Creating a fulfilling life after loss

Few events in life are as painful as the death of your partner, but you can learn to live on in a way which honours your past and appreciates your present

What does it really mean to have ‘lost’ your partner?

Having spent many hours with bereaved individuals, old and young, I would say the answer varies widely. And loss may not always mean death: you may feel you’ve lost a partner due to illness or dementia

What is actually ‘lost’ is more than the person, or their physical presence. In a partnership, one person tends to play a particular role, and this is generally what disappears or feels lost. For example, your partner may have been the person who dealt with the finances, went shopping, walked the dog, drove the car … and so on

He may have been a companion, friend, someone to watch television with, go on holiday with, laugh and cry with. Feeling scared, vulnerable, and unsure how you’ll manage without him is perfectly normal

You are probably well aware of the common symptoms of grief: shock, numbness, pain (emotional and physical), sadness, anger, guilt, anxiety, inability to concentrate, difficulties with eating and sleeping, and yearning. But just as all relationships are unique, so is grief

Everyone’s circumstances are different and it’s unwise to compare your grief with others, or to try to speed your grief along. You need to absorb the reality of your situation, and to come to terms with what it means for you, in your own time.

Take care of the basics

  • Eat regularly, drink plenty of fluids, get plenty of sleep, and exercise at a level that’s comfortable for you. Even a short walk around your sitting room every hour, or stretching your arms and legs, can be beneficial
  • Talk – even if you need to go over and over what happened, this is part of grief and a way of managing. It’s also a healthy way of continuing the bond between you and the person who died. But if you find talking far too painful that’s OK too and others should not try to push you into opening up
  • Most importantly, don’t try to live up to other people’s expectations about what you should be saying, doing, or feeling. This is your grief and you’ll handle it your way.

What about loneliness?

A partner’s death can leave a hole in your life, but it is possible to lessen the loneliness

First, balance your grief with ‘living’. It’s normal to cry and to remember your partner, but it is equally normal to go shopping, to watch TV, to spend time with friends

You might be tempted to refuse social invitations, but promise to say ‘yes’ at least once a week. Whether it’s a coffee with a friend, or visiting your grandchildren, one outing a week is fine until you’re ready to do more

You  could find reliable and trustworthy people who can help you when you need help — who is good at DIY? Who likes gardening? Who knows about cars? Who can decorate? Keep their phone numbers nearby

Finally, remember that there’s a big difference between living alone (which many older people do) and being lonely. Given time, you may even find that you enjoy your own company again, are able to rediscover old interests — and accept that life may be different, but it can still be good

Moving forward – top ten suggestions

1. Keep your mind active  – read, do puzzles, watch TV quizzes

2. Relax – have a nap when you need to, allow yourself to ‘switch off’, listen to calming music

3. Treat yourself – anything from a soothing foot bath to a favourite bar of chocolate

4. Allow yourself to cry, talk to your partner, remember shared experiences, write a letter to your partner, look at photos

5. Give yourself permission to stop grieving sometimes -laugh at a funny programme without feeling guilty

6. Don’t be pressured into making important decisions – you’ll know when the time feels right

7. If you want to, keep a small memento of your partner close by – a ring, a photo, a hankie

8. Do something for you – interests you shared with your partner can bring back painful memories

9. If you want to, mark significant anniversaries – light a candle, visit a special place, have a favourite meal. You could invite close friends or family to share these times, or be on your own if you prefer

10. You don’t have to do it alone. GP counsellors and Cruse Bereavement Care  all offer additional support if you are feeling overwhelmed by your grief and loneliness

 

Trish Staples MA (Couns), Med. is an independent mental health professional who became a counsellor after her husband’s death in 1997. Since 2001, Trish has been a volunteer with Cruse Bereavement Care, the leading national charity for bereaved people 

 

 

 

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