The death of a spouse or partner is different than other losses, in the sense that it literally changes every single thing in your world going forward. When your spouse dies, the way you eat changes. The way you watch TV changes. Your friend circle changes or disappears entirely. Your family dynamic/life changes or disappears entirely. Your financial status changes. Your job situation changes. It effects your self-worth. Your self-esteem. Your confidence. Your rhythms. The way you breathe. Your mentality. Your brain function. (Ever heard the term 'widow brain'? If you don't know what that is, count yourself as very lucky.) Your physical body. Your hobbies and interests. Your sense of security. Your sense of humor. Your sense of womanhood or manhood. EVERY. SINGLE. THING. CHANGES. You are handed a new life that you never asked for and that you don't particularly want. It is the hardest, most gut-wrenching, horrific, life-altering of things to live with. Kelley Lynn
Losing our partner is one of the most shattering losses we can go through. But alongside that are all the secondary losses, many of which are unexpected
One of the first things I was told about being widowed is that we lose our past, our present and our future. That hadn't even occurred to me. I just thought of what I had lost in the 'now', and the grief and pain that was overwhelming. I then started to find out about the extra losses. I was fortunate in that I had the house, that I could manage on my salary, and that my business was mine, not ours. But some people have to leave the house they shared because they can't afford the rent or mortgage alone, or because they weren't married and it goes to their partner's family.
Some widows lose their jobs because they are not able to return to work through grief, or they worked in their partner's business and are unable to run it alone. These issues may also mean that they have to move away from the area, losing their network of friends and/or family, and their feeling of being part of a community. Bereavement can lead to a loss of faith or belief, and this in turn leads to a loss of a community. Some people lose family, and friends too, because they can't cope with grief, or because of rifts over the cause of death or over money.
Losing the role of caregiver can lead to a loss of purpose and feeling that a role is gone. On the flip side, the lost partner may have been the caregiver, leaving the widow both alone and without practical or emotional support.
Tim had a phenomenal memory, and though we were only together around a decade, we had known each other since our early twenties. So I have lost so many memories, so much shared language and all our shared stories. I also lost our shared future. All those things we planned to do together. I chose not to have children. But for many widows, losing a partner loses the cherished dream of children together.
We lose our emotional supporter, our biggest cheerleader when we lose a partner. But for some widows this is made harder by discovering difficult things after their death, which will be forever unresolved.
Dealing with secondary loss is hard, as they often emerge just as we are starting to come to terms with our initial loss and regain our routines. For me, it was a case of going back to my early coping strategies of one breath, one step and one moment at a time, and accepting that I was forever changed by my loss. I also had to understand that these secondary losses were real – just as real as the primary loss. Secondary losses still appear, even four years on. And I catch my breath, and grieve again.
I was widowed at 50 when Tim, who I expected would be my happy-ever-after following a marriage break-up, died suddenly from heart failure linked to his type 2 diabetes. Though we'd known each other since our early 20s, we'd been married less than ten years.