Whether the event occurs from an unexpected accident or a prolonged illness, the death of a spouse is a personal shock that affects the surviving individual emotionally, mentally and physically. Every individual experiences a loss and expresses grief in different ways. However, researchers and therapists explain that there are a number of biological and psychological effects that are relatively common.
In an effort to stay busy and avoid the onslaught of unbearable pain, some spouses work themselves in a frenzy fueled by pure adrenaline. They may throw themselves headlong into funeral preparations, making sure that everything perfectly commemorates the love of their life. They might also spend hours deep cleaning the house and cooking in expectation of loved ones, friends and associates who will stop by to pay their respects following the funeral. If loved ones come together to help plan and prepare for the funeral and the aftermath, a spouse might become enmeshed in their job as a place of refuge.
Anger is one of the five stages of grief described by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and is perfectly normal. Spouses might become angry with themselves for somehow being less than perfect when their husband or wife was alive, for the words left unsaid or for some other missed opportunity. Some often feel angry at being abandoned to face life's events alone. They may feel angry at the universe for forcing this undeserved trauma upon them.
The shock of losing a spouse may initially seem unreal or unacceptable. The surviving loved one may be in a protective state of total detachment as the mind tries to make sense of the circumstance. During this time, the spouse is emotionally numb. He or she cannot cry, feel angry, happy or any other emotion. People and activities that once brought joy now mean nothing. Performing even the most menial daily tasks seem unnecessary. They may feel like they are existing in a dreamlike state or in an emotional and mental fog. This phase can last for a year or longer in older people and increases the risk of accidents due to inattention.
The intense emotions caused by the loss of a spouse turns an individual's world upside down. The stress of the situation causes many different physical symptoms. Food may seem unappealing. A spouse's stomach may feel like it is churning or tied up in knots. Any attempts to eat may result in diarrhea, constipation, nausea and vomiting. Hours of crying combined with poor nutrition, inadequate hydration and sleep disturbances can easily lead to headaches, weakness and exhaustion. If a surviving spouse lives with a specific medical condition, the stress that comes with loss and grief may temporarily exacerbate symptoms.