What to Do When Your Spouse Dies Suddenly: 11 Steps


Nothing prepares you for the sudden and unexpected death of your spouse, no matter how young or old they were when they died. This type of loss is hard to cope with at any age. You may find it difficult to accept that they’re gone and not know what to do when faced with this situation. 

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The shock of your spouse’s unexpected death may leave you frozen in grief and unable to think clearly. There are always so many things needing your attention, but you may not be able to decipher at the moment which one is more important than the next. Know that you’re not alone. This guide is written with the specific intent to help you in the initial stages following your spouse’s sudden death. 

What You Can Do Immediately After the Sudden Death of Your Spouse

What to do when your spouse dies

Knowing what to do when a spouse dies suddenly can help save you a lot of stress and frustration in the days ahead. You’ll need to know what to do, who to call, and how to get certain things done even while you’re trying to cope with your pain and sorrow. Some of the more critical things to take care of are listed below.

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1. Get organized

The sudden death of your spouse will force you into taking specific actions. There are many things that you’ll need to handle all at once that can quickly become overwhelming as you’re grieving your loss. 

The list of things to do may seem endless. Help yourself stay grounded by taking immediate action to keep organized. Here’s a narrowed list of some of the most pressing things you’ll have to take care of:

  • Call your religious or spiritual leader to pay a visit to your spouse’s deathbed. 
  • Contact your immediate family to advise them of the death.
  • Gather all the documents and things related to your spouse’s end-of-life planning. Prioritize them in order of importance, paying close attention to the funeral director, attorney, and employer’s name and contact information.
  • If you are not the executor, you will need to contact the person in charge of the executor duties

2. Make the appropriate phone calls

The unexpected death of your spouse will leave you having to notify others of their death. You’ll need to make all the necessary phone calls to advise family, friends, and loved ones about what’s happened. Consider appointing a spokesperson to make these phone calls for you.

If children from a different marriage or relationship are involved, ensure that the children find out from you or their surviving parent before making a public announcement. Finding out from distant relatives or online forums can be traumatizing for a child at any age. 

Expect to repeat the same information over and over as you talk to different people. It helps to have a written announcement that you can refer to whenever making these phone calls. You or your spokesperson will need to make additional phone calls to the following:

  • Funeral director
  • Attorney 
  • Social Security Administration
  • Workplace

3. Ask for help

Don’t be afraid to ask for and receive support when you need it. Almost always expect that you’ll need it. It’s challenging to go at it alone, especially when you have young children to take care of at home.

Reach out to your support group, friends, family, and neighbors and give them specific tasks that you need help doing. No one knows what your exact needs are until you tell them. If anyone offers assistance to you, consider accepting it.

4. Take care of your basic needs

You may not feel emotionally strong enough to get out of bed, let alone take care of your health and overall well-being.

During the first few days following the death of your spouse, you’ll likely find yourself feeling shocked and in disbelief. You may not care about getting up out of bed, showering, or getting dressed. All of these things are a vital part of getting through your grief. Make a note to yourself to remind yourself to do these things at a minimum of every other day in the first few days. 

5. Be present with your grief

Everyone will experience grief differently and at their own time. When your spouse dies suddenly, you’ll go through the initial stages of grief in a sort of fog that affects widows and widowers alike. Sudden grief is different from the suffering you experience from losing a spouse to a lengthy cancer battle

When sudden grief hits, you’re almost always unprepared to handle the overwhelming grief that accompanies the unexpected death. Learn to accept your feelings and emotions as they appear each day. Being present with your grief will allow you to work through it as it comes and goes. The stages of grief for a widower aren’t that much different than from a widow. Both men and women will experience some of the same effects of grief as they work toward healing.  

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What You Can Do One Month to One Year After Your Spouse Dies

What to do one year after your spouse dies

The passing of time is said to heal all grief. But as you experience grief firsthand, you’ll find time alone is not a cure-all. You must take specific measures to work through your feelings of pain and sorrow associated with your loss. 

No magic time-table does away with your grief or grieving. Expect to experience sorrow in ebbs and flows. Some days will be worse than others. In some instances, you’ll grieve the loss of your spouse for the rest of your life. 

6. Reach out to your support group

After all the condolences have been said, and all of the sympathy flowers have dried up, you’ll be left alone with your grief.

Most of your well-meaning friends and family will go back to their lives, and the phone calls will have stopped roughly about one month after the death of your spouse. When this happens, try reaching out to those closest to you for a little extra support. Remind them that you’re still grieving and that you would appreciate hearing from them from time to time. 

7. Call the insurance companies

Another vital step to take shortly after your spouse’s death is contacting the insurance companies and anyone else you were doing business with as spouses.

For example, you’ll want to call on your spouse’s life insurance company and your own to claim benefits and change beneficiaries in any policies that listed your spouse as the first beneficiary.

8. Get your financial affairs in order

One of the most challenging things for widowed spouses is getting their financial lives in order after their spouse’s death. This holds for both men and women who typically don’t take care of the household’s finances. 

Widows are no longer the ones who are mostly left in the dark about financial matters. Modern times have brought many changes to the way spouses share and divide the household’s responsibilities. Many men now stay at home taking care of the household while their spouse earns an income to support the family. In either case, it’s essential to take account of your finances and all of your expenses so that you can create a viable financial plan going into the future. 

What You Can Do One Year+ After the Sudden Death of Your Spouse

What to do one year after the death of your spouse

A year after the death of your spouse passes by so quickly that it can feel like just a few short months. The typical grief cycle lasts anywhere from six to twelve months, but this doesn’t mean that you’ll stop grieving at the first anniversary of your spouse’s death.

Most spouses will grieve for many years after. Some will suffer for the rest of their lives. To help you work through yours, consider some of the following:

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9. Hold a memorial service

A memorial service is a beautiful way of honoring your spouse’s life while commemorating their death at the one year mark.

The first anniversary of your spouse’s death is an excellent time to bring friends and family together in remembrance. You don’t need to plan a fancy or elaborate in-person event for this death anniversary. You can come together via an online group chat or online conferencing app that allows multiple people to engage in a virtual memorial service. 

10. Read death-related books

Read as many books on grief for surviving spouses to help you get through your loss. Some books are useful in the beginning stages of grief, while others are better suited to guide you after you’ve had time to process your loss. You’ll find comfort and solace in reading about others’ experiences and how they managed to get through.

Not everyone’s story will resonate completely. Try reading through other people’s stories to find similarities in your experiences. This will help you gain a different perspective on how to get through your spouse’s sudden death. 

11. Get counseling 

The one year mark is also a good time to seek grief counseling to help you find healing and closure. A grief counselor or therapist can be instrumental in helping you get your life back together after a loss. They can help you understand your grief and bring together a plan to guide you in the months and years to come. 

Planning for your future doesn’t in any way dishonor the memory of your spouse and the relationship you had. A grief plan can help you set milestones that give you something to work towards and look forward to each passing month. These are small steps that will eventually lead to your grief recovery when you’re ready to move forward in your new life. 

Things You Must do After Spouse Dies Suddenly

After the sudden death of your spouse, you’ll be left with a life that you don’t recognize. The first few days and weeks will go by in a blur, and you’ll hardly remember it or how you got through. Through it all, recognize that you’re not alone.

Take the necessary measures to get through the things you must do after your spouse dies, and then focus on one day at a time. Know that there’s hope that one day soon, you’ll emerge from your pain and sorrow. 

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