Coping with the Death of a Spouse

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Grief Counseling at Kaiser for loss of husband

April 2010

I just lost my husband unexpectedly. I am looking for recommendation for grief counseling at any of the East Bay Kaiser's? p.

I cannot begin to imagine what you are experiencing; condolences don't feel adequate. Please know that the Richmond Kaiser has a drop in grief and bereavement group on Wednesdays at 3:30 and at 6:00 PM (see below):

Location: Richmond Medical Center

Grief and bereavement support group The loss of a loved one is one of life's most stressful events. Led by professionals, this ongoing group is for anyone suffering a loss. We discuss the grief process, knowing what to expect, and looking to the future. Drop in; every Wednesday. For more information, call Roy Gesley at (510)752-7757 for Wednesday drop-in meetings at 3:30pm or call Dakari at (510)307-1857 for Wednesday drop- in meetings at 6pm.

This class is open to the general public and there is no fee, (510)752-6390

You could also call the Oakland Kaiser psych department at742-1075 and see what they could offer in terms of individual counseling.

My heart goes out to you. Linda

Support group for young widow

May 2008

I am a relatively young (40's) mother of two (5 and 7). I recently lost my husband. I have been looking for some kind of support group, but everywhere I go there are just old people. I would love to find a group that I can relate to. I live in the Lamorinda area, so something on that side of the tunnel would be ideal. Alone

I found myself in a similar situation about a year and a half ago, when my husband suffered severe brain damage. Our children were then 9 and 6. The East Bay Agency for Children runs a program called Circle of Care , which runs support groups for families coping with the loss or serious illness of a family member. They're not in Lamorinda, but I recommend that you try them anyway, for yourself and your kids. The adults have separate groups that run simultaneously with the children's. Their website is at: Ann

I am so sorry for your loss.

There is a wonderful place called Circle of Care that provides grief support groups on Thurday evenings for both surviving spouse and for the kids. They all meet at the same time, but everyone has their own age appropriate group. It is in Oakland, but right off highway 13 and well worth checking out. Find them on the web at or call their group coordinator Jess at 531-7551 x 195.

There is also a great web community called ''Young Widows'' you can check out in the middle of the night....

Good luck to you and your family during this difficult time. Stephanie

Circle of Care in Oakland (just through the tunnel off of Hwy 13 ) has loss groups for you and your children held at the same time. I cannot recommend them highly enough for support as well as information about other resources in the area. The groups may be taking a summer break right around this time, but there is usually a summer play day that you might want to attend simply to be around others dealing with life threatening illness and loss. Here's the link.

We are dealing with a life threatening illness and the prospect of loss. Being around other families has been such a relief. Call Circle of Care @ (510) 531-7551 ext.109

Dear Alone, First of all, I am so sorry for your loss. While I cannot give you specific groups to join I would, however, like to offer my personal experience. I lost my husband in 1993. He died suddenly of a heart attack and was 43. I was 38. I was left with no life insurance, a new business, and most important three kids ages 11 mos, 2, and 6. I was able to find a grief support group that met in Oakland. Fortunately, I was able to share my grief with others who had lost spouses mostly to cancer at a young age (30's/40's). You may be able to find groups along these lines that will most likely have younger people. It really does not matter what the cause of death or whether one had a long time to prepare or not. I found that it is extremely debilitating and devastating no matter the particulars. I am more than willing to talk with you about my experience. Just to let you know also that the loss never goes away, but you will learn to live your life with happiness again. I am remarried now and my kids are doing well.

Therapy or Support for Loss of Spouse

Feb 2007

I am looking for some grief support, in a group setting, for my mother who recently lost her husband unexpectedly. While she is a Christian, I think a nonreligious based group would be better. She lives in the east bay, so somewhere between Richmond and Oakland would be preferable. Please let me know if you can suggest a supportive environment of people that are going through the same heart-ache and loss. Posting or personal email are fine. Thank you for reading. K

I'm so sorry about your loss. Our church, First Presbyterian Church, Berkeley, has a group. I think it's not overly religious but it does have some very kind people in it. I hope she'll give it a try. Widows/Widowers Support Group

I know this isn't quite what you asked for but since your mom is a Christian, one option is to call some local churches to see if she could be paired with a Stephen Minister. Stephen Ministers are lay-persons who are trained to walk with someone in a time of crisis or pain. They are NOT there to ply a hurting person with platitudes about suffering, but to really listen to the sadness, anger, guilt, etc., as a person in crisis is experiencing it, giving them a safe place to grieve. They generally meet once a week for as long as they are needed. Stephen Ministries spans many denominations. Here are two local churches to start: All Souls Episcopal and First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley Erin

Bereavement groups for 35 yr old widow

March 2006

My husband recently passed away unexpectedly leaving me and my two young children. This has been a painful and awkward time. I have started seeing a thrapist but I think a group may be better for me. Can anyone suggest a bereavement group that may have others in a similar situation? I would also like to find something for my children. My oldest daughter has been handling it well but I would still like her to have an outlet. Thanks for your help. Grieving Family

I was widowed when i was 38, and about 16 months later moved out to California. My kids were 3and 6 at the time. Through a therapist, i found out abouta wonderful organization in Oakland, now called Circle of Care, that provides bereavement support for both you and your kids. They can also help you if you need other resources such as individual counseling. they are wonderful ppele, i would highly recommend them. See info. below. Circle of Care (formerly PediatriCare) Organization Contact Information Address: 2540 Charleston Street Oakland, CA 94602

I am very sorry to hear about the death of your husband. I wanted to let you know about bereavement groups through the VNA Sutter Hospice in Emeryville. You could call the coordinator at (510) 450-8596 to find out whether there are other young widows in their partner loss group. You didn't say where you live, so other hospices may be closer to you. I know of a children's and teen group in Dublin, at Hope Hospice.

I am so sorry to hear about your family's loss. My husband (whose sibling unexpectedly passed away recently) saw Howard Lunche in Berkeley. In addition to private practice, he leads a class (I don't think it's a group, per se?). I'm not really sure of the details but you can contact him (he is listed on BPN web site). My husband also looked into groups at Hospice of Marin and Center for Attitudinal Healing. From my family's experience, it was hard to find resources addressing the sudden loss aspect (there is more out there for dealing with long-term illness-related deaths)-that was a little isolating. As we've learned, there really aren't the right words to say but I wish your family all the strength in the world. anon

I am so sorry for your loss. I would like to recommend an organization called Circle of Care, they are located in Oakland and offer support groups for families, they meet on Wednesdays or Thursdays in the evening. Give them a call at (510) 531- 7551, they will do an intake with you and then assign you to the appropriate group. I volunteered with them in the 'littles' group (kids age 5 and under), while the kids are in their groups with trained volunteers the adults have their own support group with their own facilitator. I have a friend who found a widow's support group through the VNA (Visiting Nurses Association), but I'm not sure how to contact them. There is also a website called that may be of some help. A book that I used in my littles group is titled Everett Andersen's Goodbye by Lucille Clifton and I found it to be a helpful tool in giving the kids some vocabulary around their loss, it details the stages of grief in a story about a boy who's daddy has died. Again, let me offer you my deepest sympathy and encourage you to find a group that can support you and listen to you during this very difficult time for you and your children. with my sympathies

I am so sorry for your loss. There is an agency in the East Bay called Circle of Care, it is part of the East Bay Agency for Children. Circle of Care provides counseling and support groups for children and adults going through illness or loss in their family. They are located off of Joaquin Miller Road near the Mormon Temple, the number is 510-531-7551. My son and I go there for support groups, he is 7 years old and he loves being there with the other kids who have someone close to them who is sick or who has passed away. I highly recommend it - the people there are very caring. anon

I'm so sorry about your loss. You didn't say where you live, but most hopice agencies run supprt groups that are open to all people, whether the loss is sudden or due to prolonges illness. You can call Visiting Nurse and Hopice and they will probably know of current groups, including if others are also from sudden loss.

They can also give you info for the children. Your therapist should be able to help with referrals as well. If you need more help, please contact me (I'm a social worker in a trauma unit), and have a list of agencies by county I can mail or fax you. Stephanie

I'm so sorry for your loss. I lost my husband unexpectedly almost three years ago. I was 34 and my daughter was just two. I went to a partner loss support group run by Sutter Hospice VNA. You can join a group even if your partner didn't use hospice. Their number is 450-8724. I loved the group even though I was the youngest person there by far. They do have a group that is for ''young'' widows (under 60...I know) but the timing of the other one worked better for me and I really benefitted from the amazing facilitator-Mordecai Mitnick. I also went with my child to Circle of Care. They have support groups for kids and adults at the same time so you can all go together.

I also highly recomend Howard Lunche (841-2930) as a grief councelor and Joan Monheit (845-1557) who runs a ''writing through grief'' therapy group. I also have lots of book recomendations if you are interested.

Lastly, I want to offer you my support. Talking to other young widows was so healing for me. I know how hard it is to reach out. If you want you can have a friend call me with your number and I will call you.

I'm so sorry this has happened. Its a very difficult journey but I promise you that it does get easier. Take Care Stacia

Visiting Nurses and Hospice in Emeryville has a Bereavement Program with many different groups-I know the coordinator, she is great. Call 450-8596 or go to

Support for young mother who lost her husband

July 2004

Does anyone know of a loss of spouse support group for parents of young children? My friend's husband passed away a few months ago, just before their only child turned one. I would like to help her find some other parents with similar losses for support. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. We live in the San Lorenzo area. Rachel

I'm so sorry for your friend's loss. My husband died suddenly last year when my daughter was 2 years old. I found that Circle of Care (510-531-7551) was a very supportive program. They offer both group and individual counseling. The groups don't run in the summer but you or your friend can start the intake process now.

I would also suggest calling the closest Hospice VNA to you. I'm in a partner loss group through them that has helped me tremendously even though I'm by far the youngest person in the group. They do have a younger group but it meets at night and its easier for me to find childcare during the day. I go to the group in Oakland in Rockridge. I don't know if there are groups in San Lorenzo.

I would also suggest getting a good grief counselor. I used Howard Lunche (510-841-2930) and I recommend him highly.

I hope all of this information at once isn't too overwhelming. Thank you so much for helping your friend in this way. She's going to need a lot of support.

Please give her my email address. Talking with other young widows has been very nourishing for me. If she wants, give me her number when she's ready and I'll call her. I know making the call myself was sometimes just too much. Take care and know that its a long and difficult journey but it does change- it won't always be this hard.

Grief support for young mother

June 2003

I'm writing on behalf of my next door neighbor with a two year old daughter whose husband was recently killed riding his bicycle to work. She is very interested in talking with other parents who have lost partners while their children were young. Does anyone know of a grief support group and/or individuals who have been through this experience who she can talk with, commiserate with, get some perspective. Any ideas or referrals welcome. Thanks in advance - Julie

Ann Martin Children's Center has a bereavement program that helps families cope with the loss of a parent --call 655-7880 and ask for Linda Cozzerelli, LCSW

The best option for grief support groups in our community is Circle of Care , formerly know as PediatriCare. They provide services to children starting with toddlers on throught teenagers. Groups focus on illness of a parent or death of a parent. Groups are held concurrently so parents meet in their group and at the same time kids meet in theirs. They are located in Oakland. Their number is 510-531-7551. Good luck.

I am so sorry to hear about your neighbor's tragic loss. That is truly awful and how kind of you to find support for her. VNA Hospice has a wonderful bereavement support program. Their phone number for the east bay program is (510) 450-8596. Their website is Hope this is helpful. Hannah

CorStone (formerly the Center for Attitudinal Healing) is based in Marin but I believe has various groups around the Bay Area. They provide bereavement support. Their website is Hope this is helpful. Hannah

There is a great group called Namaste which provides free grief counseling. I worked with them about 10 years ago. They may not be active any more--if they are you should be able to find them in the Berkeley Phone book under the name ''namaste''.

Dealing with Grief after Death of Spouse

I know it's been a few weeks since this topic first came up . I've been swamped with Open Enrollment, but I wanted to respond to the anonymous posting from October 22 on the woman who recently lost her husband.

First, you have my sincere condolences. I work in the Campus Benefits Unit. I lost my husband a year ago to cancer. We have three children, ages 3 1/2, 6 (first grade) and 8 (third grade) at the time he died. The oldest two are boys, our youngest a daughter. You didn't mention how old your children were and how your husband died, so some of this may apply, some may not. Also, I would be happy to e-mail or talk with you anytime. I've found it really helps to share experiences with someone who's been there.

First, we all had to acknowledge how hard his death was and that we missed (and still miss) him. We've always kept an open door for talking about him. We especially like to talk about the funny things he did and laugh about it. I've also always said that it is okay to cry and be sad. We still (and I always plan to) bring him up and talk about him as part of our life . what he thought about things, would have liked, too bad he has to miss this, Daddy would have been so proud, etc. I've always tried to treat the situation as if talking about the person who has died is a normal part of life . Don was so important to us I don't want to forget him and I don't want the kids to forget their father. At the same time, we have moved on with our lives. It's a gradual process, and if your loss is very recent, I'm sure it's not something you can even see yet . I couldn't. We all just took it a day (or an hour, or a minute) at a time and never completely gave up. I/We particularly found the first six months the absolute worst time, and find that now, my grief ebbs and flows and tends to get very intense around holidays, birthdays and things we used to do together. Also, it sometimes just hits out of the blue.

Moving on towards the children ... My kids tended to keep the best stuff for me. We saw a family therapist before and for awhile after Don's death. I'm sure it helped some . especially in terms of helping my sons get in touch with and verbalize their feelings. As young as my daughter was, she was very in touch with how she felt about all this. We also got hooked up with a wonderful art therapist through Kaiser hospice whom we have continued to see privately . she's a wonderful person who brings a sense of calm and caring with her, and she really focuses on each child during their time with her. The kids really love her, and we continue to see her because they want to.

We also found a few books that really helped:

1. Badger's Parting Gift, by Susan Varley: Badger has grown old, and in the story dies. The other animals, particularly Mole, really miss him. It talks about how Mole feels, and then the animals discover that remembering Badger and the special things he taught them helps them feel better.

2. When Dinosaurs Die, by Laurie (? I think this is her name) and Marc Brown (he's the author of the popular Arthur series): This book was a great jumping off point for talking about when people die, what happens, different rituals, feelings, what we can do to remember and honor the person, It's set up in two page chapters, and particularly with my two youngest children, we'd read and talk as we went along.

3. The Fall of Freddie the Leaf, I think by Leo Buscaglia talks about the life cycle.

I've also found a book recently called: The Loss that is Forever, The Lifelong Impact of the Early Death of a Parent, by Maxine Harris, Ph.D. I haven't read much yet, but it has given me some language and images of loss that I wish I had had a year ago.

I got all of these books at/through Barnes & Noble. Friends and the art therapist introduced me to some of them and this last one I found on my own.

One thing I did when Don died is that I talked to each of my children's teachers and told them I would be available to come in and talk about what is was like for Don to die. I thought of this because when I took one of my sons back to school, his teacher told him that the other children were not to ask him any questions about his dad's death! I was very concerned and was thinking that if I were six or eight I would have a lot of curiosity and questions and perhaps concerns (if it happened to him, it could happen to me) about what happened. With my sons' permission, and agreement that they wanted to do this, I did go in during the next week and talk with both classes about what had happened. The teachers' gave us time, and my son and I sat up front and I read the book about When Dinosaurs Die, then let the class ask questions. I think it helped us all (teacher, classmates, my child, even me) a lot. Many people, I've found, don't know how to respond when someone dies. By going in and talking to my sons' classes, I feel like I defused a potentially difficult situation and set up how we, as a family, were going to handle losing Don. The kids got to ask questions then, and I told them they could always ask me other questions later. I told my kids they could always tell someone they didn't feel like talking about their dad or his death . it was up to them and how they felt at the time . but we loved him and he was important to us and we wanted to remember him and talk about him when we felt like talking about him . that whatever they felt at the time was okay and they should say that. They haven't told me that they've had a hard time with anyone at school teasing them about their father's death . but we've tried to be very matter of fact about the situation and I've tried to give them a way to respond.

All three children expressed (and at times, still express) their loss in different ways . anger, acting out, sadness/tears, honoring their dad in various ways as have I. Some examples: I think my daughter cried at some point every day the first few months for her daddy. Now she tells me that he lives in her heart with God and is always with her, though there are still times, especially when I'm angry with her, that she still cries for him. My oldest son got LI'L DJ for his name on his baseball shirt last summer because he's named after his dad. My middle son recently wrote a memory book in school this year about the things he especially liked to do with this dad. Also, I've shared enough of my tears and sadness with them for them to know how I feel and that it's okay to be sad, and still get on with life. My kids don't stay too sad for too long at any one time, it ebbs and flows for them too. I hoped at the beginning, and still think that keeping the door open about talking about him and treating his death as a part of what can happen in life has helped us cope. It has been hard but it's something we've learned to live with. Sometimes it's still hard. I look back and don't know how we made it to here . I feel like we've been to hell and back and put each other through hell at different times, but we've survived and are doing quite well over all. The loss becomes part of who you are . you don't get over it, you incorporate it. Recognizing this has also helped me get through . I don't expect to get over it. What I have found though, is that there are still many wonderful things in life to enjoy.

Sorry to write such a book. I wanted to respond to you and just started writing about various things that have happened/helped this last year. As I said at the beginning, and I'll say again at the end, please feel free to contact me. With all the holidays coming up, I'm sure it will hard. Ours were last year. We did do some things differently which helped. I'd be happy to talk with you about that too. I don't know what (or even if) holidays you celebrate.


When my husband died my daughter was too young to remember him or really know what had happened. As she got older, and it got easier for me as I was through the worst as she began her grieving, the most helpful book for her was called 'Lifetimes: A Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children' by Robert Ingpen and Bryan Mellonie. It was one of the few books on the subject, that because of its matter-of-fact tone I could read to her without totally losing self-control. It truly is a wonderful book and helped to explain to her how and why her dad died.

For me, the two most helpful books were 'The Courage to Grieve' by Judy Tatelbaum and in particular 'Starting Over: Help for Young Widows and Widowers' by Alice Rice Nudel. I suspect that 'Starting Over' is out of print now, but you might try a public library. I don't see a listing for it in Melvyl.

When talking to my daughter about her father, I was always very straightforward about what happened. I didn't use euphemisms like he's sleeping or he went to heaven. I just said he died. At first that didn't really mean anything to her because she didn't understand. But gradually she came to understand and as a consequence was always very straightforward about it with other people. She usually found some way to announce it to her classmates, so that they knew who she was. She continually surprised me with how she dealt with it. Movies that I found frightening as a child, resonated with her, such as Bambi and others where a parent died. Plus, I always made certain that she knew who would take care of her if something happened to me.

Be aware that your children may get very scared if you get sick. They'll need lots of reasurance that you just have the flu or a cold or whatever and you will recover. And Marie is right, you don't ever get over it, you just get on with it. From my experience facilitating a grief support group it takes between two and three years ( I know this sounds like a lot of time - but for me, just knowing that I would feel better sometime was helpful) to feel ready to move on.


Grief and the Holidays

With the winter holidays approaching, and actually Thanksgiving already past, I wanted to share one thing that made a big difference for me last year in coping with Christmas.

At the suggestion of our art therapist, we made ornaments using photos and photocopies of photos with Don (my deceased husband) in them. We used some that were just him, some with one or another of us and him, and a family picture. We got out ribbon, glitter, sequins, glue and I don't remember what else - your basic collage materials and went to town. It was very therapeutic - it brought Don into our Christmas. We hung some of the ornaments on the tree, we gave some to other family members including his mother, and we used some for decorations around the house.

It was very simple, yet very meaningful. Before that, I hadn't found a way to incorporate him into our celebrations.

Wishing you all the best of holiday celebrations to all of you!