Loss of husband or wife

Elizabeth Postle shares her years of experience in coping with the loss of a husband or wife or the loss of your life’s partner.  After a 45 year career in nursing helping the bereaved, Elizabeth lost her own husband, and coped by following her own advice. 

People who have lost loved ones after many years of marriage or shared lives find it very difficult to cope. It’s like losing a limb or a whole way of life. They have also lost the warmth of physical intimacy. Many people feel that they have lost their identity or their purpose in life. You may have spent many years committed to providing for or caring for your husband, wife or partner and possibly their family.

Read more about Loss of Self-identity after the Loss of Husband, Wife or Partner

The death of a loved one creates many worries:

There may be many worries, how will I cope, mentally, physically, financially? Will I have to move? These are just some of the challenges you may have to face and which I will help you with in the pages of my site. 

But say to yourself “I am fine, I can cope, it is my time now”.

You are learning to cope without your loved one, this is an essential task for you. No-one else can do it for you. Yes, you must ask for support from friends and families during difficult periods, but in the end it’s all up to you.

pink sunrise, an uplifting photo for those who have lost a husband or wife

Grieving for the loss of husband, wife or loved one:

Don’t worry if tears are not far away, or you feel as if you are on autopilot most of the time. It will all help you get through the loss and pain. It will get easier. And you are not going to forget your loved one.  Read about the effects of shock here. 

Remember you are still important. You may have lived quite happily for 20 years or more before meeting your partner. That person is still you. The fact that you might have chosen to spend a lot of your life feeding, clothing and financing the family means you should be very proud and now able to spoil yourself. Do all the things you put off doing for the families needs. Go back to some of your early dreams and fulfill them. There are many mature university students who are back getting the degree they missed in their early years.

What were your dreams?

There will be setbacks, there will be many challenges. You can cope, you can be positive. Give yourself permission to laugh with friends and enjoy a night out at the movies. It’s your time now. Make the most of it. Enjoy your children and grandchildren.

When friends ask how are you, say “Fine thanks”. It’s good for you, as after a while you believe it too. It’s no use pouring out your troubles to everyone you meet. They have their own problems too. Eventually people will start to avoid you, stop talking to you if you are miserable all the time. My father always used to say “no-one wants to know you if you’re miserable!”. Keep your in-depth concerns and worries for your chosen special people who have empathy or for your counseling sessions. Try to be positive as much as possible. Remember, a smile and “I’m fine thanks” is all it takes. The power of positive thinking will surprise you. Try it!

If you do find it impossible, don’t feel bad about it, you may need help. Go and see your doctor or a professional counselor. I have written some advice about how to find some grief support.

Here are some more tips about how to cope with the loss of a husband or wife and continue with your life…..

Do you have a family member who can stay for a week or two to help sort out day to day needs? You might need help to sort out finances, home maintenance, any of the tasks that your partner used to do, and which you now have to learn.

First, stay in your home to get used to being alone. Many people move out to stay with relatives and then can’t ever face going back home. Read more about the decision to stay or move.

Take it one day at a time.

Do help with planning the funeral or celebration of the loved one’s life. It will keep you occupied, and will help you focus on the loved one and not yourself.

If you have a job, go back to work as soon as you can.

Keep up with any groups that you belonged to or hobbies you had. Take up a new activity (here are some suggestions) and make new friends at the same time.

Involve family and friends with your anxieties. Visit them all.

Visit friends that you’d neglected as a couple. Accept any invitations that come your way.

Try to plan jobs or outings for each day. Wake up knowing today is for shopping for groceries or lunch with a friend. Even doing housework.

Try not to have more than one day alone in the house at a time at first. Keep busy.

Grieve yes. Cry yes. But remember the many happy years you had together.

Don’t wallow in self pity. It does you no good at all.

Go out and meet friends.

Look after your health - find out how here.

Sit for your grandchildren. Life goes on and they need you too.

Whatever life span you have left is valuable and precious.

Realise that the time left is for you to do what you most want to do.

If you find a new partner, love again. This is a compliment to your late partner. Move on and enjoy yourself. It isn’t disloyal to your deceased loved one to live life again.

Moving on after the loss of husband or wife:

A good friend, who had a long career and was also a wife, mother and grandmother lost her beloved husband after many years of happy marriage. She mourned, she grieved, she cried. But after a while, she said, “This is now my time to do what I like when I like.” After being at the beck and call of family all her life, this was her special time and she intended to enjoy it.

Major Dos and Don'ts for coping with the loss of husband or wife

Do organise your days
Do organise financial and household affairs
Do Be Positive!
Do look after yourself
Do enjoy life with your family and friends

Don’t have too much time alone
Don’t go into self-pity mode
Don’t rely on drugs and alcohol
Don’t neglect your diet and exercise
Don’t be too proud to ask for help or cry when you need to

For lots more help and comfort if you are dealing with the loss of your husband, wife or life's partner, click on one of the following links:

Coping with the Loss of a Wife - Specially for Men

Coping with Change from Coupledom to Single Status - our guest writer Wendy shares her experiences after her husband died.

Books on Grief for Widows and Widowers

Lots More Pages on How to deal with Grief

Grief and Sympathy Home page

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