Sex & Relationships

Grieving the Loss of a Partner: To Each Her Own

grieving-for-a-partner

We know in a theoretical way that the death of a loved one will bring pain – even when the death is a welcome release.  But when my ex-husband died several months ago I was overwhelmed by the intensity of my emotions.

I’d known that his death would probably be more emotional than I’d anticipated. I was right.

It doesn’t help that his ashes lie underneath a tree within sight of my writing desk or that I live in the home we shared. What triggers moments of sadness for me is more complicated. It’s about connections – our grown sons, the family resemblance in my granddaughter and small things like the dining room table, our first furniture purchase.

Grief is unique to each of our individual situations: divorced companionably, estranged or still married; long lasting love or mere companionship. However we define the relationship, there will be some undeniable connection between our selves and the partner we shared a life with. It was those connections that I grieved.

How Many Stages of Grief?

In her book “On Death and Dying,” Elisabeth Kubler-Ross introduced us to the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Today, experts are questioning the need for five distinct stages. Some of us don’t experience them all. We might not experience anger if we’re grieving over the death of a former partner. And if we’re mourning the loss of someone who died from a terminal illness, there isn’t much acceptance to be done at this stage. The struggle for acceptance came with the initial diagnosis.

Each experience of grief is unique and may bear no resemblance to what tradition dictates. Are we hampered by the societal notion that we have to go through long stages of protracted grieving for a loved one? Will people judge the new widow who seems to have found acceptance without going through anger and denial?

My ex-husband was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in the early ’90s. We always knew the end would come more quickly for him than other, “healthy” individuals. We grieved over the diagnosis – that was our time of anger and bargaining.

On an abstract level we had prepared for the end of life with much discussion and agreement of children, relatives and healthcare providers.  Still, I was unprepared. His death evoked a jumble of emotions for me. I grieved over decisions we’d made, the failed relationship and the death of my expectations for marriage and life. And I grieved for his losses as well. Being by his side in those last days took me back to my earlier days – a time when we cared for each other.

The act of grieving provides us a way to look back and reflect on a shared life. Do you have an experience with the death of a loved one you are willing to talk about?

 

Online Grieving Resources

Click here to read “Coping with Bereavement” from the National Mental Health Association

Click here to go to Grieving.com, an online forum where members of “grief support groups” provide help and comfort for one another.

Click here to go to The Grief Toolbox, which offers a number of resources – including artwork

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

COMMENTS

13 responses to “Grieving the Loss of a Partner: To Each Her Own

    1. Jacqueline, you’re right about all of us grieving differently. I’m still having trouble with acceptance, 5-1/2 years after losing my beloved husband.

      Intellectually, I accept. I’ve been moving my life forward, and joy and laughter are with me again.

      But if you ask me if I feel ready to love again, I’ll tell you that I’m still in love with my husband.

  1. Thank you for this, Walker. Hospice taught me that the stages of grief aren’t linear, they’re cyclical — we cycle in and out of various changes in random order.

    I never experienced the Anger stage — but it was helpful to recognize the others and how I went in and out of them.

  2. Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief were originally meant for the person dying, not the people left behind. They can, though, apply to many overwhelming situations.

    Grief is unique to each individual and each relationship. There is no roadmap, no right or wrong way to make this journey.

    Some people, though – perhaps you, too – find that certain types of grief are not respected. That’s why I’m writing a series of books about grieving the death of a friend.

    If grief is truly the price we pay for love, than all grief is profound and important. No one has the right to judge the depth of our grief.

  3. This article came at just the right time.
    Although my loss is my faithful dog
    Of 14 years, your words brought me
    Solace.
    The idea that grief is not the same process
    for any of us certainly gives me pause when
    judging myself or others.
    I have experienced the death of several
    loved ones in the recent past and know that
    with time healing comes.
    Thank you.

  4. So often we make people feel that they are not normal if they don’t follow the widely recognized model for grief. We accept and are often celebrated when we take an alternate route in other parts of our lives. Grieving seems to be different — there is a traditional right and wrong road to travel and “normal” people follow that “right” route. Thank you for bringing your always insightful perspective into this conversation! Grief is a unique human experience.

    1. Thank you Ruth. You’re so right–we feel constricted by the traditional ways of doing things and often they aren’t the right fit. At the end of the day what’s important is that we feel good about how we honored this person.

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