Coping with the Death of a Partner or Spouse

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Coping with the death of a partner

The loss of a spouse or partner can be an incredibly difficult and intensely painful experience. 

When a husband, wife or partner dies it is likely to be one of the most intense emotional experiences of your lifetime. Whatever way you would describe your relationship, it is a huge loss in your life. Your world as you knew it has changed, and it can be incredibly painful. 

Losing someone as close as a partner usually comes with a number of other changes and losses: 

  • change of identity
  • loss of future dreams 
  • financial loss
  • increased social isolation and loneliness
  • increased family and household responsibility
  • increased vulnerability to health problems. 

We are really sorry if you are here because your partner died. Cruse is here to help. We have information you can read, and offer a variety of services to support you. 

Different feelings after a partner dies

After the funeral of a partner and the weeks of practicalities around their death it can feel like things start to return to normal for others, but for you, things will never be the same. Friends and family start to check in less and the world still keeps going, but you are now facing a life without the person you chose to spend the rest of your life with.

Adjusting to life after losing a partner means you can feel lonely, sad, despairing, empty, angry and/or guilty. People whose partner has died often tell us that they are confronted with this loss on an ongoing basis – the person is physically not with you day to day basis.

There is an empty space at the table for dinner, and if you shared a bed even trying to sleep is a reminder of what you have lost.

Many people may also find the loss of a physical or sexual relationship hard to bear. It is understandable to miss the intimacy and closeness of your partner. Talking about this may feel particularly difficult or inappropriate but it can help to do so with someone you trust, or someone trained, like a Cruse volunteer. 

It is also possible to feel like the person who has died is actually present with you. Some people say that they can smell or hear their partner, following their death.  For some people this can be very reassuring, and for others disturbing.  However, what you need to know is that it is an experience that many people have, and it usually becomes less common and stops over time.

It’s common to feel restlessness, irritable, a lack of motivation, loss of concentration and have concerns about health and well-being. Grief doesn’t just affect our emotions but also produces physical effects. It's common to suffer headaches, weight loss, sleep disturbance or fatigue. 

Resistance to illness in general may be lowered and you might find you become vulnerable to minor illnesses. If symptoms persist or you are struggling to copy do seek help from your GP. 

After the first year

After a year has passed, people around you often expect you to start feeling a bit better, but many find that the second year can feel as hard or harder than the first. Loneliness can be a real problem and significant dates, like birthdays, anniversaries and holidays or other reminders may be particularly difficult. It is important to decide how you want to mark them and communicate this with those close to you. 

Some people report that they feel family and friends expect them to be moving on, or seem to be forgetting about the person who died. They often haven’t, but their day-to-day life is continuing in a way yours cannot.  Sometimes people can also feel uncomfortable around grief and don’t know what to say. 

There is no set timeline for grief and the experience is different for everyone.

Your responsibility is to take care of yourself and anyone else you care for, such as children if you have them. There is no predictable schedule to follow. Although it can be incredibly painful at times, grieving cannot be rushed. Time is needed, but with support, things generally do get better. Remember, Cruse is here to help.

New relationships

Sometimes, when our partner has died, we can feel a pressure to ‘get out there’ and find someone else.  This pressure may come from ourselves or those around us. Usually other people mean well, but the decision ultimately needs to rest with you, and what feels right for you at that time.  

Some people tell us at that after some time has lapsed following the death of their partner, they are ready to consider having someone else in their life, and this can be important. Others do not feel ready for many years, or never. Once again, this is such an individual matter it’s vital that the main person you are caring for is you. If you have children, you will also want to weigh up what it means for them.

What you can do to help yourself

Talk to someone Talking can be really helpful, even if it is over the phone, internet or social media. Often family or friends can help. You might also be able to talk to someone in your community, or to a faith or spiritual leader. At Cruse we offer support sessions and a helpline for those one off calls when you just need someone to talk to.

Remember your partner  It is important to know that even if someone dies who we have been very close to, the memory of them does not die – they still live on in us. We don’t stop relating to the person because they are no longer alive and with us. It can help to think of ways you can keep your partner as part of your life and that of your children if you have any. This might mean keeping a few special possessions, creating a memory box or special album of pictures, or organising a time for family and friends to come together and remember.

Practical and financial matters If you are struggling financially make sure you are receiving all the benefits can claimCitizen’s Advice may also be able to offer help.

Helping bereaved children If you have dependent children, you can read about how they may react to grief in our section for parents and carers.

Anniversaries and reminders Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries and special days can be very difficult after a partner dies. It can help to think in advance about how you are going to manage. Read our tips on coping with anniversaries

Look after yourself It’s important to pay attention to your own health – see your GP if you are concerned about anything. Read more about the physical affects of grieving.

Seek help Cruse can help, and you might also find it helpful to talk to others in the same position. We list some other organisations which can help on our links page.

How to help someone who has lost their partner

  • Let them grieve at their own pace. Don’t rush them or get impatient with them.
  • If you feel they aren’t coping encourage them to seek support.
  • Try to stay in contact with bereaved friends and family and let them know you’re thinking about them. 
  • Let them talk about how they are feeling and about their partner – talking can be one of the most helpful things after someone dies even if you find it difficult to hear because of your own grief or you are unable to make their pain go away. Just listening will help.
  • You might like to make a note of significant dates like birthdays, the anniversary of the death, and let them know you are thinking of them. 
  • Offer practical help if you think they need it, or let them know about Cruse if they are struggling.

When an ex partner dies

The death of an ex-partner or spouse is a unique experience and can bring about a lot of confusing feelings.

You may feel shocked, sad, confused or nothing at all. It’s important to allow space for your feelings no matter what they are.

Common experiences after the loss of an ex partner or spouse include:

  • Regret - If you had a difficult relationship with your ex partner after your separation you may feel a sense of longing or regret.
  • Disenfranchised grief - when someone dies, community support is often focused on the current partner or children of the person who died. Ex-partners may therefore feel left out of the grieving process. 
  • Complicated grief - When an ex partner dies, there are a number of things that might complicate your grief or prevent you from grieving in a normal way. Maybe you still had feelings for the person but they are in a new relationship or maybe you felt there was a lot left you would have liked to say to them. Any of these situations could lead to complicated grief.

No matter how you're feeling, we're here to help. Call the Cruse National Helpline to speak to someone about loss.

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