We are social beings, hard wired to be in relation with others.  So the death of a partner, someone who has tracked alongside you for a time in life, can leave a depth of ‘aloneness’ like no other.   In the initial months following a death, when friends and family have resumed their routines and living, the absence of your person may hit; feelings of ‘loneliness’, ‘being alone’, ‘empty’ and the harsh awareness of a future without your person in the way you have always known your person to be.  Even where you are surrounded by good family and friends, at the end of the day, when you return to home or visitors leave, still you can be left feeling alone.  Those with children may miss and long for adult conversation, support with family decisions and having ‘that person’ who has your back in a way which is a different to the relationship with family and friends.  As time continues to move you in one direction, we can miss and yearn for companionship, physical touch and intimacy.  This is to be human, and yet can cause psychological and emotional confusion, guilt, shame and add another layer of grief to the feeling of missing.

At some point along the way of adjusting to life without your partner, it is very common and healthy to feel a want/need or have thoughts about the ‘company’ of another.  Many bereaved spouses/partners have shared that they don’t want a commitment in the form of marriage or even to reside in the same residence, but instead would like to meet someone who’s presence feels safe (important when we feel vulnerable holding our continued love and grief for our partner who died) to meet for a meal, travel, movies etc, share in conversations, confide in, bounce around decisions to be made; generally a support if ever either person should need it and not wish to involve family or friends.

It is one thing to recognise that you would like the companionship of another, yet it’s often more complex to understand how to have this when you still feel such a deep love and loss of your partner.  We can feel a sense of disloyalty to our person who died; that somehow we are acting deceitfully, breaking our commitment or vows shared, concerned about how children or family/friends might judge or act knowing we are meeting with another person.  Navigating the reaction of others can be very difficult.  In most cases, family and friends will want to see you happy and will understand that it is only reasonable for you to have companionship again in your life.  And yet it too can be a big adjustment for them to observe you in the company of a new someone.  Open and respectful conversations that enable all to be heard in how this adjustment interacts with their grief, can elicit support rather than loss of more relationship. There is no need for hierarchy in grief whereby it is perceived that one persons grief is harder or hurts more than another.  Its not helpful.  Albeit different, each person is grieving, feeling the pain and impact of loss, coping and adjusting.

Some bereaved people will choose to never re-companion which is a choice and absolutely fine.  For those who enjoy sharing life experiences with a partner and enjoy the experience of affection and intimacy, it is equally fine.  Listen to your readiness for this and don’t be frightened of the concept and the feelings it might bring.  Be careful not to judge yourself.  The real work is in giving yourself permission to open your heart to another, knowing that your heart is big enough to love more than one person.  To love another or to enjoy the companionship of another, in no way erodes or minimises what you previously shared with another human being, deceased or still living.   There are many ways you can continue to feel a connection with your partner who died, whilst continuing to live the remainder of your days as best and happy as you can.  There is nothing to serve from adding suffering (denying yourself human connection and intimacy) to the pain of what you have already endured, if indeed this is what you would like in your life now.

Three bereaved partners share their reflections of losing a wife/partner:

A Reflection from Keith

Last night I met myself at some lonely roadhouse out on the Plain.  In the darkness, signs were made dance by the neon. Half-illuminated, the faded maps on the wall showed where I wanted to be.  It had been too long.  A well worn map leant out of my back pocket, providing no-one with a glimpse of where I had just come from.  He was leaning against the faded white wall, staring down at the cracked concrete, where moths jerked and turned like fish out of water.  He had the rest of a sad rollie smouldering weakly in his lips. “You smoking again?”, I asked.  “Nope”, he said without looking up, “Just wasn’t sure about seeing you”.  I felt a slight confusion. This had been in the making for a long time. What did he expect? The end of the rollie glowed softly as he dragged on it.

Sometimes dawn comes gently, linearly, but then, like an ice sheet cracking, it moves in an instant – and you can miss the change.  He lifted his head. His eyes studied my face adjusting to the new weak light.  I watched him think, pause as if a thought was on the horizon, like the prospect of rain. But silence.  Lord knows it had been years of dry. The broken weather, tumultuous seasons, changing patterns and disappointment, solitude and black loneliness, yearnings for the seasons of old, dogged resolve.  The dawn broke silver, making the lines on his face show like canyons, where every walk was an uninvited adventure.  “You got the map?”, he asked without judgement.  “Yeah”, I replied, feeling a twinge of – who knows what, “How was the trip over?”. His face softened. “It’s gonna be OK”, he said.

I drew breath, then exhaled long and slow. “How do you know that?”.  He turned and stared long into the Plains. “There is no plan you know”, he said.  The Plain was still. Nothing moved, it was like it had held its breath. Earth paused in rotation, waiting.  “The trip here was rough. Somedays I reckoned I knew what I was doing. Somedays I felt the universe was like a hot wind to my face, choking my every breath, forcing my eyes shut, so I couldn’t see the way. Somedays I wanted to turn back, but the road was gone – I can’t explain that, I can’t explain how those days I got lost”.  “I was expecting you to have more of your stuff with you”, I said.  His mouth set, he paused. “In the end, I kinda left a lot of things behind on the way. I think I was hanging onto things I didn’t need to hang on to. Weird isn’t it. I dunno”.  I felt mildy unsettled and a bit nervous now. What does he mean, things he didn’t need? What the hell does that mean? Wasn’t he meant to hand over a bunch of things to me?  I was quiet, let him shift, and watched him think.  “Mate, I’m only gonna give you the important stuff”, he said, “you’ve known me for long enough, you know that’s how it’s gonna be”.  “So I don’t get a say in that?”, I said with a wry smile.  “Nope”, he said, smiling for the first time, “and there’s no point trying to work out the why of what happened. I’ve tried and any more time you spend in circles on that is just a waste of energy that you could be putting into new things mate. She wanted that for you”.  I winced. After all this time, it still brought an involuntary flood of emotion. “You’re not losing anything mate”, he said gently, “you’re gaining something”.  “Right, OK”, I said, “so you get to do all the guru crap and I just have to roll with it? How does that work!”.  The sunlight had come in, slanted across the pavement. It mirrored in the glass storefront and bathed his car in a kind of soft strong gold radiance. Like a prize found under a plain chocolate bar wrapper. I liked his car. It was old, like me. It had dents and marks, like it had been used. Like me. He loved it, it was a projection of who he was, much more than a utilitarian or commodity object. He was like that.  His brow furrowed as he said, “I’ve wrangled with the thing mate. I’ve chewed it left, right, inside and outside, I’ve reasoned with it, I’ve screamed it into the black night sky, but I’ve woken the next morning and through the faded bruises and feelings, it’s still there. It’s still there, but I’m OK with that now”.  “It doesn’t mean that I’ve given up, or forgotten. To hell with that. Would you ever forget your name? Who you are? What you stand for? No, hell no. It’s just part of you. You don’t think it, it’s just in you”.  He paused. “Hold it mate, just like you would another sheet for the winds that the ocean will throw at you, it’s not an anchor”.  “Easy for you to say”, I said, “you get to turn around and head back, I don’t have a plan, I just have a tank-full and a bloody strong need to do something, plan something, be heading somewhere”.  “There doesn’t need to be a plan!”, he said loudly, his hands held out, almost pleading, “swing your legs out of bed in the morning and look at what you have, pause to see things, stick your damn feet in the natural world! You’ve got this you know, you made it here. I damn well made it here! You know that, yeah?”. I felt hit. “I don’t mate”, I faltered, “I didn’t…but…you do”.  The slightest of breeze lifted, softly arriving to clear the stale air around the roadhouse, flowing with good clean fuel for lungs weary from a journey. I noticed it, and in the quiet, breathed deeply.  He was holding the stub of the dead rollie between his thumb and forefinger, inspecting it like it owed him an answer.

“So that’s it”, he said, “that’s what I’ve brought you”.  I held out my hand to him, offering the map from my back pocket, creased, torn, but still clear to read.  “Take it”, I said, “I won’t be needing it”.  He met my eyes, and in one short moment, it became clear.  “It’s a wide-open road mate”, he said, “honestly, just savour the trip”.  “And”, he said, turning on his heel, dust rising from his boots, “find someone to ride with you”.

A Reflection from Sean – A Journey from Deep Grief

After 30 years together I lost my wife, Anna, to a rare form of cancer.  What followed was three years of pain, misery, guilt and sadness.  Notwithstanding the love of family and friends, alongside professional support, I felt very much alone.  Always alone.  And stuck with a grief that was unrelenting.  Always with me.  Losing myself in my work was a welcome distraction.  Looking back I don’t know how I did it – Royal Commission, media, election campaign, leading a business, etc. But somehow I did.   Throughout this time I could not accept my loss.  I was angry and frustrated with my life (Is this it?….This is it…..This is shit!).  From time to time others would comment that you need to ‘move on’…whereas I was thinking they just need to fuck off!  You can’t just ‘move on’ when over half your life has been spent in the company of another.  When your lives are an interwoven journey of reciprocated care and service and love. The mere thought of ‘moving on’ (whatever that actually means) was disrespectful, guilt laden, and felt like a betrayal of the person I still deeply loved.

As time moved forward the reality of my situation was stark.  My life would always be like this.  I will not be happy again.  I will be alone.  And I am ok with this.  Surrender.   From this position of benign acceptance of my circumstances, over time, I found comfort in reflecting with gratitude on my life with Anna.  Rather than being overwhelmed with feelings of sadness. Feelings of deep gratitude for the life and love we shared.  The triumphs and tragedies.  Our beautiful daughter.  And the support and lessons Anna provided that enabled me to be a good/better husband and father.  How blessed am I to have shared 30 years of true love with such a wonderful, beautiful woman.

On reflection, this awakening was really me coming to terms with my loss.  Releasing the painful grief and replacing it with the comforting love that was always there for my wife.  Anna only ever wanted three simple things for everyone – to be happy, to be healthy, and to feel loved.  Through the acceptance of my loss I was now open to the possibility of these three things.  I feel safe in the knowledge that Anna will always be in my heart.  And, that there is room in my heart alongside Anna for others.   In reality I now know that I can be happy again.  I don’t have to be alone.  And I am ok with this.

A Reflection from Miles

I lost my partner 3.5 years ago to cancer. Before she passed, she made it very clear that she wanted me to find another partner someday and how she wanted our daughter to have a “mother figure” in her life. My late partner always was the most selfless person I will ever know and this act of pure selflessness simply epitomises her resilience and bravery in the most horrific of times.  By receiving her blessing this enabled me to begin dating again 1.5 years ago. It was incredibly hard and scary to begin dating again after 14 years, but at least the guilty feelings for wanting to meet other women was lessened. I really would love to honour Francesca’s wishes and find another long term partner, for the benefit of both myself and my daughter. I found it refreshing and exciting dating again, but also as everyone says, the apps are annoying and very time consuming. I have been involved in two relationships since losing my late partner and both lasted about 7-8 months. I really enjoyed being in the company of women and I had a lot of fun.  I tried not to compare them to Francesca and was successful most of the time in not doing this.  The biggest challenge I have found with forming a new relationship is the fact that I am bound to my late partners family, because of my daughter. I am still very close with them and they will always be a part of our lives. The struggle is how to balance the needs of a new partner who needs to feel included in our lives, whilst respecting the wishes of my late partners family, who although support my decision to form a new relationship, still cannot bring themselves to meeting a new partner of mine. I fear they will never be able to fully accept a new partner in my life.  Recently I spent time back home in the UK with my family and am now thinking the simplest way for me to move on with my life would be to be around my family full time, where I have the support and acceptance of a new partner in my life……………  It has been really really hard. I have found resilience in myself (and in my daughter) that I never thought I could have, or would need. But resilience hasn’t made this journey any easier for me. It has only allowed me to get through it, one day at a time, somehow. I think some of the most valuable lessons I have learnt from grief, is that firstly, grieving the loss of a loved one is the hardest thing that anyone and everyone will experience at some stage in life. Secondly, the pain of grief does fade with time. It will always be with me deep in my heart for the rest of my days, but when the intensity of the pain began to ease and I began to find my way again, I felt I had the strength and resilience to take on anything life throws at me… I still do.  I wish you all the best on your journey.