COPING WITH THE LOSS OF A PARTNER
(This is an article I wrote that has been published in Dovetales, Issue 26 – Spring/Summer 2015, page 6, a magazine published by the Dove Service, a counselling charity. I wrote this for the benefit of the Dovetales readership – I do not have personal experience of this type of bereavement for which I give thanks.)
‘Until death do us part’ – or words to similar effect – may have been the vow you made to each other. In the time that has since passed, no matter the quality of your relationship, your connections have grown in more ways than you can imagine. Research has even shown that the hearts of two people who sleep next to each other for many years start beating in sync!
Of all the intimate relationships in life, your partner is commonly the person you are most close to, the person who knows you best and your confidant. Losing him or her can be devastating. Whether their passing was anticipated or abrupt, all of a sudden you find yourself alone. The comfort of companionship has vanished. A husband or wife may bring the other a cup of tea in bed, or make supper just how the other one likes, or hold hands while watching television, or change lightbulbs, or listen to each other’s jokes.
It may take a while for the practical consequences to sink in. If you are of working age, you may now have to adjust to being the sole wage earner in the household. This might mean needing to reconsider your housing situation. Retirement plans may be shattered. If you have children living at home, you are now a single parent, with all of the practical challenges this brings, along with dealing with your children’s own grief.
If you are retired, you may have spent most of your time with each other. Now you may find yourself acutely lonely. You may also fear the future; if you have a fall, who will know you have been hurt? If you go into hospital, who will be there to take care of you upon discharge?
All of these are practical concerns, but grief is much more than that. At the start it might not have felt real. Has he or she really gone? You may be overpowered with sadness that your loved one is no longer at your side. You might even feel a touch of anger that you have been left alone, or guilty because of things you did or said, or didn’t do or say. It often helps to talk about how you are feeling. Family members or friends might lend a listening ear, or you may also find some charities and religious organisations offer befriending services. A confidential conversation with a counsellor (such as at the Dove Service) could also help.
Few people realise that grief can also affect you physically. Especially in the early period of your bereavement, you might experience nausea, fatigue, appetite loss or gain, difficulty sleeping, or aches and pains. All of this underlines why it is important to take care of yourself during this stressful time. Try warm drinks and frequent small meals if you don’t have much appetite. ‘A little of what you fancy does you good’ is as true now as at any time. If you find food preparation difficult because you are not accustomed to cooking, or cooking for one, perhaps a family member or friend could help in the short-term, or failing that, even a supermarket ready-meal or a take-away is better than not eating.
There is no timescale for grief, and you need patience with yourself. The feelings that were so intense immediately after the loss of your partner will lessen in time, although they are unlikely to leave you completely. Eventually you may feel ready to look for new activities or even new relationships. However, be prepared for a ‘bolt from the blue’ on occasion. Your partner’s birthday, your wedding anniversary, or random events can set off your emotions once more. Think of it as riding a rollercoaster. There will be times when you’re ‘up’ and coping, and other times when you’re ‘down’ and overcome by sorrow. Neither stage is permanent; all are part of the normal grieving process.
Finally, here are a few additional pointers you might find helpful:
- Give yourself permission to mourn. There is nothing wrong with tears; it’s better to acknowledge and face your feelings than bottle them inside.
- As much as possible, avoid making major decisions in the first year after your partner has died. There may be practical concerns that cannot wait, such as managing your money or housing needs, but try to give yourself time to adjust before making big changes.
- If you are struggling to cope either physically or emotionally, don’t ‘suffer in silence.’ Seek help from friends or family. Join a support group for those similarly bereaved (see details below). If all else fails, make an appointment with your GP.