How to cope following the death of a long-time partner

The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh at the Royal Show. Date: 1957

The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh had been married for 73 years. Here they're pictured at the Royal Norfolk Show in 1957. - Credit: EDP Library

Coping with the death of a long-term partner is one of the hardest things that many of us will have to deal with in our lives.

Former TV presenter and writer Christine Webber lost her husband, David Delvin, three years ago and has been supporting others dealing with loss through her work in East Anglia as a psychotherapist.

Christine Webber

Psychotherapist Christine Webber - Credit: Christine Webber

“Since then [the death of her husband] I have thought about bereavement a great deal, not just professionally,” says Christine.

And the death of Prince Philip is likely to have prompted people to reflect on their own losses. 

“I imagine that almost everybody who’s experienced the loss of the love of their life, their partner for life, has probably been thinking about it quite a lot since Prince Philip died,” she adds.

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“Hearing about someone else’s loss opens up your own wounds a little bit.

Caring woman hugging a woman

Losing a partner is the hardest thing that will happen to many of us in our lives - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

“A lot of us will be feeling sympathy towards the Queen. She had a lifelong partnership. She was 13 when she met him, so she will likely barely remember a time when he was not in her life."

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Christine says that even if a death is expected, one of the first emotions a person is likely to experience is shock. 

“Even if you know that it is coming, it is still a shock and a big loss when it happens.

“And I think a lot of people keep going and keep going while their loved one is ill, and then afterwards organising the funeral. Then you realise that they are never going to come back and that is quite a bleak moment. It’s a huge landmark stage, whether it’s a partner or a parent. 

“People need to really, really be kind to themselves. You have to recognise that this is a major event in your life and you are not going to shrug it off. 

“You spend all your time making your loved one's last years, months or weeks as lovely as possible. You are focused entirely on them, you don’t really give yourself any thought because you do not have the brain space to consider what you are going to feel like in the afterwards.  

“And until you are in the afterwards you have no idea how brutal grief is going to feel. I will admit seeing people who have been grief stricken while working as a therapist, it was all a bit academic until I lost my husband and then the things that I had read about were visceral.” 

There is often talk of there being five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance -  but as Christine says, the reality is often more complex. 

“What I’ve found with my own patients and in my own life is it’s not as simple as that. Although you might feel those emotions, you sometimes might feel them on the same day.  

Man comforting his sad mourning friend embracing her in a park

Friends can be a great source of support - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

“One of the big ones is anger. You’re on a short fuse for a while. These things are difficult. People wonder ‘am I going mad, I’m not in charge of my emotions?’. It’s normal, but it’s unpleasant.” 

When Christine’s husband died, she dealt with the grief by keeping herself busy, something those bereaved during the lockdowns may have found difficult to do.

Indeed, lockdown restrictions mean that with limits on numbers of mourners at funerals, many have not been able to give their loved ones their send off in the way they had hoped.  

Couple holding hands at a graveyard

Lockdown restrictions have meant that many people have not been able to say goodbye to their loved ones in the way that they would have hoped - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

“I really feel for people who have been bereaved during lockdown. When my own husband died, I dealt with it by keeping myself busy, seeing lots of friends, going to the theatre, the gym. People that have lost somebody in the last few months have not been able to do that,” she says. 

Christine adds some may feel pressure to ‘get over’ the death of their loved one, but that she was helped by an online video which explained grieving is more a process of working out how to live with loss. 

“The thing that helped me more than anything was that YouTube video by a bereavement specialist.

“When people say you will get over it, you almost don’t want to get over it and feel it would be an insult. That person you have lost is still central to your existence, but you go on and build a new existence. Go on holiday with a friend, take up a new interest, these are the new things constructed around the circle of your previous life and I find that a wonderful way to think of it.”  

If you are friends with someone who has been bereaved, and are not sure how to support them, Christine says the best thing you can do is just be there. 

“I think a lot of people find it difficult to mix with somebody who is recently bereaved, they feel that they might not want to mention the person in case it upsets them,” she says.  

“But what I find is that more than anything they want to talk about them.

"If you’re with a bereaved friend and they get upset, just the fact that you are there and you are listening is good enough.” 

Living with grief - Christine's tips

1. I think that routine is good. If you’re somebody who has lost a partner and there’s nobody else in the house, you’ve got to prioritise caring for yourself. You have to eat, even if you might not feel like it. And it’s not a good idea to drink alcohol if you’re on your own.

2. Talk about the person you have lost. Talk to friends and family about them.

3. Write things down – your feelings and your memories of the person - that will often help.

4. Do things in memory of the person. My husband was a doctor, and I set up a medical prize in his name. Perhaps you might want to plant some special plants in your garden that remind you of that person.

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