Dealing With the Death of a Spouse


Death is not a popular topic of casual conversation. But though it’s not often discussed, it’s safe to say that many of us hold similar views on the subject.

For example — most adults will at least admit that the time will come when their parents will die (if they haven’t already). Almost every parent confesses that no one should ever have to bury their own child . . . even though, sadly enough, many do.

But it’s possible that dealing with the death of a spouse is what catches most adults by surprise more often than not.

Gerald Sittser is a college professor and author. In his book, A Grace Disguised, he talks about the tragic, unfortunate auto accident that claimed the life of his mother, wife and young daughter.

Through this dark season of life, he discovered ten principles for what I like to call enduring “Grief with Grace.”

1.  When darkness closes in, don’t be too hasty in turning on a light. Tragedy strikes suddenly. And now, our rational, logical mind wants some semblance of order . . .to try to “figure things out.” Well, if your spouse just died, understand that you’re about to enter a dark period. There are no easy answers — especially at the outset.

2.  Listen for the “silent scream” of pain. Grieving is a natural part of loss. It hurts! So let it out.

3.  Prepare for a Journey on the Sea of Nothingness.’ There are so many details to deal with in the immediate moments after the death of your spouse. Much of this activity will seem void of any sort of meaning for you. That’s okay. It still needs to be done — just give yourself permission to not make more of it than you should.

4.  Say goodbye to your “Familiar Self.” There is no more “business as usual” once your spouse dies. The comfortable and familiar are neither anymore. Take the good memories with you and prepare to move on. God has many incredible things yet to show you. Trust Him to comfort and guide you on this new journey.

5.  Don’t try to “bargain” with God. The surviving spouse is often left to answer question, “Why not me? Why wasn’t I the one who died?” Well, for whatever reason, you’re still here. Try not to spend too much time dwelling on why you are. God knows.

Get more — Free! e-book — Les & Leslie Parrott's, The Good Fight

6.  Forgive and Remember. Tragic, catastrophic loss is often the result of wrongdoing. Most victims want just to prevail after this kind of loss, and for good reason. But, ultimately, the “justice” in question turns to revenge, and that’s a heavy load to carry around with you the rest of your days. Forgiveness is key —   but forgiveness does not mean forgetting. And loss can sometimes leave us with the memory of a wonderful story.

7.  Never forget that life has the final word. None of us willingly and happily accepts life’s mortality. But inevitably, the loss of a spouse forces us to take a long, hard look at that reality. Though it may not seem so at the time, this is a tremendous gift from God.

8.  Find your place in the “Community of Brokenness.” Loss is a universal experience —   but it doesn’t have to isolate us. Though it is a solitary experience we must face alone, loss is also a common experience that can lead us to community. Though we enter this darkness of loss alone, there we will find others with whom we can share life together.

9.  Remember that your spouse is now a part of the great “cloud of witnesses.” Hebrews 12 talks about this group that now features one of the people you loved more than anyone else in this life — your beloved spouse. Rejoice over the fact that he or she is now home!

10.  You now have a heritage in the graveyard. And, perhaps more importantly, so do your children. Take them there. Much of your heritage is established at birth. But perhaps an even greater legacy is left at death. Build on that heritage so you can continue living the legacy you started with your spouse.

Using these principles will not help you “get over” the death of a spouse. It’s unrealistic to expect that you can do anything more than survive this dark season. But keep them in mind and hold them close to your heart — God will see you through!

(Excerpted from the book, A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Lossby Gerald L. Sittser. In addition, an excellent resource for children is, Heaven’s Not a Crying Place: Teaching Your Child About Funerals, Death and the Life Beyond by Joey O’Connor.)

Copyright © 2006 Jim Burns, Used with permission.

Read more from Jim at

In response to the overwhelming needs of parents and families, Jim Burns founded HomeWord (formerly YouthBuilders) in 1985. HomeWord is a Christian organization designed to provide assistance to adults worldwide as they help young people make wise decisions and lead positive, vibrant, Christian lifestyles. Multiplication and Leverage: While absolutely committed to young people, HomeWord equips parents, grandparents and youth leaders; those who daily reach out to kids. By equipping adults, and leveraging those adults to reach kids, HomeWord reaches more young people more cost effectively.

Rate this article

About Jim Burns

bio-burnsJim Burns, Ph.D., is a renowned youth and family expert, an acclaimed author, and the founder of HomeWord, a radio program that reaches more than a million people across the country each day. In partnership with Azusa Pacific University, he established and now provides leadership for the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family, a research and training institute offering biblically based resources for parents and youth. Under Burns, the center has become the largest provider of Christian parenting and youth seminars in the United States. His passion is communicating to adults and young people practical truths to help them live out their Christian lives. Burns is a three-time Gold Medallion Award-winning author and has written books for parents, youth workers, and students. He also speaks in person to thousands of people each year around the world. Burns and his wife, Cathy, and their daughters, Christy, Rebecca, and Heidi, live in Southern California. For more information about Burns, visit
See Jim's Books



5:31pm, CDT

Counseling Referral Checklist


5:31pm, CDT

Devoted Dads