Hearing the news that your ex has died might leave you feeling sad, angry, and confused. Your level of grief can depend on the relationship the two of you shared. The news might be especially hard to take if you were still friends or have children together. Throw in a new spouse or relationship into the mix, and it can become very complicated.
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Where you go from here will depend on several factors — the length of your relationship, financial entanglements you might still have, and custody issues. Some of these things will automatically sort themselves out, while others may become complicated legal issues for the courts to decide.
Regardless of your status, when you catch yourself thinking, "My ex died, now what," it's time to assess how their death affects you and what to do next.
How Can You Cope After an Ex Dies?
How you get through after your ex dies depends on several factors. You may want to consider your ex's relationship status at the time of their death. If they were in a new relationship or remarried, you may have to take a step back from playing a major role at their funeral.
Ex-spouse funeral etiquette can be quite different from the etiquette rules followed when you were in a relationship at the time of death. Knowing the dos and don’ts will make things go a bit smoother for everyone involved. At the very least, it'll help you to sort out your role if any, and what is considered to be best practice.
1. Reach out
Regardless of whether someone is an ex or not, it's always good to reach out to the family to express condolences. It's a sign of respect and lets them know that you care about their loss. Doing so will also give you a sense of closure and finality to whatever connection you still had to your ex, if any.
The simplest way of reaching out is by signing the virtual guest book online if they've set one up. Usually, the funeral home takes charge of doing this. You can quietly go online and leave words of comfort and encouragement for them.
Try and put aside any hard feelings that might still be lingering from the past. If you're at a loss for what to say, or you ended your relationship on bad terms, try one of the following phrases as a conversation starter:
- “I’m so sorry to hear that John has died. I can imagine the pain that you must be feeling. Would it be okay for me to stop in and express my condolences to the family?”
- “I just heard the news of Susan’s death. My sincerest condolences to you. Are you comfortable with the idea of me paying my last respects at the viewing?”
If there’s a new spouse in the picture, reach out to them directly and ask permission to show up at the funeral. It’s proper etiquette to give the spouse a heads up on your intentions to avoid any surprises during an emotionally sensitive time for everyone. Keep things simple and try not to over-complicate matters for you or his new family.
Try saying something like:
- “The news just reached me about Marian’s death. I’m so sorry for your loss. Would you be comfortable with my presence at the funeral to pay my last respects?”
- “My condolences to you for your loss. John was a great father to our children. Would it be okay with you if I attended the memorial service in his honor?”
2. Allow yourself to grieve
When an ex dies, it doesn't mean that you can't mourn their death. The history you shared doesn't go away when they die. It's important to acknowledge your feelings and emotions. Doing so allows you to move forward from the loss that you're experiencing.
The grieving process that you'll go through is natural, even when you don't understand the reasons for it. You may question why you feel pain and sadness about your ex's death. Feelings of shame may also pop up. But trust that this is a normal part of grieving.
It's okay to grieve over someone even when they're no longer a part of your life. The term used to describe how you may be feeling is disenfranchised grief. It gives meaning to what you may be experiencing — a loss for someone whom you aren't supposed to be mourning.
In this case, your partnership ended, and people may expect you to have moved on. You may question whether you have a right to feel the loss of their death, or if you should even acknowledge it. The answer to both is yes. Mourning their loss is allowed. Acknowledging their death is encouraged, and both can help bring closure to your relationship.
3. Don’t go at it alone
You may think that you're all alone when it comes to grieving over your ex. Attempting to process alone the sadness you may be experiencing may create more confusion as you grapple with the reasons why you feel the way you do.
Sometimes it helps to reach out to others who may be going through the same things you are. Online support groups may be worth looking into while you sort out your feelings and emotions.
There are plenty of reasons why you may want to choose the safety of an online support group rather than confiding in friends or family. One of those reasons may be the fear of opening up about your true feelings.
This is especially true if you've remarried. It may be that your spouse doesn't understand your grief, creating difficulties in your relationship that you'll have to sort out later.
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What Can You Do to Remember an Ex-Partner After They Died?
Remembering someone after they've died is a way to honor their life and the role they had in yours. When your ex dies, it's no different. Emotions that you didn't know were still there might begin to pop up.
And as you process what they meant to you, you may find that they were still a significant part of your life. As such, you may want to remember them in ways that you remember loved ones who have died before them.
Memorializing a death can be accomplished in many unique and respectful ways. The way you choose to do so may take into consideration your continued relationship with your ex, whether you have minor children together, and whether you still have an active and ongoing relationship with their family. Some ways in which you can remember them are:
4. Plan a memorial
Plan a small memorial service for just you, or you and your children, on a date that's different than any already planned memorials.
You may want to consider the family's plans, if any, before planning anything of your own — even if you aren't planning on attending theirs. This shows respect and support for the family as they grieve their loss.
5. Attend the funeral
As difficult as it may be for you to confront your ex's family even this one last time, make plans on attending the funeral. There will only be one last opportunity to pay your respects and say your goodbyes. You may end up feeling regret later for not going to the funeral or memorial service.
Some etiquette rules to consider when attending are the following:
- Know your place. Consider whether your presence will create a distraction or cause hurt feelings within the family. If you’re no longer close to the family, the appropriate area to sit is toward the back and away from the close family section. If you have young children with your ex, it’s acceptable to sit at the front with your child in the close family section. If there’s deep tension or resentment between you and the family, you may ask a family member to sit up front with your child.
- Be gracious. The funeral or memorial service has nothing to do with you. Refrain from making any negative comments about your ex, or expressing any signs of disapproval. This will only create added stress for the family who’s grieving. Your presence and comments should be kept to a minimum.
- Exit quietly. If you didn’t maintain a close relationship with your ex or their family, your presence should barely be registered by anyone. Consider paying your last respects and existing quickly and quietly.
- Stay home. Whenever there’s strong contention between you and your ex’s family, and you’re no longer a part of their lives, stay home. Your presence at the funeral or memorial service may cause added grief to a family who’s already in mourning. If you can’t imagine not paying your last respects, contact the funeral director to make special arrangements to come before or after the family is scheduled to be there.
6. Send a card
Sending a sympathy card to the family expressing your condolences is a nice gesture regardless of any negative history between you.
If you maintained a good relationship with them, consider offering your help and support in ways that you anticipate that they’ll need. Ask if you can stop by to check in on them and provide your phone number as you sign off on the card.
Remembering Your Ex
When remembering your ex after they’ve died, try focusing on their positive qualities as you say your last goodbyes. They were once a significant part of your life. When you honor them, you also honor the decisions that led you to choose them to be a part of it.