Coping with the loss of a spouse or partner
Regardless of the circumstances surrounding it, the death of a husband, wife or a partner is likely to introduce an instant disruption to your life and turn it upside down.
You are left to deal with the loss itself whilst having to balance life and taking on extra responsibilities in running the household, looking after the children or holding a job to support yourself. It is a struggle but the urgency and the lack of choice encourage you to build the resilience you need to get through these challenges.
This guide will help you understand the different physical and emotional effects of losing a spouse or a partner and show you how to cope with life on your own.
Losing a spouse or partner
The death of your other half involves more than losing someone you love. It takes away the “happy ever after” from the equation and robs you of any future plans you may have as a couple. Grieving that type of loss is a lengthy and complicated process which is determined by your relationship and the circumstances of their death as well as the challenges of widowhood and becoming “you” again.
Whether you like it or not, this is a milestone which marks the beginning of a new chapter. Use it as an opportunity to do some soul searching and decide on who you want to be. Give yourself plenty of time to grieve and adapt to its demands. Be kind to yourself and appreciate the important role of self-care in the healing process.
Accepting your loss, adapting to it and moving forward with life takes time. It’s likely to scrutinise your beliefs, challenge your principles and change you as a person. It also affects your relationship with those who are close to you and the ones you are yet to meet.
Surround yourself with people who are kind, considerate and respectful of your grieving needs and wishes. Listen to your intuition and don’t hesitate to to put on hold relationships which load you with unnecessary stress or prevent you from living your life and taking your time to grieve.
You need all of the support you can get and those who really care about you will offer it. Don’t turn them down and if you need specific help - ask for it. Get used to the idea of being the subject of unsolicited advice too. Most of it comes from a good place and with good intentions but you need to remember that your loss is unique to you. Don’t let others define your grief and feelings!
Losing intimacy and physical contact
The loss of a spouse or a partner comes with the obvious loss of physical and emotional intimacy too. Keep in mind that wanting to replace the lost intimacy is quite normal among grieving spouses and partners. It is a human need which has no bearing on your love and devotion to the memory of your lost loved one. Some people are more prone to it than others. Longing for romance and intimacy does not mean a betrayal of your spouse or a partner.
Physical and emotional effects of grief
The shock and trauma of losing your other half comes with some severe physical and emotional symptoms which impact your general health and well-being. Aches and pains all over your body, fatigue, trouble sleeping, sadness and fear come as standard but they are temporary and should go away after a while.
Be prepared for long tiring days followed by sleepless nights worrying about your safety and a future without the love of your life. These are scary thoughts which may cloud your judgement and affect your decision-making process. Put major decisions on hold and seek independent professional advice and second opinion before you make any financial or other commitments.
Seeing other couples and people who are together may upset you but that’s normal. It doesn’t make you a bad person. Cry when you feel like it but keep in mind that not everyone cries when they are sad or upset. Tears help you to release some of the internal tension and heal but they are not a measure of your love for that special person whose loss you grieve.
Do breathing exercises, meditate and relax in order to reduce the stress and its negative effect on your body. If you suffer from chronic pain, you must go and see your doctor. Don’t self-medicate or use drugs and alcohol to soothe your pain!
Looking after your children
You may be left to play the role of both parents whilst trying to deal with your own grief and keep the family together. It’s a big ask and a huge responsibility but it has to be done and it has to be done well. Family and friends can help with school runs, shopping, babysitting and other practical tasks. Don’t hesitate to ask and don’t turn any help away.
Children’s grief is different and you need to make sure that they are supported through this difficult time. Spend time together, listen to what they have to say and if necessary - consult a professional who is qualified to step in and help.
Please refer to our guide on explaining death to children.
Looking after the estate
Depending on the legal arrangements and instructions left by your deceased spouse or partner, you may also be responsible for the management of their estate and assets. That involves dealing with utilities companies, banks, service providers and other businesses to make sure they are notified about the death etc.
You may even be named as an executor of their Will which can be quite demanding and complicated, depending on the estate and assets of your spouse or partner.
Please visit our Legal Services page for more information and advice on how we can help you to manage the estate and assist you with the legal matters involved.
Moving forward after the loss of a spouse or partner
Grieving the loss of a spouse or a partner is a particularly complicated and long process due to the nature of your relationship and related losses. You are likely to take on additional responsibilities which can add more stress to your already fragile state. If there are children involved, you also have the added pressure of running the household and keeping the family together whilst “staying strong” for them.
Make sure you provide your body with the right fuel by eating a nutritiously balanced diet and keeping hydrated. Minimise the use of electronic devices and gadgets an hour before you go to bed to ensure you get a good night’s sleep. Go for a walk or do some sort of physical exercise on a daily basis to increase the release of endorphins and improve your mood. Do breathing exercises, meditation and relaxation to bring your stress levels down.
There are no shortcuts to getting over the loss of a loved one. You need to go through the struggles before you can move forward with your life. The good news is that most of the physical and emotional symptoms of grief improve with time. If you struggle from chronic pain or the grief symptoms affect existing health conditions, please make an appointment to see your doctor.
Don’t forget that we offer grief help and support through the National Bereavement Service's online webchat. All you need to do is to click on the box at the bottom of this page.
Contributed by Mark Welkin
Mark Welkin is the author of three grief books and a journalist who has worked for various media outlets in Europe and Asia. He lost his long-term partner in 2014 and a few months later, Mark turned to a grief counsellor for help. The results inspired him to share his experience and help other bereaved people to resume life after the loss of their loved ones.