Moving forward with the loss of a partner

Updated: 13 Jun 2023

Anyone who has experienced grief knows it doesn’t follow rules – you may feel hopeful one day and be overcome with emotion the next. According to Dr Jennifer Wild, the key is moving forward with your grief and using it as your greatest strength.

Grief is non-linearDr Jennifer Wild looking at the camera, sat on a bench

According to experts, most of us will experience denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance following the death of a loved one.

But it’s also important to remember that grief isn’t linear, so we can experience a rollercoaster of emotions for a long period of time.

Here we talk to Psychologist Dr Jennifer Wild, who discusses the different techniques you can use to help tackle these fluctuating emotions once you feel ready to face the world again.

She says that taking support – both from your late loved one and those around you – is vital in preventing these ongoing feelings from becoming overwhelming. She also says that this will also give you the ongoing strength to enjoy new opportunities.

Dr Wild (pictured), an Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology at Oxford University, explained: “Grief is non-linear. You are not going to tick off all these stages and then awaken ready to take on the world. You may not experience all the stages, or you might dip in and out of the same stage over a long period of time.

“The key is spotting ways you can move forward with your grief.”

No more goodbyes

Moving forward after loss can be daunting, especially when you have been part of a couple and used to having a partner by your side.

But Dr Wild says your unique connection with a loved one can become the source of your new-found independence, drawing on their love for you to build your own confidence.

Dr Wild explained: “When we lose someone we love it shouldn’t be about saying goodbye, but looking at how you can take that person forward with you.

“You can do this by thinking about what qualities you felt connected to when you were with them and importantly, what they meant to you. Think of a word or a couple of words which captures what they represented to you.

“Did you love their warm-heartedness? Their steadfast way of protecting and comforting you? Perhaps their humour?

“Once you have spotted what they meant to you, we focus on how to bring their special meaning back into your life today. For example, if they represented warm-heartedness, we think about how you can connect with warm-heartedness today. This could be picturing in your mind’s eye an image of sunshine, which may represent warm-heartedness for you. Or, perhaps walking in nature on a sunny day and connecting with warm-heartedness all around you.

“If they had an enduring way of protecting you, you might find comfort in picturing in your mind’s eye, a strong oak tree, which captures the idea of protection in the way trees protect the air we breathe. Calling to mind an image of an oak tree or spending time in nature would then provide an opportunity to connect to the meaning of your loved one.

“Once you have identified their meaning and what might capture this today, you can call it to mind and use it as a strength when you are experiencing something new and feel a little unsteady.“

Motivation through memory

Finding ways to remember your loved one through joy is another way of keeping them with you for your next steps.

Dr Wild said: “A good way to prevent your feelings from becoming overwhelming is thinking about your loved one in a new way.

“Often when we lose someone we are overwhelmed with images of how they died. This can make us feel unsettled and make it hard to tap memories of our loved one from before they died. By calling to mind an image that captures their meaning, we can let any distressing ones come and go like a train running through a train station, leaving behind what we know now: we carry our loved one with us. You may want to call to mind an image, listen to a song or try an activity that captures the meaning of your loved one, reminding yourself that they are no longer suffering.

“Perhaps your loved one represented happiness and perhaps today there is a particular song that captures happiness for you. When you listen to this song, you may feel as though you are connecting to your loved one’s happy sense of self being with you, all around you, now a part of you.”

Connectivity is vital after loss. Difficult feelings may still be in place, but by spending time with friends and sharing your grief, you can prevent these feelings from always being overwhelming. Dr Jennifer Wild

Strength in friendships

While calling on the strength from a loved one can help you manage new situations, friendship can also offer invaluable support and Dr Wild says new friendship groups can be a life saver.

Dr Wild added: “We can predict someone’s grief based on early levels of social disconnection. The more isolated we make ourselves, the more disconnected we become from society, which can also affect our physical and mental health.

“The important thing is that you don’t beat yourself up for having these feelings. They’re so normal after loss and a sign to reach out rather than withdraw from others. Connectivity is vital after loss. Difficult feelings may still be in place, but by spending time with friends and sharing your grief, you can prevent these feelings from always being overwhelming.”

She added: “Sometimes friends need to know how best to support you after loss. It’s a sensitive area and they don’t always know what to say or how to help. So a hugely important step forward is letting people know what you need. You may want to talk about the person you lost or perhaps you need a friendly hand with prepping dinner. Being able to spot what you need and share it means you’ll be more likely to benefit from the support around you.”

Socialising again

The Oddfellows is a friendship society which helps people connect with like-minded people, whether that’s through social events, enjoying a day trip or volunteering together. Its local social groups can be a source of great comfort when members are ready to socialise again after experiencing loss.

Oddfellows members also benefit from wellbeing support and advice with dedicated helplines for members and a travel club.

Val Rider, 81, from Liverpool, joined the Mersey Branch after spotting an advert and said it has helped her re-build her confidence after her husband of 50 years, John, died.

She said: “I miss John terribly, and I always will, but there’s something about going to the Oddfellows’ meet-ups that provided something my family and my friends couldn’t.

“I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I think it’s the fact that it’s so reliable and constant. I can look at the diary and see what’s coming up and I look forward to it and it’s just me, I’m not relying on anyone else.”

Val Rider with two friends at one of the Oddfellows' meet-ups. Laughing and enjoying a cup of tea and some biscuits
Mersey member Val Rider (left) now enjoys getting together with new friends at her local Oddfellows Branch.

The Three Minute Carrot method

Dr Wild suggests people feeling unsure about meeting new people should try the ‘Three Minute Carrot’ method. This is how you can relieve some of the pressure of a new social situation by dangling an achievable incentive in front of you.

Dr Wild said: “Joining a new group or trying something for the first time can be hugely rewarding, but it can also be overwhelming if you are still grieving.

“The Three Minute Carrot Method gives you permission to stop or leave something early. So, instead of pressuring yourself to go along to an hour-long event or activity, you are only challenging yourself to stay for three minutes. This can start with a three-minute walk out of your front door, a three-minute phone call with a friend, or spending three minutes at a social event.

“After your three minutes you can decide if you are going to turn around and go home, or if you are going to carry on. You’ll find more often than not that you will carry on, but by giving yourself permission to leave it relieves the pressure.”

Dr Wild mentioned: “It’s super important to make predictions about what you’re worried will happen before you go and then note what actually happens. Are you worried you may burst into tears and people will ignore you or be unkind? Or perhaps you’re worried they’ll judge you? How would you know if they had?

“Make a note of your worries about socialising and how you think people will respond to you. Then try the social activity, going out of your way to spot signs that people are being kind and friendly rather than focusing on how you might be feeling. Try to get lost in your conversations with people and don’t be afraid to mention your grief or your loved one. More often than not, you’ll find people do care and are keen to extend kindness. This can be enormously rewarding for them and for you.”

The 'Future Feeling Thinking' technique

Dr Wild added: “Another technique is ‘Future Feeling Thinking’. Rather than concentrating on your emotions or low mood and then deciding to avoid socialising altogether, focus instead on how you might feel at the end of the activity. Use the knowledge of how you might feel afterwards as motivation to get started.

“Meeting friends for lunch will undoubtedly lift your spirits, especially if you know you can talk about your loved one, so concentrate on that feeling before meeting your friends. It will give you a bit of courage to socialise again.”

She added: “The same goes for exercise. Often we don’t feel like exercising or going for a walk, but we know that exercise releases endorphins that will make you feel happier, so you are more than likely to be glad you did it. If your loved one represented happiness, then you might even find that exercising connects you to the meaning of your loved one and adds a bit of comfort to your day."

Oddfellows friendship groups

If you have lost someone close to you, when you feel ready to socialise again, why not give an Oddfellows friendship group a try? There's no obligation to join. Just come along for a taster.

You can find your nearest by using our Branch Finder, or use our Events Finder to search for social events and activities happening near to where you live or online.

Contact us to request your free information pack and local events diary.

Read more advice on making friends and building social confidence in our friendship guides section.

Read real-life stories from our members about how the Oddfellows helped them to socialise again following the loss of a partner in our 'first steps' section.

Specialist bereavement support

The Oddfellows' teams are not trained to offer specialist bereavement support. If at any stage you feel that your grief is having a permanent impact on your life and your mood, or you are struggling to cope, you should talk this through with your doctor, or with a bereavement support organisation.

View a list of trusted specialist bereavement support organisations with advice services.

About Dr Jennifer Wild

Dr Jennifer Wild is a consultant clinical psychologist and associate professor at the University of Oxford. Her book, Be Extraordinary: 7 Key Skills to Transform your Life from Ordinary to Extraordinary, is about how to transition from ordinary to extraordinary. For more information go to

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