When a partner dies it is a shattering experience. We may feel that we have lost a part of ourselves and in some cases, after many years of marriage or partnership, the whole identity that we have constructed for our self based on that other person.

Putting the pieces back together will be an individual process and a journey that only you can take, whether or not you have close friends and family to support you. This is because no two people grieve in exactly the same way, your loss is uniquely individual to you and only you can work through your feelings and learn to readjust to life without your partner.

Whilst there is no set order, intensity or timescale for the grieving process, here are some of the feelings you might experience:

Numb - feelings of shock, detachment, disbelief or an inability to accept what has happened. You might feel as though you are on "auto-pilot" doing the day-to-day chores without thinking, feeling or being able to motivate yourself to do anything. These feelings can help you to get through the initial few weeks and attend to practical arrangements, but sometimes it can take months or even years for the reality of a loss to sink in.

Confusion - you may feel disorientated or unable to understand how the world can carry on as normal around you when your world has been shattered.

Anger - with the person who has died for leaving you, with God or nature for letting this happen, with others or yourself for not doing more to prevent the death, with family and friends for not understanding exactly how you feel. Anger is a common feeling and often involves looking to blame others when in reality there is little that could have been done.

Fear - especially if you feel that you relied on your partner, the fear of being alone and single, uncertainty about the future, fear of your own death or that someone close will die and fear of forming new relationships.

Longing - or pining for what has been lost. You might hear familiar voices and imagine sights, sounds and smells. Some people describe feeling a presence when someone has died, which can be comforting for some and distressing for others.

Let-down - over future plans and promises.

Despair - feeling lonely, sad, depressed, unable to see a future or anything positive. This could be a general feeling or something that gets you down on particular days.

Guilt - for things you have said and regret saying or things you did not have a chance to say, or not saying goodbye properly. You might feel that you should have done more to save them or simply feel guilty for being alive and surviving.

Relief - when someone has been in pain for a long time or you have been caring for a number of years you might feel relief that they are no longer suffering and in pain.

Physical Feelings - sickness, tightness in the chest, an empty or longing feeling in the stomach, faintness or dizziness, change in appetite, hot and cold sweats, breathlessness, exhaustion and physical illness due to being run down.

Dreams - you may find that you have vivid dreams or nightmares and disturbed sleep patterns.

Alone - everyone experiences the loss of someone differently and even if you share your grief with others nobody will feel or express their feelings in exactly the same way. You might feel that there is no-one to talk to especially if you feel that you have lost your soul mate and the person you would normally talk to.

You may experience some of these feelings or a whole range of others not mentioned here, there is no set way to feel. It is important that you work through the grieving process rather than bottling your feelings up. Working through the grieving process does not mean forgetting or loosing these feelings altogether, it does mean being able to cope with your feelings and finding a place in your life for your pain and memories.

Many people find that counselling helps them to work through the grieving process as it is often easier to open up to someone who is not close to us personally. There are counsellors who are specially trained to deal with bereavement and loss, click here for more information. Remember that your family and friends may be there for you but with the best will in the world they cannot fully understand what you are going through.


Personal Experiences

Here are personal stories from other people who have lost some close:

Losing a loved one, by Louise 

I had always heard about death, saw the tears, saw the pain, I never really put myself in there shoes never really understood the grieving process and to be brutally honest, never thought about it much because I never imagined anyone I knew would die, until 2 years ago when my life would change forever .

My Nan was 63 years old, I used to visit her every Saturday night it was the highlight of my week, the family getting together. Her weight had been yo-yoing for some time, its only when I look back at the photos that its noticeable now, however she noticed and was back and fourth from the doctors, I remember she used to talk about her thyroid, I never understood much about it and I was selfish because as long as I knew it wasn't serious I brushed it aside. It was only when she started to have problems swallowing her food I took notice of the situation, however the doctors said it was her thyroid, even though all the anti- biotics she took didn't make her situation better, in fact it made her worse.

In March 2004 she was sent to hospital for a barium meal and the results came back normal, she was happy, relieved. By August her swallowing got worse she couldn't eat at all, so enough was enough mum took her to hospital. On the 6TH September our lives changed, Nan had Cancer and it was terminal, I remember it so clear the whole family sitting outside the hospital crying on her lap, it wasn't real, not my nanna, not us, not my family. This was it now Nan was given a death penalty and the family was torn apart, her three children, her eight grandchildren her youngest grandchild being just a month old. We had to be strong, for her sake, she went on chemo therapy she had her ups and downs but Nan was always so strong she got on with her life, lived for her family and her Bingo. She went to Edinburgh and then we all enjoyed a family holiday to her native Malta and she continued her life as normal, we were all torn apart when we were at her side and when we weren't. Though I knew what would happen in the end, it was always impossible to imagine, to look at her you wouldn't think she had cancer in her Oesophagus, liver and lymph nodes. 

Then, on Easter weekend 2007 I went to visit her, it has always been tradition to go to my nans on good Friday where she would prepare a meat free lunch for us being catholic Christians, and for the first time in 19 years of life I didn't go as I had an extremely bad virus, however I went on Saturday instead. Nan was fine she didn't seem ill or different in anyway she was the same as any other weekend, she cooked for me, we had a chat and on the way out she gave me some money for me and my sister, I hugged her and she started to cry I told her not to be silly and told her I loved her.

By Monday she had suddenly started to vomit, she must of caught the virus that had been going around the family, she was taken to hospital where she developed what appeared to be panic attacks or so the doctors said, I went to visit her and told her that when she was better I would take her to bingo. She was in for two weeks and they insisted that her 'panic attacks' would seize once she was home, so that's what they did, sent her home. At home she couldn't move she slept with her head in her hands and couldn't lie down, she couldn't walk because she felt sick and breathless, she didn't look like my Nan she couldn't even talk because her breathlessness. On the Sunday I went to visit her she was extremely tired, you would be to, sleeping in an upright position all week. I never spoke to her that day I left her to rest, I'll always remember my 18month old cousin going into the living room that day, he stood and just looked at her she had her head in her hands I picked him up and said "leave nanna to rest yeah" and as I took him away he shouted "bye nanna" and she looked up and said "bye boy" I will never forgive myself for not saying anything to her at that time and as we left I was peering through the glass in the living room door and I started to cry, she was suffering and when she was first diagnosed she said "don't let me suffer" but she was now she was suffering and all day I cried for her, when I got home I saw two magpies outside the front door, at midnight the phone rang. Nan had died after 40 minutes of severe stomach pain.

Life had changed forever, we had never lost anyone so close in the family, I spoke at her funeral of the guilt I felt at not talking to her that day, I will never forgive myself for that, 5 months on the pain of her death has not getting any easier, as much as people say it I don't believe it does at all in fact it gets harder every waking day, I cry on the bus, I cry in the car, at work and at home, the memories are painful the tears the laughter its so hard and no matter how much I talk I don't feel any better, when I see my two young cousins of  5 and 2 I want to cry I want her to see them grow to witness there first day of big school to hear what the things that they come out with and to see them smile and as much as that I wish she would be at my wedding and see her great grandchildren when they come. It does not matter how much you know its going to happen, nothing can ever prepare you for the pain when there gone, I wish I could hug her one last time tell her I love her, but I cant. I don't want to believe she is heaven and I don't want to believe that its just like sleeping and does not know anything I don't know what to believe anything all I know is that I wont ever see her again and it pains me so much, I don't know how anyone gets over death, I just wish we could turn back the clock and she would be fine. I miss her so much.

Shirley and her husband were in their fifties when Mike was diagnosed with terminal cancer. They had two grown up children and two grandchildren at the time.

When Mike died I remember that the first feeling was of numbness and detachment. The arrangements for the funeral took me through the first couple of weeks and nothing seemed real.

Then it hit me, my life had changed forever - nothing was the same. I spent a lot of time crying and was unable to sleep spending most nights sitting at the window in the spare room and watching the wildlife, birds, foxes, spiders spinning their web in the corner.anything but sleep alone in an empty bed where Mike should have been beside me.

The hospice offered me counselling but my friends said I would not need it as I could talk to them. I know they meant well but however many friends you have around you talking to them is not the answer. I found it much easier to talk to a stranger and a trained professional that could help me work through my anger, particularly towards Mike for leaving me. I was also blaming myself for not taking better care of him. How could the cancer have developed so far without either of us picking it up? If only I done this or that - maybe he would still be here?

I came to a point where I was able to accept that Mike had moved on and was at peace although feeling that he was still with me in some way. I am not a particularly religious person but call it a presence, spirit or whatever you will I am convinced that he comes back regularly to check on me and I feel that I can still talk to him when I have a problem or want to share something special. I am sure he listens somehow.

My children were a huge source of comfort to me. They made me feel that I had a purpose and a reason to go on. I went to a reflexologist to help me relax. She was also a counsellor and I visited once a month for a year. Grief is a physical as well as emotional pain and I felt it across my chest. As a trained counsellor she was helpful to talk to. I visited her for almost a year until the chest pain had gone.

Everyday was hard. I constantly cooked too much food and found myself doing things for the two of us or things that Mike would have done. We were married for almost forty years and even now I forget occasionally that he is not here and I am no longer cooking, shopping and making plans for the two of us.

I was fortunate to have had a few weeks to talk with Mike and to say goodbye. I know that many people are cheated of this and for this I am very grateful. One thing he made me promise him was that I would live my life to the full. He said that I had to live retirement for the two of us and make sure I did everything he wanted us to do together. It's very easy to make such promises at the time and even to mean them, but making myself live out this promise was extremely hard at the beginning.

Some of my friends were awkward and I didn't get invited to dinner parties and was excluded by many of the couples we used to socialise with. There was this general perception that I was out to poach a husband which was actually the last thing on my mind. I soon found out who my genuine friends were as the invitations did come in from those who were single or more secure in their relationships.

I accepted all invitations to theatres, parties. anything to get out of the house, but as soon as I got there I wanted to go home. It took many months and continual trips out to begin to feel comfortable in the presence of others and adjust to being a person in my own right - not simply part of a couple.

Everyone says that it is easier after the first year. The first year is the hardest but it took me about four years before I felt that my life was moving on. This is probably because he was my one love and we had been together for so long. I still feel that part of me is missing. The most important factor in coming to terms with my loss was talking through my feelings about Mike and this needed to be outside of the home - with strangers and not those who had been close to the two of us. It was also to force myself to get out - however difficult - as I had to accept that life continues and locking myself away from the world would not have been Mike's wish or bought him back.

I am not looking for another relationship and am now happy, although my life bears no resemblance to the life I had with Mike. It is different but nonetheless fulfilled. I contacted friends who lived away and some of whom were separated or bereaved and we now go on holiday together to play snooker, cards, darts and have days out. I am leading an active retirement and am equally happy with my own company at home when I can relax with my cats and read.

Please click here to contact us if you have a personal experience that you would like to share with others


Bereavement Links

Age Concern Bereavement Advice
Information and support services for the bereaved including advice on arranging a funeral, grieving, living alone and local support services (pdf download)

Cruse Bereavement Care
Charity dedicated to supporting you through bereavement

NHS advice on coping with bereavement

Mental health charity with support for bereavement

See our Bereavement Links page for more links