Loss of a partner is one of the most difficult changes we face in life, regardless of our age. As older women, we face special challenges around these losses. We can lose a partner due to a wide range of circumstances and for a variety of reasons. As we get older, illness leading to death is one of the most frequent causes of loss, but divorce in later life also sometimes leads to loss of a partner. When a partner develops dementia or has an injury that affects their brain or personality, another type of loss happens, one in which the body of your partner remains alive, but they are no longer really there as the partner you once knew. This can be a particularly drawn out and excruciating kind of loss.
Whether you are losing a relationship of several decades or a relationship that has lasted a much shorter period of time, some elements of loss are universal. Loss of a partner, under whatever circumstances, can lead to a crisis in one’s sense of identity, a feeling of groundlessness and an altered sense of one’s future. It is natural to go through a period of extreme grief and sadness and often a lengthy period of feeling lost and confused. Our sense of what is meaningful in life may be deeply shaken and need to be fashioned anew.
Coping with the loss of a partner will take different forms for different women, but there are some coping strategies that work well for many women. First, it is important not to underestimate the intensity of feelings of grief and loss and to try and make space for allowing and working through these feelings for a period of time. Having a strong support system and participating in groups for people who are experiencing similar losses can be very helpful at this time. Next, it is important to gently push oneself to let go of the past and move back into active engagement with life. This may or may not happen naturally for a given woman, but moving forward is very important to reclaiming and reshaping your life in the wake of a loss. Let’s discuss these types of losses and ways to successfully move into a new life without our partner.
- What is the most significant partner loss you have experienced? (or losses, if you have lost more than one partner) How recent or long ago was this loss for you?
- Talk briefly about your experience of grieving. What was hardest for you? What helped you the most during this period?
- Have you succeeded (or are you succeeding) in reimagining and re-embracing your life?
- If you are religious or spiritual, did your loss precipitate a crisis of faith or meaning? Has your spiritual or religious belief system helped you move through your loss? Please keep your sharing brief. This is a big and very passionate topic for many.
- Are there any rituals, actions or activities that you have completed to honor the memory of your loved one? Are there things you would like to do to honor their life?