The inconceivable has occurred – your partner has died. Perhaps, it was sudden and unexpected. However, even if it took place after an illness or at an older age, your loss surely came too prematurely from your point of view.
Your life is now changed forever. Consequently, you may feel that you have also lost your purpose and, certainly, you’re confused about what role you should play in the world going forward. For example, you’re no longer a wife or a husband, but you sure feel like one. Through your fog of grief, it can be nearly impossible to envision a life without your partner by your side.
The redefining (and the subsequent need to reconfigure) your life after loss is one of the more overwhelming aspects of losing a spouse. As part of the grief process, it’s necessary to accept that your life will never return to the way it was before your loss. Correspondingly, YOU also will not return completely to the way you were during your partnership.
So comes the question: “What do I do now?” compounded by the inevitable one of: “Who am I now?”
While you may have to figure out “what to do” rather quickly, figuring out the “who you are now” is usually a slow process. Often, it starts to happen naturally vs. from any deliberate actions you take. Matter of fact, the experience of more loss (for example, old friends who reject you) may simply be nature’s way of pushing you towards a better place and towards a more empathetic community of friends.
1. Consequently, you may find that the dynamics of old time friendships begin to shift. Couple friends seem to fall by the wayside – many because they feel uncomfortable with you and others because you feel you have less in common and, thus, feel uncomfortable with them.
2. If you were widowed young, you may have friends who are in the midst of celebratory stages, such as getting engaged, married, having children, etc. In contrast, you’re embarking upon a stage which neither you nor your peers expected to reach for a very long time. Even though you’re happy for your friends, it may still be hard for you to participate in all these joyous celebrations. And if you do participate and put on a happy face, this further goes towards you feeling a sense of alienation from them.
3. This next point is pretty sad; some of your friends may find that confronting your reality makes them feel emotionally uneasy. Thus, they may choose to spend less time with you. In this scenario, it’s not about you; it’s all about them and their feelings. And, of course, there are also those who simply don’t know what to do or say, so they just disappear without a word.
Beyond your relationships, you might also notice that you want to change other facets of your life. For example, you may find it difficult to concentrate at work, or you may no longer feel fulfilled by your job.
Here are some things you might want to consider:
1. When it comes to your career, you may decide you want to do something more meaningful. For example, you may want to make it your life’s purpose to support the disease (and work towards a cure) from which your spouse died.
2. You may want to further involve yourself with certain hobbies and make it a career. On the other hand, things in which you once found joy may no longer interest you or you may not have patience for them.
3. You may want to support a cause of your late partner’s in order to carry on his/her legacy.
4. If you neglected your health while caring for a late partner, you may want to start to focus on your physicality. Pushing your limits, you may contemplate participating in feats you never thought possible – for example, running a marathon, rock climbing or bicycle racing. Due to the mind/body wellness connection, the building of your physical muscles will help to strengthen your emotional muscles too.
Here’s the bottom line – grieving is hard, and the inevitable changes that come packaged with your initial loss make it even harder to bear.
Keep in mind that change is not a dirty word! It stretches you and makes you more awake to life because you’re now paying close attention to what is happening in front of you. These changes will occur in different ways. Some may be deliberate, some unintentional, some slow to happen and others overnight, some undesirable, and some exciting and yearned for. All of them together will help you to gain clarity on the “new you.”
Unfortunately, you were not given a choice to take this journey. Your power lies in how well you’re able to embrace it, which will allow you to reap all the benefits available to you. As with every endeavor you undertake, your success will be based on your attitude and perspective.
I love what Richard Bach wrote: “What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.” How will you choose to look at your world – as a caterpillar or a butterfly?
coping with grief, coping with loss, coping with loss of a spouse, loss of friends after death of spouse, redefining yourself after loss
All so true, Ellen. I found all these things–shift in career, shifting friendships, changes in what I chose to do on my own and what pleased me. I learned how to enjoy solitude, too, after 42 years of being partnered. It all took time. Being in Nature helped me more than anything. When I went outside, I felt myself part of the natural cycle of life with its renewal, constant change, and death. I also needed private therapeutic support and eventually bereavement groups with others who had lost partners and spouses. Thank you for this inspiring helpful article.
Thank you so much. Husband died may 2012 heart attack the October, lost our home on Valentines day 1013, 30 December in new accommodation by myself. More messed up days that I can think of. I feel stuck. I start again from thee beginning. Knowing NOTHING. I am here creeping and aim to stand in my future.
I feel like I’m in a foreign land where I don’t speak the language, and can’t read the signs
I lost my wife of 51 years January 2020 to ovarian cancer. I lived in denial for four years then my world turned upsidedown, grieving and wondering why took over. Now I am fighting to maintain my own self confidence. Alan Alda wrote, “Adapt, adjust and revise.” But your catapiller butterfly quote helped me too. Next, I am going to go sailing again after many years. Thanks for your website.
I have lost my wife to pancreatic cancer, i was sole caregiver, I wouldn’t change that for the world but i am
Not able to for any new relationships, i just ended an attempt at one and failed miserably, the depression is one thing but the anxiety keeps me running away,
I dont expect a response to this, i just needed to say it