Dear Stavroula

Ask Stavroula: Dealing with the Death of a Partner

One of the most traumatic events in life is the death of a partner. The one who lives on has to manage a complex new situation that can combine dramatic lifestyle change and emotional pain. The situation becomes even more difficult if there are children, especially very young ones.

The prevailing view is that the mourning for the partner and the pain that accompanies it is mitigated over time, as one learns to live with the loss. The time required varies and depends on many factors such as age, manner of death, the needs of the survivor, support from the environment as well as personal perceptions about the issue of death.

But many experts believe that time alone does not cure the pain. Most people who mourn their partner expect to feel better after the first year and as time goes on while in fact, they lie to themselves, despair, and fear that they are now experiencing a permanent state of negative emotions.

For Professor William Worden (Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, 2001) mourning requires effort, work with oneself, and active participation on the part of the person who mourns. The model he proposes is called ‘The Duties of Mourning’ and distinguishes four main stages for managing grief.

The first stage of this process is the acceptance of reality. It helps a great deal when one participates in the procedures or rituals related to the funeral for the deceased. However, acceptance is a complex process. While it may seem that one has accepted the death of a partner, one may refuse to accept the significance of the loss. For example, he may talk about his partner in the past tense, but try to downplay the importance of the relationship he had, deny that his life changed because of the loss.

The second stage is the treatment of the pain that grief brings. This really means that the person who is mourning will have to work with a multitude of different emotions. The mourner may be feeling sadness, loneliness, anger, guilt, fear, despair, confusion, and suffering from sleep and eating disorders. What matters is to accept what he feels, to talk about it, to understand it and not to try to ignore or stifle it. Mourning is a long and dynamic process that one must respect and give the necessary time.

The third stage is adapting to an environment in which the deceased is absent. At this stage, things can be very different for everyone, depending on the relationship they had with their partner or the role played by the deceased in the relationship or family. This process lasts for a long time and requires adjustment on an emotional level, in the way of life, but also on a spiritual level.

This period can be very difficult for women who are widowed in old age and who may need to deal with things they do not recognize.

The fourth stage is the emotional repositioning of the deceased and the advancement in life. This means that one needs to redefine one’s relationship emotionally with the deceased, while at the same time starting to live again. For example, he allows himself to have the memory of what he lost, he thinks about the moments they shared, but at the same time he begins to enjoy life again, finding pleasure in new activities, even in new relationships.

Of course, this is one of the many theories about mourning. And indeed, it seems that setting realistic goals for how they receive help while mourning yields results.

However, this does not mean that it suits everyone. Each of us has our own way of experiencing mourning and when we or our loved ones feel that the duration or intensity of the mourning is prolonged, a visit to a specialist is required.


Stavroula Tsoutsa is a Certified Holistic Professional Life Coach, ICF ACC, Certified Heartmath Coach/Mentor and Trainer, and Certified Points of You Practitioner.


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