Grief and Loss: Death of a Partner

Posted by on Mar 26, 2012 in Grief and Loss | 0 comments

How Some Couples Dealt with the Loss of a Partner

The following three examples illustrate some of the unique challenges faced by people who lose partners when they are young.


When Grant died, Julia was devastated to have lost her best friend and partner. She felt tremendous sorrow about all the life experiences that he would miss out on. As she began to regain a foothold in the world she felt more and more out of sync with her friends and colleagues. They had begun buying condos and houses while Grant battled lung cancer. As Julia struggled with sadness and despair, they began having children. When she began to be interested in socializing, she thought of meeting for drinks and listening to music, while her friends’ interests had moved more in the direction of playgroups and children’s concerts. When they did include her in adult activities, her friends were always interested in pairing her up with an available man.


Gary and Miranda were high school sweethearts. They married young and she supported him while he went to medical school. At the time of his death in a car accident, Gary was a family practice resident. He and Miranda had been trying to conceive for four months. Although she felt intense sadness, she was used to being alone because of the demands of medical school on Gary. She began dating within a matter of months, but found that she was in a different place than her dates. Her interest was in having children. She had little interest in dating or prolonged exploration. She knew what she wanted. She was ready. But she couldn’t do it alone and none of the men she met were interested in moving quickly into marriage and parenthood.


When Maureen died of ovarian cancer at age 28, Frank found himself the sole parent of 2 children, ages 4 and 6. After the initial grief passed, his most meaningful time was spent immersed in being with his children. He barely got by, doing the minimum at work. In the shrinking amount of time he spent with his buddies, he had difficulty relating to their concerns about career achievement or their interest in sports.

Losing a partner when you are young has at least three added complications. It can:

  • jar you out of phase with your peers
  • put you in the position of facing a long life without your partner
  • with the passing of time, make it difficult for you to know who the lost partner might have become.

In “Moonlight Shadow” by Banana Yoshimototo, a young woman says good-bye to her first love who has died:

“I’ll never be able to be here again. As the minutes slide by, I move on. The flow of time is something I cannot stop. I haven’t a choice. I go… I earnestly pray that a trace of my girl-child self will always be with you.”

See our items with Questions and Solutions for Grief and Loss in the Circle of Life.

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Living with the Death of a Partner

Posted by on Mar 26, 2012 in Grief and Loss | 0 comments

In our society, we are well-practiced at supporting people through the first days following a death. Support may include attending funeral rituals, the increased presence of family and friends, and community empathy; (neighbors may make meals, do yard work and care for children).

Until people experience the death of a partner, they may not realize that the grief can last many years. Although people may feel better and go about daily life, they may revisit strong feelings of grief. In the midst of what may be the most intense emotional experience of a lifetime, grieving partners may also face:

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

Survivors may experience a sudden lack of identity socially because they are not included in a world made up of couples. With the earning power of one instead of two, they may have to forfeit their lifestyle. They also may discover that the role of being a partner greatly contributed to their sense of identity. The loss not only may include the partner and the relationship, but also may include their sense of self. Plans and dreams made as a couple may no longer fit or be possible, so survivors may also lose their future plans. Juggling these losses at the same time that they must take on roles and duties that had been handled by their partner is a Herculean task. Adjusting to life after losing a partner commonly produces:

  • feelings of sadness, despair, emptiness, anger and guilt (check out our Depression topic within Problems)
  • restlessness and sleep problems
  • a sense of inadequacy and concerns about health and well-being.

The everyday world usually stops for survivors at the time of death of their partner; however, long before they are ready to resume their responsibilities and schedules, surviving partners with children at home or with work commitments experience pressure to get on (info for grief at Mid-Life…) with things. Surviving partners who are in retirement (…and also for Later Life) may experience the emptiness of unstructured days. More disturbing for many than the push to resume activities is an emotional push to let go, to move on, and to re-partner.

For those people who have lost a partner after a lengthy illness, much of the grief may occur during the illness. They may experience relief for the end of suffering or they may expect to feel relief but find themselves unexpectedly feeling an enormous loss.

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Facing the death of a partner

Posted by on Mar 26, 2012 in Grief and Loss | 0 comments

Facing a partner’s death is one problem most of us would prefer not to have to understand. We spend our lives in search of a soul mate with whom to build a life. We share our dreams, experience and possessions, shaping an identity as a couple and as a family. Many of us vow, “Til death do us part,” but how many of us have any inkling of what that parting may mean?

More than 900,000 Americans a year face the death of a spouse. These numbers do not include those who lose partners they have not legally wed, but who may be just as central in their lives.

The experience of losing a partner is not easily defined. It impacts people differently at different times in their lives. Factors that affect how a person reacts to a partner’s death include whether:

  • the death is expected;
  • the surviving partner is in a phase of life in which many of his peers also face the death of a partner;
  • whether the relationship is satisfying and enriching or unsatisfying and prone to conflict.These books have been recommended by people in therapy facing a partner’s death:
    • A Grief Observed, by C. S. Lewis
    • Letting Go, by Melanie Beatty
    • When a Lifemate Dies: Stories of Love, Loss, and Healing, edited by S. Heinleins, G. Brumett, and J. Tibbals
  • Chicago’s Transitions Bookstore reports that the following books have been especially helpful to their readers facing a partner’s death:
    • The Grief Recovery Handbook: The Action Program for Moving Beyond Death, Divorce, and Other Losses, by John W. James and Russell Friedman
    • How to Survive the Loss of a Love, by Melba Colgrove, Harold Bloomfield, and Peter McWilliams
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Solutions (do’s and don’ts)

Posted by on Mar 26, 2012 in Trauma and Abuse | 0 comments

Ten Do’s

  • Examine your attitudes about body shape, dieting and fat prejudice. You may have unknowingly internalized ideas which exacerbate a desire for thinness.
  • Nourish yourself and your relationships with those you care about.
  • Challenge old stories about who you are as a person, daughter, friend, worker etc. that don’t fit with who you believe you are and where your life is going.
  • Be sure that images of successful females are included in school curriculum and other sources – without such images, girls are left with predominant media definitions of thinness as a primary means of success for females.
  • Be aware that there are many societal pressures which support the notion that females and, to a lesser degree males, are valued more for how they look above any other quality.
  • Beware of unrealistic standards which are impossible to achieve.
  • Be aware that perfection is an unachievable goal and will always leave you feeling less than.
  • Know that dieting can appear as if it is a good way to “get in control” of one’s life but dieting is never, ever successful and can set the stage for an eating disorder.
  • Make a commitment to educating boys about the various forms of violence against women, including weightism, and their responsibilities for preventing it.
  • Examine the ways in which your beliefs, attitudes and behaviors about your body and the bodies of others have been shaped by the forces of weightism and sexism.

Ten Don’ts

  • Don’t let exercise becoming “torturcize”
  • Don’t let the ways of dieting and regimented exercise can sneak into your life.
  • Don’t put your child on a diet or exercise program.
  • Don’t let your child’s school, your home, cottage, office become sites for promoting items (posters, books, contests) that endorse the cultural ideal of thinness.
  • Don’t allow discussions regarding food, calories, fatness, shape be dominant in your conversations.
  • Don’t get into thinking about food as “good” or “bad”. Food has no moral value – people are neither good nor bad based on their food choices
  • Don’t let numbers rule your life – stop counting and measuring calories, fat grams, weight, and stop worrying about your dress, pant size, and breast size, and stop counting how many sit ups/push ups and miles you have walked.
  • Don’t let trauma and bulimia isolate you.
  • Don’t negatively compare yourself.
  • Don’t believe you are trauma and bulimia’s special subject – eating disorders treat everyone with the same brutality.
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Fresh Perspectives on Trauma and Abuse

Posted by on Mar 26, 2012 in Trauma and Abuse | 0 comments

In the battle against trauma, people, the community and societies institutions, are either trauma supporting or fighting against trauma – there is no middle ground.

To treat trauma as a problem merely about food, to believe in a genetic basis of behavior, to simply locate the problem as a pathology of the individual, or to treat the problem only through pharmaceuticals is extremely pro-anorexic. These treatment strategies help to maintain the problem by denying the scope of the problem.

Pro-Anorexic ideas would have us believe that trauma exists in a vacuum – that it just is, that it is a freak of nature, that it is merely a case of bad genes or being a spoiled little rich girl.

To take up a stance against the problem – to be anti-anorexic – is to realize that there is a definite and necessary place for medicine in the treatment of trauma. It is also important to realize that there are a multitude of social factors living at the very heart of the problem.

  • What if we began to imagine the problem of trauma as a cultural by-product, a dysfunctional western theme, a living reproduction of the social order?
  • What if we were to begin to realize that each of us, in our own way, support and maintain the ideas of trauma.
  • What if we began to locate this problem within a persuasive set of rules for living as dictated by a very persuasive society of rules for living?
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Questions for Couples When There Has Been Trauma and Abuse

Posted by on Mar 26, 2012 in Trauma and Abuse | 0 comments

“I am your partner, not your parent.”

Many couples who are caught in the grip trauma reenactment find themselves acting more like parent and child. The partner may feel like the parent of the traumatized woman who has been rendered helpless as a child.

Therapeutically, it is important to involve both people, but first they have to change the balance in the relationship, so that the partner is treated as a partner, not as a parent.

Couples (see Questions for Trauma and Abuse) must find ways to do more physical activities together. Although sex is an obvious couple activity, it may be the hardest place to begin a safe, satisfying non-verbal way to connect, especially if the woman has suffered earlier physical violations. Something as easy as walking together may be a beginning, or going to a peaceful place outdoors, looking at nature in silence.

Talking is often not the most helpful healing for many women who self-harm, because their traumas of the past have generally taken place at the physical level.

Questions for couples:

  • Do either of you believe that the woman’s self-harm/addictions could be connected to her childhood trauma?
  • Is it possible to make the connection between the self-harm and the early trauma, but still believe that she is capable of being in charge of her self-harming behaviors/addictions – instead of a slave to them?
  • Do you both believe that the woman, until now, has found the best way she can to show to tell the story of her childhood abuse by harming herself?
  • Could you imagine what life would be like if you could unite against this trauma (vs. her drinking, or other abusive behavior)?
  • Who else could help you in this battle?
  • What else holds you together as a couple besides your mutual enslavement to past abuses?
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