Bereavement: A Process of Healing the Loss of a Partner

The loss of a loved one turns our life upside down.  Our world as we knew it has changed and those changes require that we, in turn, adjust to a new “normal.”

– Author Unknown

When we fall in love and become partners, either through marriage or life commitment, we don’t really think about losing that person to death.   “Until death do us part,” is part of our wedding vows, but who thinks about when either will die at that moment? Our hearts bask in the mutual love, and we feel as one when deeply in love.  Losing that person/partner is the furthest thing in our mind, however with the passing of time it comes to happen, and the heartbreak can be devastating.  The loss tears us apart and can push us down with a force we never even knew possible.

At one point we come to terms with the loss, and a “healing” can begin to gently take place. We may not even be aware that healing is softly happening and then we begin to become conscious of it.  Life takes its pull upward, to somehow survive and live.  The ability to love deeply is the greatest human gift we can give to one another in a mutual way.   For most of us, mutual love in this deep way makes for a beautiful and fulfilling life.

In this article, we take a look at some perspectives to consider what happens during the bereavement time after a loved one dies. I will also respectfully offer you some ways that may help you in tenderly easing the pain from your loss. Hopefully, these will help shed new light on thoughts that may be helpful if you are going through such pain. I’ll also offer you a few thoughts regarding the importance of allowing yourself to be open to accepting that it is possible to live a full and wonderful life after the death of your partner.

Bereavement: A Process of Healing the Loss of a Partner

Photo credit to Drawberry

Bereavement is a time to process being alone. This time allows for acceptance of the loss and enables gentle healing to take place. You may find yourself in awareness of slowly begin to pick up the pieces and begin reconfiguring a new life.  They say time heals all wounds yet time is a broad concept as there is no specific time, and it individual to each human being. By the same token, there is no right or wrong way to mourn and grieve.

When our partner dies, we feel that we’ve lost a piece of our self. However, something strange happens in our thoughts that we might tend to resist, and that is the notion that we can gain something of extreme value from our loss.  The feeling of love that is within us doesn’t die, it remains there indelibly. The experience of feeling what love is and feels like is a gift that never disappears – it remains alive to our last moment of life. Love knows no bounds and does not need the physical person in order to carry the love for them.  Love transcends time and space, and we can feel the feelings whenever we reminisce a loving experience we’ve shared with the person we loved.

I believe love is pure creation, the impetus, the thrust, and the passion for the desire to live and to procreate, for without love, we can be as if withered up, never quite feeling “alive”.  We are created to give and receive love, and being able to love someone, and receive their full love in return, is the greatest gift we can give and receive. Love helps us to be resilient and to maintain our sense of grace, dignity, and regard.

When you lose someone you love, it is totally understandable that you feel sad and devastated. However, even though death is final, it could also be a loss of your loved one through the divorce. You fall in love never thinking that something will happen to lead to divorce. It’s love broken down.  Dreams shattered.  Losing someone you love whether from divorce or death can be equally painful and heart wrenching.

Bereavement: A Process of Healing the Loss of a Partner

Two friends, I knew well over a good number of years, Toni and Gene were married for over 44 years.  They were each other’s true partner and muse, bringing out the most creative side of one another’s talents and gifts, complementing each other in a myriad of ways.  Gene died in 2012 from Parkinson’s.  Toni died in 2016 from a many year fights with breast cancer. It’s easy to figure that Toni lived on 4 years without her Gene. At times Gene’s physical loss wasn’t easy for Toni, but she believed that he went to a spiritual form, hovering around just waiting for her and that as soon as she’d go, she’d immediately meet up with him in her own spiritual formation. This is what kept Toni going for those 4 years – this belief made her resilient. Toni was an unswerving belief that she and Gene would never really be apart here, or in the hereafter. They’d be just in different forms until both could be together in their spiritual form.[1]

When we lose someone, we feel displaced, and we almost don’t know who we are anymore without that person. In time, we become compelled to re-invent ourselves into a new identity.  Life forces and logistical issues pull us upward.  Selling a house shared, moving into a more down-sized place, and donating most of that person’s possessions such as clothes and hobby memorabilia, may take time.  Hopefully, the partner died with a will and a living trust. [2]

In our way, then we make peace with the fact that death is as natural as birth, we begin to accept the life journey with a newfound respect, honoring the experience equally at birth. There is one guarantee that we have in this life: no one is getting out of here alive.  We can prepare ourselves for the experience, by perceiving the experience differently, by being conscious of living life as fully as we can, giving love and finding peace and healing.

As I mentioned above, after the loss of your loved one, and time passes, a re-invention of self-begins to take place.  A new way of taking time and takes patience.  Some people seek out friends and family to share their feelings, some people find support groups, and some people even choose bereavement counseling. Some just want to be alone for a while. Whatever works for the individual is up to that individual, and no one other than that person can “know” what they need.

How to Accept the Death of a Partner

How to Accept the Death of a Partner

In 1969, after two and a half years of working with dying patients, Elisabeth Kubler Ross, a Swiss American Psychiatrist interviewed 200 of her patients, and was asked to write a book about their experience of dying, which would become the major foundation for understanding, what she believed to be, five stages of death and dying to help people get through the experience:  Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance (Acronym: DABDA).[3]

Ross went on to describe that each stage was an important part of our healing process from the emotional loss and that these five stages did not occur in any order, nor did they occur in every person she studied.  She recognized that grief was as individual as our individual lives.

All five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, can be applied to all losses in life.  What is important to note is that whatever stage you are in is exactly what you are supposed to be feeling, whether it be feeling empty, helpless, immobilized, paralyzed, worthless, angry, sad or fearful.   What’s also important is to give yourself permission to experience all of these stages at various times.  They do not come in any order, and, know that you may experience certain triggers at unexpected moments.

You have loved and lost your loved one.  You are entitled to bereave, mourn and grieve.  It is your right because you loved.  Give yourself time. Be patient with yourself.  Let yourself fall apart.  Let yourself feel the anguish if that is what you feel.

Loss Adjustments

Loss Adjustments

The funeral did honor to the memory of your partner. You were surrounded by family and friends who empathized with your loss.  After the funeral, people perhaps visited and called, supporting you in whichever way they could. In time, though, the phone calls may begin to diminish, the visits become more infrequent, and you are left really alone in a now “empty’ feeling house. This would be a good time to join local support groups.

Many in the group will have already passed what you are experiencing and can offer compassionate help and guidance to get through the realistic hurdles of loss – eating and sleeping alone, sensing their smell, hearing them in the house and maybe even suddenly feeling their arm around you. Many of these support group people can become new friends – true friends, bonded by a tragic loss that only those who have lost can really understand.

There are some other things you can do that may help you navigate through the bereavement period of time:

  • Visit their spot in the cemetery. Bring flowers, light a candle, and just sit awhile feeling love and releasing tears of great sadness – just do as you are feeling.
  • Create a ritual around their ashes to honor them in your own way.  If you are religious then do whatever you can handle from what your belief system dictates. Some people keep their loved one’s ashes on a mantlepiece and light candles in their honor.  Some people create jewelry from the ashes, either putting a small number of ashes in a tubular sealed locket or, having carbon/diamond ring or pendant made from compressing the ashes into carbon diamonds.
  • Allow yourself to cry and reminisce to your full release, as often as needed.  Be in your feelings and allow yourself to feel better too. No pressure to “get over it already.”
  • I’ve already mentioned joining your local support group. A gentle reminder to feel free to seek different types of support… physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.  What’s important to remember is that you may need different kinds of support; physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
  • Gently start creating new habits for yourself. Even switching the first foot you put your shoes on helps to let you see that life can be lived in so many different ways. Baby steps in shaking it up and creating new habits are healthy. Even trying out new foods can become a new interest. In the time it may bring back your sense of wonder and curiosity you once had as a child.
  • Make your own bucket list and start checking off the list of things you want to do before you die.
  • Buy brand new bedding and new pillows to mark the moment you feel you are beginning anew.

This is a tender time to treat yourself with gentleness and kindness. Put your arms around yourself or ask someone you know who cares about you to hold you for a while, someone you feel safe with, whom you trust to be there for you unconditionally.

Bereavement leave

Bereavement leave

In some countries, bereavement leave is a natural part of a society’s culture, just as maternity leave is.  In the United States, there are rules and regulations to follow in order to “qualify” for bereavement leave. [4] In the United States, we are not as friendly towards allowing people to take off chunks of time “just” to heal from a death, but there are companies that are more and more inclined to deal with death in an openly positive way and support the person through educating work colleagues to be compassionate and offer the suffering employee a few grief counselling sessions.

Isolating and hibernating oneself for a while is one way of coping and let things to unfold in an organic way.  Your bereavement leave could be a short period of time, so prepare to just “being” and not thinking of “doing”.  This is the challenging part if you’re used to “doing” all the time, rather than “being”. Of course, if survival calls for working soon after the burial, then so be it. However, even if your company does not offer counseling or grief education, it will be up to you to share with your work colleagues how to best support you. Openly share what you need, whether a hug, eating lunch alone or not, even ask for words of compassion and kindness if you feel closer to some colleagues. Unless you say what you need, most people will tend to stay aloof, not being really comfortable with not knowing what to say or do. They may think that they’re respecting your privacy with staying a bit aloof whereas this behavior may actually feel uncaring and cold to you. When you speak what you need, they’ll know, and you’ll end up feeling supporting for the time you need, and those days back are when you may need it the most.

Let’s talk a bit more about different support groups.  There is a website, called “Shiva Connect,”[5] that offers, free of charge, help for Jews who need to plan, host or attend the traditional seven days of mourning, (called Shiva) along with other important resources that are helpful to process. There is also a website,[6] with a multitude of support groups recommended.  And, every hospice organization has a social worker and a chaplain on staff to help process your grief.  In fact, most hospices offer a year-long support program for the families of those who have died. If your loved one had hospice at home, check with them to see what support they have available.

Dealing with Loss/Summary

Dealing with Loss/Summary

Feeling supported after you lose a partner is an important part of healing.  Surround yourself with people who care and will give you what you need.  They may not be able to fulfill everything, because no one can take the place of your partner.  There will never be another him/her.  You may have lost their physical presence, but you will never lose the love you feel inside.  That will always be a part of you for as long as you live.  In time, you may even let yourself be in touch with the possibility that you may love again.  There may come a day to gently give yourself permission to fall in love again. You know your partner wanted the best for you and to be happy in your life, so you have that thought to carry you on in your own living. It takes a close experience like this sometimes to realize how short life really is, and how quickly time passes.

Journaling your feelings may also be helpful.  You may go through all the 5 stages that Elisabeth Kubler Ross identifies, and which I mentioned further above.  You may feel angry and abandoned, and even go through a sense of denial for a while.  At one point, which may well occur naturally, you may accept the fact that you have a new life, that it is up to you to create a new way of living and just being in peace.

You feel tremendous loss because you loved tremendously.  Shift your thinking towards gratitude that you have been able to give and receive love.

“It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

-Alfred Lord Tennyson

Indeed, I believe that it is far better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

It’s your life.  Enjoy the journey.  And remember to bring love into everything you do.

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[1] Whilst alone, though, their identities were wrapped up in each other. She idolized and adored him. They met on Love of Life, a soap opera during the 60’s, and spent 10 years as Bill and Tess, “the” couple, falling in love on screen and off.  They wrote musical plays that touched the hearts of thousands of teens at risk.  They were acting teachers, musical performers and two of the most talented people I have ever met.  Each one had their own way of expressing.  Gene composed music and Toni wrote lyrics to the music Gene composed.  It was a match made in heaven.  To read more about Gene and Toni, take a look at the article: Celebration of Life and Death, An Expression of Love.

[2] To read more about how to set up a will and/or living trust, read the article: Life & Death Planning… a Loving Thing to Do!

[3] Book: On Death and Dying © 1969: pg. 264