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Healing after loss

by Dr. Natalie Moore

Nights are the hardest. During the day I can keep busy: work, chores, errands, whatever. But when I walk through the door in the evening and she’s not there? Bam! It hits me all over again. The empty house. No one to say, “Hello. How was your day?”

The end of a relationship, whether through bereavement or divorce, can be devastating. It is a powerful loss that is often described as losing the other half of one ‘s self. In addition to the glaring absence of small daily rituals created by two people who once shared an intimate connection, many individuals face a series of interconnected losses.

A loss of identity

Who am I now that I’m no longer a wife? Where do I fit? How will my social roles change?

The loss of connection. The absence of companionship, and of the love, acceptance and support that you had come to rely on. The loss of the person who best knew your experiences, your preferences and your vulnerabilities, and with whom you shared inside jokes.

The loss of stability. Perhaps you are facing financial upheaval as well as taking responsibility for tasks that were previously your partner’s domain.

The loss of a planned-for and invested-in future. A shared vision of a desired future that, together, you spent many years working towards. All the years that you spent learning about your partner and his preferences. Fitting the rhythm of your life to hers. Discussing and negotiating and planning and dreaming and building.

The end of important and meaningful bonds, such as those found in relationships with intimate partners, can result in upheavals in every sphere of an individual’s life. This may be the first time that you are without a partner in your adult life. It can be a scary, confusing, anxiety-filled, sad, and lonely time. In the face of overwhelming emotional pain and uncertainty about how to move forward, life can be almost unbearably painful and, like others, you may be tempted to simply withdraw. However, for your healing, it is important to embrace a range of healthy self-care practices, and to do at least one thing to take care of yourself each day.

Identify a support circle.

Choose friends and loved ones who are willing and able to rally around you and to provide nurturance and support. As you allow yourself to lean on others, bear in mind that different people have different strengths. Thus, the friend whose shoulder you cry on may not be the friend who is best at ensuring that you have something to eat, or the friend you count on to get you to your appointments on time. Receive the support that each person is best able to give.

Take care of your spiritual self.

Lean into your faith. Renew that deep connection with teachings; participate in spiritual practices, even if only at home, and reach out for and accept the support of your spiritual community.

Take care of your emotional self.

Acknowledge that each individual’s journey through loss is different. Speak to yourself kindly and gently. Understand that healing takes time and that you are doing the best you can right now. Show compassion to yourself. Give yourself permission to experience all of your emotions, painful and pleasant. Talk to yourself about what you are feeling and why you are feeling it. Know that it’s okay feel a tangle of conflicting emotions simultaneously. You can feel furious at your partner for leaving and still love him. You can be grieving her loss and still feel relieved.

Resist internalising others’ expectations about how you should grieve or about how quickly you should stop grieving. Recognise and receive the types of support that are useful for you, and leave the others behind. Accept that each person finds his or her way through grief, and that your journey may not be like others’ journeys.

Take care of your physical self

Pay attention to your body’s needs for care. Although you may have no desire for to eat, allow your body to have food and drink. Although your own health may be the last thing on your mind, allow your body to have fresh air and movement, perhaps through short walks. Although you might not care about how you look at this time, allow your body to experience good hygiene practices. Allow your body to rest, although sleep may be difficult for you.

Trust the process

If you believe that grieving takes as long as it takes, and if you are able to do small things to take care of yourself even as you grieve, the pain of your loss will gradually lessen. Food will have flavor again, life will have colour again, and you will find joy again.

Grieving well is essential to healing well. Seeking healing is not an indication of your lack of value for your partner and/or the life you created together. Rather, healing is a part of the growth that all living organisms must do in order to survive. If, however, after several months you notice that significant disruption to your basic functioning persists, it would be important to seek professional assistance in order to support you on your journey through grief.

*Dr. Natalie Moore is a Registered Psychologist

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