Print a list of what needs to happen in the next few days to make arrangements for your loved one
This will be important for you to be able to take care of the deceased person’s affairs
Advice on when to remove and distribute your loved one’s belongings
SUPPORT FOR THE DAYS AHEAD
The days ahead may become lonely once the service is over and all the family members have gone home
Loss Of A Spouse
Losing a spouse feels like losing the other half of you, especially if you have shared a long and loving relationship. The emptiness and loneliness that follows the loss of a spouse are very difficult. And the deluge of decisions that have to be made, on top of the enormous grief you feel, is almost too much to handle. Let us be there for you. We have experienced facilitators who can guide you through what needs to happen early and what can wait.
If your spouse passed away later in life, chances are likely you have discussed each other’s wishes and even have a Last Will and Testament in place. You’ll need to locate the Will most immediately and talk with an attorney about getting it into probate after the loss of a spouse. You will need proof that you were left as the executor of the estate.
If your spouse passed suddenly, you may not have made any arrangements at all. You’re in shock and likely feeling like this is all a bad dream. As a wise widow once said, “just do the next thing that has to be done, whatever that is and nothing more. One step at a time. One foot in front of the other. And make time to be alone and rest.”
Honoring your loved one when you are sad, and even scared, can be daunting. Grief is heavy after the loss of a spouse and yet you must find strength for the next few days as you think through all the decisions you will be facing. We recommend working with family members or a very close friend. And we would be honored to assist you as well, especially if you’re facing these next few days on your own. Click here to print out our Funeral Planning Checklist.
In making burial arrangements, the following questions are going to come at you very quickly:
- Did you purchase cemetery plots at some point and can you locate the information? You don’t need to concern yourself with the headstone or monument after the loss of a spouse. The cemetery will place a marker on the grave site until you are ready to discuss how you want the final resting spot to be marked.
- Where would you like to hold the service?
- Who will preside over the service? Who else will speak at the service?
- Depending on availability of church, synagogue and presiders, what date can be set?
- What funeral home would you like to work with to schedule the visitation? Or if your spouse is going to be cremated, where would you like to have a “life celebration” service?
- If your spouse will be buried, you will need to make an appointment with a funeral home right away and be prepared to select a casket and discuss funeral options and costs after the loss of a spouse. If cremation is the decision and you want to have a “life celebration” at the funeral home, they will take care of getting the body cremated. You’ll need to decide where to place the ashes and they will have a variety of urns for you to choose from.
- You will need to gather up clothing for the deceased if there is going to be an open casket. Pick something they enjoyed wearing and provide a recent photo of your loved one so the funeral directors can ensure the deceased looks close to how they did before they passed.
- There will be questions about how to word the prayer card and/or funeral program. And what photo you would like to use? This doesn’t have to be decided before your first visit, but will be shortly thereafter.
- The obituary will also come up. Here is a link to our Obituary Outline Worksheet to help assist you, or someone close to you, in figuring out how best to word this and include all the family members. Be aware that the cost of the obituary can run into the hundreds of dollars in some local newspapers and is based on the word count. Legacy.com is another site you can post the obituary on and then use social media, if you have a Facebook account, for instance, to share the information. Directives like where to send donations, in lieu of flowers, is very common these days, so consider your spouse’s favorite charity or organization. Have someone give them a call to let them know this will be published in his/her honor so they can keep a list for you to receive in the future. Note: Some charities write thank you notes for you and some just send you the list of people who donated. It’s up to you if you want to write a thank you note. Nobody is expecting it though.
- Out of town guests may come in for the funeral. Do not feel any pressure to house these people or even make arrangements for them. You have enough to deal with right now and they will be able to figure it out on their own. At most, suggest a few places near the funeral home or church/synagogue you plan on using. Or just give them the address and let them Google their way to find accommodations.
- If your spouse will be buried, the presiding clergy at the funeral often says a few words at a graveside service, or may send someone else from the church to do so. There will be seating for immediate family only at this service and someone will likely ask for an approximate headcount. This can be the most difficult part of the burial, seeing your loved one in place to be lowered into the ground. The finality of this service can be overwhelming.
- Many funerals are followed with some kind of family gathering afterwards at someone’s home, the church basement, your home, etc. You can ask someone close to you to create a potluck meal option or call a catering company and have them bring food. Most people are happy to bring a dish to share with others, especially family members. And it’s perfectly acceptable to skip this if you’re just not up for it.
- Grief is your personal journey and it’s important that you take care of yourself. You’ll likely want to sleep a lot over the next few days as all of this can be exhausting. Give yourself permission. And have someone run interference for you from well-meaning people who want to drop in and visit. You can see them at another time and they will understand that you need some downtime to rest.
Spouses Who Served in Our Military
If your spouse was in the military, there will be a special service held at the gravesite after his/her loss. And the place of burial may be at a national cemetery. You will need to contact DFAS (Defense Finance & Accounting Service) to stop the over payment of military pay. Please do this so you don’t have to repay it later. You’ll need to provide the date of death, social security number of the deceased, etc. Here is a link to the site where you can fill out this information online or call : 1-800-321-1080
Note: When you notify DFAS of the serviceman or woman’s death, DFAS will forward the death listing to the Headquarters of the respective service branch. Also, please notify the Social Security Administration. Call 1-800-SSA-1213 to apply for the $255 death benefit, if applicable. VeteranAid.org also has some valuable information on what to do when a Veteran dies. (866) 584-7191.
AGENCIES PROVIDING AID & ASSISTANCE TO SURVIVING MILITARY SPOUSES:
Arlington National Cemetery: (703) 607-8000
Gold Star Wives of America: 1-888-751-6350
Military Funeral Honors: 1-866-826-3628 or (703) 432-9524
Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society: (703) 696-4904
National Military Families Association: 1-800-260-0218
Society of Military Widows: 1-800-842-3451
The death certificate is yet another shockwave — a paper confirmation that in fact your loved one has passed. No one can prepare you for opening this document and presenting it to all the places that will require a copy. Make sure you order several certified copies to be able to take care of you and your spouse’s affairs.
For example, you will need to present the death certificate to any and all financial institutions in order to make changes to the accounts you shared after the loss of your spouse. If your spouse was still employed, you may be required to present a copy in order to claim their remaining pay and benefits. Life insurance, mortgage company, and the attorney probating the Last Will and Testament are a few other groups that will require a copy as well.
There are three ways you can obtain certified copies of a death certificate:
1. The funeral home you’re working with can get certified copies on your behalf.
2. You can order certified copies from a third-party company.
3. You can order the copies yourself from the state in which the person died.
Kentucky Vital Records issues certified copies of Kentucky death certificates for events which occurred in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. You may order copies through VitalChek.
Copies of death certificates may only be issued to immediate family members or to persons with a legal right to the certificate.
Going through your spouse’s personal belongings is not something you need to do until you feel like it. Unless there are extenuating circumstances that require you to take this on right away, we recommend leaving things alone for a while and then taking small steps. Making a decision like getting rid of all your spouse’s clothing after the loss of your spouse, for example, may be something you regret later when you’re coming out of shock. If you want to remove the clothing and personal items because they are too painful to look at each day, we recommend placing them inside plastic bins and storing them in a place you can easily access in a few weeks or months. Even if you are in a situation that requires you to make changes in your living arrangement—such as moving—placing personal things in bins, that you can’t part with right now, is the best course of action. If you had children together, they may want some of your spouse’s personal items as keepsakes. A favorite watch or piece of jewelry, for example. Set aside items that you feel comfortable giving to them and let them decide what they would like. Don’t feel pressure to part with anything you want to keep. You can always give it to them at a later date.
A Memory Quilt can be a source of comfort for many years, especially on tough days when you just want to feel close to your spouse. At some point you may want to gather up some favorite pieces of clothing and have one made. This can be done months after your spouse passed and there are several people who will gladly do this for you. If you have children, they may also want something like this as well. Here are a few people we recommend:
Campus Quilt Company
The Cozy Quilter, Inc.
Larger items like a vehicle may need to be addressed. Some people want to keep their spouse’s car and drive it so they choose to sell their own. Golf clubs, tools, a piano, etc can all be dealt with when you feel like it, unless it’s a situation where you have to move and there isn’t enough room to take them with you. At this point, it might be sensible to arrange to store these items for a short period of time until you feel like dealing with them. It’s best to take the time your need to process your spouse’s passing and then decide what to do with their belongings.
Whether your spouse’s passing was sudden or expected, due to a long battle with an illness or disease, it’s the finality of it that hurts so bad. And for some, being alone in the home after everyone goes back to their routines is really uncomfortable. You may decide to sleep in another room because you can’t bare sleeping alone in the bed you shared. Or even staying with a close friend or relative because staying in the home is too difficult right now. There are no rules or right ways to do this. It’s whatever you feel, right now. Grief is a roller coaster of emotions and it may be within just a few days of staying with someone else that you decide to return home. Recently widowed people report that the “nights are the worst” and we suggest arranging for friends or family members to come and be with you in the evenings for the first few days or weeks. Let people bring you a meal and spend time comforting you. They want to help and don’t know what to do and allowing them to be part of your healing process will be good for you both.
If you are employed, take some personal time off if you can. Nobody should expect you back to work for a few days following the funeral. And then, know that people don’t know what to say to you when you re-enter the workplace. They may be afraid to upset you so they may not say anything and just avoid you for a short period of time. Most people will tell you how sorry they are for your loss and move on. Take it a little easy when you first go back and expect that you may experience some “brain fog.” Most people will understand this and provide you grace during this difficult time period.
Attending a grief support group after about 30 days can be helpful. There are groups for people who have had a spouse pass and you’ll be with others who “get” you. Please see the list of grief support groups located under our Resources section.