Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Death Of A Spouse At A Young Age

When we get married, many of us expect to live into old age with our spouses. The death of a spouse early in their life leads to a unique bereavement experience for the survivor. When a spouse dies in their 30s, 40s or 50s, they leave behind someone who is much younger than our typical widowed population. Many are parents of very young or school-aged children. The surviving spouse is tasked with newfound singledom and the reality that the hopes and dreams of growing old with their partner will no longer be fulfilled.

This new role as a single young person can lead to protest from the survivor, a very understandable reaction after being robbed of one's partner in life and co-parent. This experience can feel unfair; it was not one's choice to be single and deal with the responsibilities that two once shared. The experience can be isolating; many grief groups for widow and widowers are geared to an older population who is in an entirely different life stage. The loss of a young spouse is overwhelming; young bereaved spouses have work and child-rearing opportunities that often leave little time to grieve. Finally, even in the face of extreme loneliness, many survivors find it difficult to even think about dating again, much less find the time to do so.

Fortunately, there are resources available if you or someone you care about is struggling with this type of loss. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it may be a good place to begin.

Support Groups:
  • Arbor Hospice offers Loss of Spouse groups frequently throughout the year. These groups are open to people of all ages, and many include both young and older bereaved spouses.
  • Circle of Hope group for young widows and widowers at New Hope Center for Grief Support in Northville, MI.
  • If you have kids, Ele's Place offers grief groups for children ages 3-18 in Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Lansing, MI. A parent group meets concurrently and offers the opportunity to discuss the experience of losing one's spouse and parenting grieving children.
  • I'm Grieving As Fast As I Can by Linda Feinberg: A guide for young widows and widowers through the normal grieving process that highlights the special circumstances of an untimely death. Young widows and widowers share thoughts and dilemmas about losing a loved one, what to tell young children experiencing a parent's death, returning to work and dealing with in-laws.
  • Getting to the Other Side of Grief by Susan Zonnebelt-Smeenge & Robert De Vries: Both authors had spouses die at young ages; she is a psychologist and he is a pastor, and they each discuss various topics from their respective perspective, specifically written for both widows and widowers.
  • How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies by Therese Rando: From the publisher: "Mourning the death of a loved one is a process all of us will go through at one time or another. But whether the death is sudden or anticipated, few of us are prepared for it or for the grief it brings. There is no right or wrong way to grieve; each person's response to loss will be different. Now, in this compassionate, comprehensive guide, Therese A. Rando, Ph.D., bereavement specialist and author of Loss and Anticipatory Grief, leads you gently through the painful but necessary process of grieving and helps you find the best way for yourself.
This blog post was written by Becca White, Arbor Hospice Grief Support Coordinator. You may contact Becca by commenting below or emailing her at

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