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Losses Within Loss: Death of a Spouse – and Grieving the Loss of the Couple

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Grieving is not an event. It’s a journey that has many faces, facets and layers, many losses within loss. Some will take you by surprise.

When your spouse dies, it feels like the pain of that loss is the only thing that you can see, feel and… barely manage. It feels like a deep hole inside that will never heal. 

You try everything that you can do to fill that emptiness: friends, events, pets, hobbies, work… anything to keep busy and stay away from the loneliness. It works for a while and over time you adjust and begin to find solutions that seem to help. Being busy can distract you from loneliness but there is little or nothing that can change the new reality of being alone.

Alone is different from the feeling of loneliness. The loss of your spouse makes you realize that you’re alone. Alone, solo, solitary… the loss of being a couple, feeling like you no longer fit into a world and society that appears to be coupled. 

You feel the aloneness often but especially during those times when you yearn for your spouse and the lost couple. The little things and special time memories reveal more layers of loss. They are the private times that no one else really understands like saying “good morning” and “good night,” sharing a good book, snuggling on the couch, singing together in the car, hugging spontaneously, going to dinner, announcing “let’s go to a movie,” sharing the events of the day, sharing responsibilities and even taking care of each other. It all felt so natural and easier when you were a couple.

Feelings of loneliness and being alone can change over time.The circle diagram below demonstrates the way spouses merge and create a couple identity. When your spouse dies, there is a hole in that circle. It is a painful loss that leaves you confused and alone and often lonely. In order to fill that hole you need to grieve, to heal and find ways to redefine your self in your new life and connect to others in new ways. That doesn’t mean that you forget. You do not lose your heart and soul connection to your loved one. It means that you go on living and loving, each in your own way. You connect to your new life because… it is your new life.

Relationship Identity Grief Work

Couple identity venn diagram

One of the tasks of healing through grief is to discover who you are without your couple relationship. 
With the colored part gone, there is a circle with a hole in it. That’s the part that needs to be redefined so that a new identity evolves. Over time, especially as your changed life surrounds you, it becomes apparent that this is your new reality. The isolation of loss brings with it the pain of loneliness. It becomes a shadow over your life and hides in many places. 

Michael Linsk beautifully shares how It feels to grieve his two losses, the death of his sweet wife and the loss of being a couple with her. Click One life — Two losses for his poetic insights. 

By Jo Christner, Psy.D.