It’s Valentine’s Day and lots of people are celebrating love. But for those who have lost a partner, all the sentimentality can make their loneliness particularly acute. This is a post for anyone who has lost a dearly loved partner, husband or wife – and it’s written for every day, not just Valentine’s.
I started my own bereavement journey as a mother who had lost both of her children. Time has passed and I feel privileged to now be able to support others on their own valley journeys. Along the way, I’ve been meeting a number of people who have lost a life partner and I have been learning a lot from them.
Each individual faces their own challenges. They may have been married 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years; they may have children and grandchildren or none; they may have nursed their husbands or wives through long or short illnesses. Some have lost a partner after just a few years, and it wasn’t the length of the relationship but the intensity of the love they shared that is so evident. Some are well supported by their families and friends, others are not. Some are financially comfortable whilst others are struggling with new difficulties, loss of pension, perhaps a need to sell a home. Some are still working; others are retired and find more time on their hands than they know what to do with. Some are desperately sad and missing their “other half”. Others might feel like this, but also find themselves relieved that their loved one’s suffering is over, recognising that they had lived a full life that had reached its natural end.
So many different situations and reactions, yet each and every one has something in common: they face a future that is very different to what has gone before, because the one who had been by their side is no longer there.
They face loneliness and heartbreak, and all the tumult of emotions that follow any life-changing loss. What is more, the practical side of their new life can present some very real challenges.
There are immediate issues to deal with, explained very helpfully in this useful link from Age UK
Then there is the business of taking care of the estate of their partner. Here’s another useful link from Age UK with guidance on this issue.
Of course, not everyone who loses their partner is of the age for support from organisations like Age UK . Widowed and Young (WAY) is a peer-to-peer support group operating with a network of volunteers who have been bereaved of their partner, of any gender, under the age of 50.
Coping with practical changes following the loss of a partner
Following the death of a partner, there are a lot of decisions to be made, both minor and major. Some find themselves alone to make decisions for the first time, and this can feel quite lonely and even scary. Making a decision with someone else can be reassuring; a shared responsibility might not feel so heavy, as we can rely on our combined experience, ideas and insights. Facing major decisions without anyone to lean on can feel daunting, especially at first. The bereaved often feel quite de-stabilised and unsure of themselves, which adds another layer of difficulty to making choices.
On the other hand, perhaps especially for those that are elderly, there can be no end of advice from other people, and even some pressure. Adult children might step in to try to take over our affairs and might think they know what is best for us.
It is always a good idea to go slowly with decisions, whenever practically possible. We have to remember that it is our life to live now, and we must manage the best we can. Finding our own strength to stand on what we believe is best for ourselves is part of the “living with loss” journey.
The physical practical challenges of being newly alone are endless. If our partner used to do the cooking, or shopping, or gardening; if they were the only one who drove; if they emptied the bins, changed the lights, paid the bills; if they took care of buying our grandchildren’s birthday presents or making Christmas arrangements; if they were the driving force behind booking our holidays or making major purchases; if it was their club friends who came over for supper; all of these “ifs” represent a major change in our daily lives as they are now.
We might not feel like bothering at the start, but in time we will need to face many of these challenges. We have to eat, our home must be cleaned, bills must be paid and banking attended to. If we have children at home, they will need to be cared for. We might feel hurt or upset that we are left alone to manage. We might feel overwhelmed. On the other hand, we might also enjoy it just a little. Maybe we don’t have to have Eastenders playing on the TV any longer!
We should be patient with ourselves as we live and learn and make these difficult practical adjustments . Sometimes we might be able to get some help from relatives or friends, or talk to our GP if we are not able to manage. Other sources of help and advice include charities, such as Age UK for those over 60 or Gingerbread for single parents. Many churches and religious organisations also offer support of some kind.
A big question that often arises following the loss of a partner is concerning our living arrangements. We might find our present accommodation too big for our needs, yet we have so many memories attached to this place, it is hard to imagine leaving. For the elderly, some sort of sheltered housing might be a realistic option to consider, especially if we are not in good health. There are some ideas about the choices we might want to reflect on here. The advice regarding decision-making definitely applies; as much as possible, we should try to take as much time as we need to make our own decision. Well-meaning advice of relatives can support us in making the right choice, but it needs to be our own choice, not theirs.
Loneliness and other people
Speaking of relatives, something else I have observed is that relationships with family members might not always work out as might have been expected. Weeks have passed since the funeral, and grown sons and daughters have disappeared – why are they not at our side? Other family members may also disappoint. We feel puzzled, hurt, confused. There are so many factors behind each individual’s behaviour, their relationships with us, and their own process of grieving. Whatever the reasons, any disappointments of this kind are yet another aspect of how much life can challenge us after a partner dies.
Many people who have lost a partner suffer terribly from loneliness. There is a human need for someone with whom to share our deepest thoughts and feelings, and it is often our partner who filled that need. And it isn’t only ‘deep’ thoughts – just chatting about the day, what we’re watching on TV, and this, that and the other, is part of the rhythm of life in many relationships. We may feel this loss of connection most acutely.
All in all, our loved one’s absence can leave us feeling very isolated. This can be made worse if friends treat us differently now that we are no longer part of a couple – which does happen to some. Reaching out to others, finding new friends in new ways, even – if we wish – being on the look out for a new partner can be part of the solution for our daily life, but no one will take the exact place of the dear one we have loved and is now absent.
Meeting with others who are similarly bereaved can be a good idea. There can be a measure of comfort in realising that we are not alone in our experience. What we are facing precisely is unique to ourselves, but many aspects are common to others.
Living with loss requires patience with ourselves. There is no timetable for “coping”. Each day is a new day that must be lived in itself. Some days are more difficult than others; but some days we will wake up and feel not quite so bad. This is hope!
It’s worthwhile remembering that life is full of adjustments that we have coped with in the past. This is a time of major change, but we can cope with this too. It may take some time, but there is a road forward; we can follow it, just taking it one step at a time.
I heard, I felt, I saw (a poem)
I heard your voice in the wind today and I turned to see your face;
The warmth of the wind caressed me as I stood silently in place.
I felt your touch in the sun today as its warmth filled the sky;
I closed my eyes for your embrace and my spirit soared high.
I saw your eyes in the window pane as I watched the falling rain;
It seemed as each raindrop fell it quietly said your name.
I held you close in my heart today it made me feel complete;
You may have died…but you are not gone you will always be a part of me.
As long as the sun shines… the wind blows… the rain falls…
You will live on inside of me forever for that is all my heart knows.
READ MORE: Coping with the loss of a partner
A pumpkin at the entrance to a church in Dorset, seeking a happy home. We yearn deeply for the person who has died; we want to be home with them once again.
(This is an updated version of an earlier post)