when the time comes. You can learn and gain from other’s experiences of those who have experienced a similar loss to yours.

The grief process starts even before the death of your spouse in what is known as anticipatory grief. This is nothing more than the anticipation of what you know is to come.

Sometimes the fear and anxiety that you experience as a result of a terminal illness diagnosis for your spouse can send your emotions into a tailspin. It helps to have someone to talk to that can guide you in the different stages of grief after a spouse dies

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Tips for Coping After Your Spouse Dies of Cancer

Suffering the loss of a spouse to cancer may be one of the most difficult challenges you’ll face in your lifetime. You’ve seen them transform from this robust and healthy human being who was not only your romantic partner but the source of your strength through the ups and downs of married life. Seeing them ravaged by disease can be heart-wrenching, especially when there’s nothing you can do to fix it. 

After the death of your spouse, you may be feeling guilt, shame, and regret. These feelings are all a normal part of the grief process that you’ll go through before reaching a place of healing. 

7. Let the grief process take its course

Grief has a funny way of turning your life upside down at the most inopportune times. No one’s ever really prepared for how they’ll react when they lose a loved one. Losing a spouse will make you suffer in more ways than you expected. You’ll suffer the loss of the person, your relationship, your planned future together — even sometimes your financial and emotional stability. 

Allow the grief process to take place without trying too hard to control it. Your feelings and emotions will surface when they need to. After a while, you’ll discover that you’ve become comfortable with your grief and you’ll have found ways to cope with it. 

8. Don’t apologize for what you’re feeling

No one deserves more than you to feel how you do over the loss of your spouse. You don’t owe anyone an apology nor an explanation to feel what you’re feeling.

You’ll go through ups and downs — mostly downs — for the first few weeks. It’s okay not to want to do anything or talk to anyone at first. Consider appointing a spokesperson to be your voice for a few days until you start to feel a little better. 

9. Cry when you want to

Although it may be uncomfortable to be in the presence of someone who’s crying, it’s okay to cry whenever you feel like crying. If you’re uncomfortable with falling apart in public or around others, find yourself a private place to retreat to whenever you need time alone with your grief. 

A safe place for you to mourn without others around is out in the woods, a darkened movie theater, or even in the shower. Wherever you’re comfortable, that’s where you should call your safety zone. 

10. Accept that your life has changed

The death of your spouse means the transition from husband or wife to widow or widower. You’ll wear this new title in society until you either remarry, or you simply choose not to use this label to describe who you are anymore.

Regardless of what word you use for your changed circumstances, realize that your life will never be the same as it was before your spouse died. But this doesn’t mean that you have to live in mourning for the rest of your years. In time, things will begin to take on a new normal, and you’ll find an original purpose that gives a different meaning to your life. 

11. Get yourself out there

After you’ve spent the necessary time mourning the death of your spouse, get yourself slowly back into society. You may not feel like socializing with your usual group of friends and loved ones, and you don’t have to right away.

Some suggested activities for a newly widowed person are the following:

  • Join a widowed spouses support group
  • Take an art or photography class
  • Go on a group tour

Surviving Your Spouse’s Death 

Your world may seem like it’s collapsed around you and you may find it difficult to breathe. Take one day at a time to acknowledge your grief and sorrow.

With every day, you’ll come closer to finding peace, joy, and a renewed hope for what life has ahead for you. Consider picking up some books on grief for surviving spouses to help you with your life ahead.

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