Widow Brain: How to Manage Grief after Losing Your Spouse

The death of a spouse or partner is one of the most painful experiences you can endure.  Throughout your grieving process, you might ricochet through a myriad of emotions, ranging from extreme sadness, to anger, and even survivor’s guilt. After the traumatic event of losing your partner, something else will set in: Widow Brain. 

Widow Brain, also called Widow Fog or simply, trauma brain, refers to the disconnect that occurs after the shock of losing your significant other. It affects your prefrontal cortex, which is, for all intents and purposes, the command center of your brain, whose primary functions are to rationalize, recall, and make sense of your emotions. With your brain’s command center compromised, it’s no wonder you feel as though you’re wandering in a haze, forgetting dates and appointments, and putting your keys in the refrigerator. 

This “fog” is often compared to being on autopilot. Although thoughts constantly race through your mind, you lack the ability to focus on a single one. This inability to remember, reason, and plan makes even the simplest tasks seem overwhelming. 

Sarah Glaze lost her husband, Dan, in 2016. She describes Widow Brain as being “surreal at first; and then your memory gets terrible and you can’t focus.” While Sarah’s profession as a counselor required her to be an expert in trauma, she could never have been prepared for the night her husband, Deputy Sheriff Dan Glaze, was shot and killed while investigating a suspicious vehicle. 

Due to the dangerous nature of law enforcement, it’s a career that leaves too many widows in its wake. You can read the story of Sarah’s family and others who have lost their loved ones in the line of duty here

In this article, we will explore the symptoms of Widow Brain and five steps to managing grief after the death of your significant other.

Symptoms of Widow Brain

Widow Brain is your brain’s natural and protective response to shield you from the emotional and physical agony of grief. After the initial shock of losing your husband or wife, Widow Brain may take weeks or even months to set in. While its duration is different from individual to individual—lasting, on average, two months to one year—the symptoms can be all or a combination of: 

  • Sadness
  • Forgetfulness 
  • Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Numbness
  • Exhaustion
  • Nausea 
  • Frustration

5 Ways to Manage Widow Brain

Unfortunately, there are no magic words to alleviate your symptoms. It’s important to accept that this process simply takes as long as it takes; however, there are things you can do to help yourself get through this trying time. 

  1. Lean on family and friends. Your family and friends want to help you. Let them. They are here to listen to you, keep you company, and may even be able to shoulder some responsibilities such as driving your kids to and from school or mowing the lawn, so you can focus on healing.
  2. Eat a balanced diet. Cooking healthy meals may be the furthest thing from your mind. However, studies show that eating healthy can help ease your grieving journey. According to Very Well Fit, berries can help with memory, foods rich in vitamin B reduce stress, and foods rich in iron can enhance stamina, strength, and your immune system. Reduce your alcohol and caffeine intake while increasing your intake of water.
  3. Keep moving. Exercise stimulates stress-relieving endorphins and improves sleep. Easy to moderate activity will require your mind to focus on the task at hand rather than dwell on negative thoughts. But don’t overdo it. Your body is under enough stress as it is. For an added benefit of support, try walking with a friend or join a group fitness class.
  4. Make lists. It may seem like a no-brainer, but the simple act of writing things down can help them stick in your memory. Carry a small notebook with you, send yourself emails, or use a note taking app in your phone—whatever works best for you. Knowing that you have a list to fall back on in case you forget also offers peace of mind.
  5. Be kind to yourself. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Widow Brain can vary in duration and intensity among individuals. Forgive yourself for days when you lack motivation—because you will have them—and don’t rush your healing process. 

We Help Families of Fallen Police Officers 

Nearly 180 law enforcement officers are killed in the line of duty every year. That’s one “Officer down,” call every 54 hours. 

As you probably know when dealing with bereavement, especially the loss of a loved one, having a support network is crucial. Band of Blue provides a community of people who understand what you’re going through. Our Band of Blue Facebook Group is a place for people to connect through shared experiences and keep in touch with the entire law enforcement family. By hosting events and creating transformative experiences families of fallen police officers, we help people move forward after tragedy. 

Visit bandofblue.org to learn how you can join our mission. Welcome to the family.