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If you’re nearing retirement or already there, chances are you’ve experienced the pain of losing friends and loved ones. Retirement years may be free of the hectic schedules of our working years, but the sadness of loss to death also becomes reality.

If you’ve lost your life partner in recent months, you know the pain I’m speaking of. You’ve probably gone through the phases I’ll outline below, or are somewhere on the continuum. Losing a spouse is one of the most devastating losses you’ll ever experience. In those first days, weeks and even months, it may feel like you’ll never be finished grieving.


At first, even if your partner was ill for a time, the reality of the loss cannot be grasped. It doesn’t seem possible. A friend of mine whose husband died had a dream. “It was all a mistake, her husband told her. Let’s go tell our friends that I’m still alive.” So unbelievable is the finality of death that many simply can’t take it in.

After the initial shock of death, the process of coping begins. However some people go into a kind of protective detachment in which they’re capable of making arrangements for the funeral service and of going through the motions of daily life with little or no engagement. This is a kind of shock—a numbness that covers the pain for the time being.

The Grieving Process

Once the services are over and all the rest of your friends and family return to their daily lives, the real business of grieving begins. A variety of emotions can come and go from longing, to regrets, to anger and even shame if you’re sensing that others feel sorry for you. Some people experience fear as they begin to realize the scope of the new life ahead. There can be a sense of guilt that things weren’t perfect in your relationship and you wish you could go back and change behaviors and attitudes. And mostly, there is an overwhelming sadness that settles into your days.

There is no time limit on grieving. This is a time to receive the help and kindnesses of close friends and family members. Children can be a great source of support as they understand the loss and are also experiencing grief. But don’t be surprised when others seem to return to their normal, daily lives while you’re still deep in your sorrow.

Over time you’ll begin to accept and even build a new identity. You’re not less, but your life circumstances are different. You have all the responsibilities on your shoulders now, and you may find you’d like to make some new friends and begin to redesign your days. You may find the strength to dispose of your partner’s possessions and begin to think and plan for your new  life alone.

Many who have experienced the death of a partner find that their emotions run up and down like a roller coaster—they’re doing fine one moment and fall into deep despair another. Often a support group with others going through the same loss is a great place to find solace. The members will understand your story and you may find you can offer support to them rather than staying in a place of need all the time. Take baby steps toward your new reality.

Nothing lasts forever. And while we know we’re mortal, it’s still a shock when a life partner dies. You’re entitled to take your time and rebuild your life in your own time and in your own way. Be good to yourself. Make changes and new choices slowly and with care. Listen to those you trust and respect.

In time healing will begin.

For helpful dialogue and support see:  search grief and loss