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When your partner dies, your world changes forever. Your identity is wrapped up in being a husband, wife or partner to someone. One day married, and the next day you’re a widow or widower. Over the past week we’ve heard of Prince Philip’s death and seen that heartbreaking image of the Queen, sitting alone in that huge cathedral, deep in her thoughts about what life will be without her husband of more than 70 years. I felt so moved to tears. On seeing this image, I wondered what she was thinking. She looked so lonely and sad.

So much changes with the death of your partner. You’ll be making one of the biggest adjustments you’ll ever make in your life. You’ll probably feel overwhelmed and anxious about what your future will bring.

Living alone

Many people have never lived alone before they’ve moved out from their family of origin to living with a partner, and raising a family of their own – life has always been experienced with other people. Loneliness is one of the biggest challenges. Experts say that adjusting to your new life will take at least three years or more, and will probably take longer the closer you were to your partner, you’ve shared your daily life with your partner. You’ve made plans together. If you have children you raised them together. You have argued and made up.

Feeling lonely

You know each other better than anyone else in this world, and now there’s no one to talk to you about what happened on your day off. Your bed is empty. You miss their unique sense of humour. Their smile, and how they look at you. The touch of their lips on yours. The hugs. And no one to sit on the couch alongside. You miss them, every minute of every day.

Sometimes you’ve shared the chores with them. They might mow the lawn, while you do the washing, or they might do the ironing, while you put away the clothes. Now there’s no one to share those chores with you. Life will be tough for quite a while until you learn to adjust and live your life alongside your grief.

Finances and paying bills

Often only one person of the couple does the finances and knows when bills are due. If you’re the one who doesn’t know what’s going on with your finances, you’re on a huge learning curve. It can be daunting trying to learn everything you need to know.

I encourage you to ask for help because your partner has been doing it for a long time and has their own systems in place. Take your time in working it out and be patient with yourself. You may also be going from two incomes down to one, and feel anxious about how you’re going to survive. This is where you’ll need to enlist the support of others.

Letting go

People always want you to “let go and move on”. The only letting go you’ll be doing is letting go of their possessions, and only do that when you’re ready, not when people tell you you’re ready. Always remember, this is your grief and yours alone. Grief is unique and has no timeline.

It’s up to you when you want to go through your partner’s clothes. It’s a good idea to take your time in making decisions like this. You might regret letting go of something, and you can’t get them back. Maybe you could make three piles, one to keep one to give away or donate, and one to think about – you can always revisit your feelings about the last pile every now and then.

Take care of yourself

There is such a thing as dying of a broken heart. Studies have shown a surviving spouse has a higher risk of dying, particularly in the first three months after their partner’s death. Make sure you eat well, exercise and sleep well.

There’s so much more I could tell you about, but I’m going to stop here. I want to let you know that life will be overwhelming and scary at first, but your grief will change. Eventually, you’ll create a new life for yourself, and still have loving memories of your life with your partner.