Husband Died Suddenly and Unexpectedly (Grieving Explained)

Has your husband died suddenly? Coping with the sudden and unexpected death of your husband is a dynamic process that you will go through. The term process indicates that certain stages or phases will be experienced and that these steps will take a certain amount of time. In general, the grieving process is divided into five stages, namely:

  1. Shock and denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Is there anything that can turn your world further upside down than losing your soulmate and life partner? The sudden and unexpected death of a husband is indeed a major traumatic and life-altering event. If that is the situation you find yourself in, please remember that there is a reason why the death of a spouse is at the top of the list of traumatic and stressful life events.

Do not despair – there is still hope for the future if you understand what you are going through if you accept that the grieving process takes time, and if you realize that you need all the help, assistance, and support that you could possibly get.

Elderly woman grieving in chair alone after her husband died unexpectantly

Related Reading: My Father Died Before I was Born (How to Make Peace)

Let us first put the death of your husband in perspective as far as life-altering events are concerned. Different sources provide a list of the most traumatic and stressful life events, namely:

Life eventStress score
Death of spouse (or child)100
Marital separation65
Death of a close family member63

The Term Grieving

The term grieving can be described as:

– to feel grief or great sorrow; to distress mentally; to feel very sad about something; to feel unhappy or upset.

Example: Susan has grieved over her husband’s death for nearly two years.

The Term Process

The term process can be explained as a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end; a series of actions, motions, or operations leading to some result; a series of actions that are carried out in order to achieve a particular result; or a series of changes that occur naturally.

Stages of the Grieving Process

The grieving process is divided into five stages. The expert on this process was the psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and she identified five stages of grieving that a person will progress through after the death of a loved one.

The grieving process is a universal process that indicates that all people from all cultures, ages, and gender groups will experience the mentioned stages to some level of intensity, after the loss of a loved one.

1. Shock and Denial

The initial stage after the death of your husband will be that of shock and denial. In this stage, you will feel that you “cannot believe” what has happened. The body will react to the shock of a sudden and unexpected trauma by showing physical symptoms that can include headache, nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps, tension pains, spasms, and migraines to mention a few.

Emotional pain reveals itself in the disbelief that something so tragic could happen so suddenly. The painful realisation that an important person will no longer be part of your life and that life as you know it will change irrevocably. Denial helps a person to break down the grieving process and helps you to take things to step by step.

You will experience the feeling of “it cannot be true” or this isn’t happening to me. The denial part counteracts the shock feeling because that feeling can be overwhelming. Denial makes it easier to break down the immediate events and process the consequences of your current situation. Towards the end of this stage, all the feelings and questions you were trying to ignore (deny) will resurface and become more evident and more difficult to ignore.

2. Anger

Once the realisation and the permanency of your loss set in, it often leads to a feeling of being angry – angry at life, angry at God, and even angry at your husband that passed for disserting you and causing you a lot of pain and trouble. We are often angry because we feel that life treated us unfairly and that we do not deserve the bad luck that came our way.

Anger is also a reaction to anxiety and feeling scared and insecure. Facing the future on your own can indeed be scary. Acceptable ways of venting your anger include exercise like walking, jogging, or going to the gym. This will help you to get rid of pent-up anger and frustrations.

Do remember that aggressiveness could possibly socially isolate you as others feel that they cannot and should not approach you. It is difficult for someone else to deal with and react to your anger knowing that comes from suffering. The best advice in this regard is to talk about your feelings and try to explain your feelings and the reason for them

3. Bargaining

The helpless feeling that comes with losing a loved one, makes us feel so desperate that we will do anything to get things back to normal again. You will start bargaining (normally with a higher power) in order to see if you cannot change the current situation. At this stage, you will feel really vulnerable and you will start bargaining in an effort to gain back a little control over the situation that confronted you so suddenly and unexpectedly.

You will feel helpless and will start focussing on regrets and mistakes that you felt you made in the past. You will become convinced that you are being punished for something you have done wrong. In this stage of the grieving process the “what ifs” and the “if only” become very prominent.

4. Depression

Following the stage of helplessness, you will move into the fourth stage namely that of depression. This is the time that you will start accepting that your situation is unavoidable and you will experience a deep sadness over the loss of your loved one. You will tend to withdraw as the weight of the grieve feels as if it is pushing you down.

In this stage, one tends to withdraw from social activities and could easily become isolated. This might be a natural part of the grieving process but one must keep a check on the fact that this stage cannot continue forever. Moving to the next and final stage is extremely important in order to complete the grieving process.

Depression is not a desirable state but it is a stage of the grieving process that cannot be skipped. It is a natural consequence of sorrow and sadness that run deep.

5. Acceptance

The acceptance stage is not an indication that you are no longer sad or that you have totally come to terms with the major change in your life. This is however an indication that you have accepted the reality of the situation and that you have realised that you cannot change things.

You realize that you have to now live a reality where your loved one is no longer present, where you have to find other ways and means to give meaning to your life and fill the void that was left by the death of your husband. You learn to re-evaluate, re-organize and re-arrange aspects of your life to make it more bearable.

Without ignoring your own feelings and needs, you will learn to create new relationships, connections, and roles that will once again give meaning to your life.

Acceptance & Commitment Therapy: The Live Better Series – Addressing Loss/Grief

Practical Considerations After Your Husband Died Suddenly

While you are advancing through the above-mentioned stages in the grieving process, you will be faced with many practical and necessary tasks after the passing of your husband. The following are things to keep in mind:

  • Take care of your own basic needs and health – healthy food, hydration, enough sleep and supplements will keep your immunity strong;
  • Do engage in some form of exercise even though you really do not feel like it. Exercise is good for the body but it is even better for the mind;
  • Ask for and accept all help and assistance that come your way;
  • Make funeral arrangements and use professional support if possible;
  • Locate and organise important documents such as a death certificate, will, birth certificate, social security cards, life insurance and bank statements;
  • Deal with important financial issues like figuring out how much money is available, paying debts, tax requirements and contacting Social Security.
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