When your partner dies; someone you love and with whom you have shared a life for many years, it’s as though the lights go out. The prevailing darkness envelops every moment and you doubt that life will ever bring the contentment you once enjoyed when you were part of a couple. Losing a partner brings with it a succession of feelings and this emotive road to recovery is different for everyone.
When my husband passed away, it was very sudden and I was ill prepared for what lay ahead. I leaned heavily on the kindness and understanding of friends and family, and without them the recovery process would have been much harder.
Kindness in Dark Spaces
The words of sympathy and empathy, coming from every direction, were overwhelming.
Flowers appeared on my doorstep. Casseroles and cakes were delivered. Helping hands outstretched at every corner. Kindness in dark spaces, kept me going.
The First Steps Forward
Initially, you may feel you can’t cope, but rising to meet the demands of what life has thrown at you can bring a defense mechanism, and a strength you never knew you had.
Somehow, I found the wherewithal to organise a funeral. With help from my husband’s mother, sister and my children, we put together a memorable service, which helped to gently deliver us to the next stage of our lives.
Life goes on in the aftermath of death and gradually you acknowledge the words ‘widow’ or ‘widower’. You have yet to turn the corner, but you’re on your way.
Being Strong for My Children
Guiding children through bereavement following the loss of a parent is a tough business. At the time of my husband’s death, my daughter was thirteen and my son was ten. Being strong for them was vital and what kept my head above water in the early days.
I felt it was important to let them make up their own minds about issues directly concerning themselves. When should they return to school, when should they meet up with friends, were decisions they could make on their own. This gave them a degree of responsibility and I have always felt this strategy helped them to help me, and to come to terms with life without their father.
Giving Way to Tears is Totally Acceptable
Don’t pretend you’re OK if you’re not. Giving way to tears in front of your children is totally acceptable. It will also help them to come to terms with their loss and is a necessary outlet for grief.
Acknowledging, as a family, that there would be good days and bad days helped us to get on with our lives.
Getting Back Into the Workplace and the Return to School
Returning to work is an important step and will give you focus. For me, being around people, getting to grips with my job and the responsibility that came with it was an important factor on my road to recovery.
At the time, I was working in a school with hours that fitted in fairly well with my children’s routine. For the first few weeks this return to assumed ‘normality’ provided quite a lot of debate in our house.
My son enjoyed football and this was a great leveler for him: he would also make us laugh with stories about the antics of he and his friends during the school day. My daughter, however, was much more guarded. For my part, I had lost weight during the time I had been absent and was being force-fed chocolates and sympathy. Neither of which I wanted, but I accepted as graciously as I could.
Getting on With Life
The first few weeks following the bereavement of a life partner are understandably fraught with highs and lows. Fortunately, it is also a busy time. There is much to do in the way of paper-work: organizing finances, writing letters of thanks, and much more than one would think in order to get the business side of life settled. But it does give you focus.
Something to Lift The Spirits
We all cope with life events in different ways but one thing I always recommend to anyone who is suffering a setback or upsetting life event, is to have something to look forward to.
Depending on finances, planning a holiday is always a good help. The choice and the organization is something that can bring an uplifting diversion. A time spent away from home, is always a good opportunity to re-evaluate your life and make any plans that you think would improve your situation. Any event that offers a happy distraction can work wonders.
Losing someone you love and picking up the threads of life afterwards will be a different experience for everyone. I felt blessed because I had children and the quality of their recovery was pretty much in my hands. I had two good reasons to keep going.
For someone who is left alone, especially if they’re elderly, this must be a challenging period. Even with family and friends looking after their health and mental wellbeing, it must be hard to bear.
Helping them to look back at happier times and encouraging them to talk about their partner can be helpful. Recounting stories about their relationship can hopefully help them to see that their lives have been worthy and memorable. In time it is hoped, they too, will accept their situation and find contentment.
Time passes and before you know it you’re counting back in months and not weeks since you lost your partner. You will probably be surprised at how well you have coped and can begin to feel you have moved on. Cherishing thoughts of your loved one and appreciating the life you shared together, as you go.
Annie Hunte, founder of widowsorwidowers.com