When Your Ex-Spouse Dies: How to Process Your Grief

The death of an ex-spouse can be a complex experience. Your feelings might confuse you, and they rarely seem as straightforward or obvious as they would be if you two had still been married.

It’s important to know that divorce doesn’t necessarily eradicate the grieving process. Even if you parted ways long ago, it’s normal to feel sad, confused, and guilty.

Acknowledge Your Grief

Losing a former spouse is a tender loss, and it often represents a form of disenfranchised grief. Disenfranchised grief refers to a type of grief that does not feel socially acceptable. People who experience this type of grief often feel uncomfortable even expressing how they feel to themselves.

But the reality is that your ex-husband or ex-wife was a significant part of your life. You two shared something profound together. Maybe you had a home or children or a shared future. There was a piece of history together- for better or worse, they shaped part of who you are today.

The grief you feel now speaks to so many things: what could have been, what never was, and what never will be. The grieving process also sometimes entails going back into the past and revisiting old memories or past regrets. This triggers other emotions, and it’s important to make space for them.

Reflect On Your Memories

The death of ex-spouses often triggers a deep sense of nostalgia. You’re suddenly back at the age you were when you two first met or got married. This experience can trigger a flood of negative and positive memories about your former life.

Part of the healing process sometimes entails truly allowing yourself to honor these memories. If you have adult children, it may be helpful to include them in this process with you.

That said, it’s also okay if you still have complicated or negative feelings even after your ex-spouse passes. Divorce can be complicated, and your frustration, hurt, or betrayal may not diminish just because a loss occurred.

Decide If You Want to Attend the Funeral or Visitation

Funeral etiquette can be a real concern when it comes to your ex-spouse. There’s no universal answer that applies to this specific situation.

You might ask yourself what your intentions are for attending the service. You want to ensure that you’re there for the right reasons. If you two were cordial and you have a good relationship with your ex-spouse’s family, it’s probably appropriate for you to attend. You can also run your decision by a trusted friend or family member if you want additional feedback.

It’s usually best to abstain from attending funeral services if:

  • your marriage ended on poor terms and you still feel extremely angry
  • you have no relationship with your ex-spouse’s family members
  • the funeral appears to be reserved for only family members or close friends

Even if you were on good terms, it’s also perfectly reasonable to opt out of the funeral or memorial service. Some people decide to pay their respects privately. Others might choose to send condolences with phone calls, cards, or flowers.

Be There for Your Children

If you two had children together, they’re now grieving the loss of their parent. This can be devastating, even if the death was anticipated.

While you can’t fix anyone’s pain, you can commit to being a source of support and safety. That doesn’t mean you need to be the strong one at all times (you’re entitled to your own emotions!), but your children are likely depending on you for a sense of stability.

It’s most important to avoid speaking badly about your ex-spouse. This can cause immense tension between you and your children, and it may also cause them to pull away from you at a time when they may need you the most.

Seek Grief Support

Sometimes grief can make it feel like you’re the only person experiencing such intense emotions. This effect is often amplified in cases of disenfranchised grief.

Family members might not understand why you feel sad in the face of your ex-wife or ex-husband’s death. You might not feel comfortable reaching out to your ex’s family during their grieving process either. If you’re remarried, you might feel awkward sharing your feelings with your current spouse.

You’re certainly not alone in how you feel. A bereavement or grief group can help you process your emotions and receive a sense of support.

Grief Therapy in Texas

There is no right or wrong way to grieve, and losing an ex-spouse sometimes triggers an unexpected deep grief. Your feelings are important, and they are real.

I specialize in treating all types of grief, including disenfranchised grief, delayed grief, and prolonged grief. Healing is possible, and you can live a meaningful life despite your intense emotions. I would be honored to support you during this time.

Contact me today to schedule a consultation.

4601 Spicewood Springs Road Building 3, Suite 200
Austin, TX 78759

(512) 988-3363

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