Losing a spouse can be devastating. Even a terminal illness that seemingly prepares you for the inevitable loss does not really help you deal with the finality of death. Everyone handles this critical life transition differently, and knowing how others have coped may ease some of the pain.

Whether you have lost your spouse just recently, or are thinking what the future may bring, it is helpful to know something about the natural process of grieving. Some people rely on established traditions and close family members to ease the way. Others find that being alone and making changes at a very slow pace allows them to better adjust to life without a partner.

No one can anticipate how you will react, but experts can help you understand the different phases of bereavement and direct you to services that might be helpful. It is also useful to be prepared for the practical matters that you may have to deal with when your spouse dies, and how to approach your new status as a widow or widower.

Approximately 30 years ago, psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified five emotional stages experienced by dying people; these same steps are commonplace among the bereaved, as well. While Kubler-Ross articulated the steps as a process of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, there is no guarantee that one phase will gently pass into another. Because emotions are very volatile, you might cycle through these phases a number of times, you might skip a phase and cycle back to it, or you might even have additional kinds of reactions.

How long you extend your period of bereavement is a very individual decision, and depends on your emotional reactions and your personal beliefs and ideas. Here, five widows and widowers talk about their experiences with grief:

Moving On

Shortly after her husband passed away, Joscelyn Carrington seemed to have accepted her loss and moved on with her life. She packed up her house and moved to a smaller condominium, distributing her husband's treasured possessions among close relatives so that his memory could live on.

"My religious training taught me to celebrate life rather than wallow in my problems," she says. "I had many good years with Tom, and I thank God for that."

But even though she appeared to be reconciled, she found herself lonely and self-absorbed, and it took more than four years for her to finally accept Tom's death. "Fortunately, my three grown children live nearby with their families," she says, "and they were able to counsel me through some of my difficult days."

Taking It Slow

Ken Mullin's children urged him to come and live with them after his wife's death, but he was reluctant to leave the house in which they had lived for forty years. Finding another way to get through his own personal period of grief, he kept Julie's sewing room intact for many months before re-arranging the furniture into a study for himself.

"Staying put and leaving things the way they were helped me move through my grief more easily," he says. "It was not like I had any delusions that she would return. I just wanted some aspect of her presence around for a while."

Doing Your Own Thing

Agnes Dannett was married for 30 years before her husband passed away 15 years ago, but she has had no interest in remarrying.

"I have my volunteer work and my extended family to take care of," she says. "A couple of gentleman friends have taken me out, but I still feel married to Jim."

Finding Someone Else

Joan Carpenter has remarried and is planning a trip to Hawaii with her new husband.

"My husband would have wanted me to grieve for him, but he also would have wanted me to get on with life and enjoy myself," says Joan. "I will always remember him, but I still want to live a full life."

Creating a New Life

Priscilla Tannen was 60 when she lost her husband of 30 years, and she found the difficult change to be liberating once she got over her overwhelming grief.

"I have always wanted the opportunity to travel and now I have lots of time and few obligations," she says. "I do not really want to be tied down to another person's schedule or desires and needs. I have created a new me and I really like my life the way it is."