How to Deal with Grief and Loss of a Partner as a Single Parent

Share article

Karen Sutton, The Widow Coach, is one of the first grief coaches in the UK specialising in supporting people widowed early in life. Karen’s own husband Simon died suddenly a few years ago when her daughters were still young, and as you might imagine, it was catastrophic. Two and a half years on, still feeling lost, Karen started working with a life coach. This experience changed her life and started her on the journey to where she is now.

Here are a few of the things we talked to Karen about during her Q&A with the Frolo community.

What are the foundations for a new widow to help move forward through grief and to go from simply surviving to thriving?

The one thing you need above all else is patience.

We all want everything yesterday and when we are suffering we want it to go away, of course we do. Heartache is awful. You can’t get through something traumatic in life in months though, it’s a long process. Give grief the space that it deserves without distracting yourself too much from it, learn to sit with it, to feel comfortable with the uncomfortable.

The worry is that if we give in to it, and really feel it, that we will never stop crying, that we’ll never get back up again, but you will. We can’t cry forever.

Patience and understanding are the foundations for our healing, as well as taking responsibility for these feelings for ourselves. As much as you want someone else to rush in and save you, it’s up to you. Accepting that enables you to move forward.

This doesn’t mean not asking for help or not talking to other people about your pain, but it does mean understanding what you need from other people, what they can do to help, and asking for it.

How do I take care of myself throughout the process?

As we go through the process of grief as a single parent, it’s important that we take care of ourselves. One way of doing this is to be mindful about what you consume. This can literally mean food, nourishment, giving our body the things it needs to function well. As much as you might want to live off rubbish, eating rubbish makes you feel rubbish.

Focus not on what you’ve not done, but on the things you have achieved.

Think too about what your mind is consuming – TV, social media and news can all be a negative influence unless you’re carefully curating what you watch and read. Are these things serving you and bringing value to your life or are they just bad habits?

Being kind to ourselves is key. We set high expectations and push ourselves hard, but often we’re setting ourselves up for failure and for never feeling good enough. Lower your expectations. Be realistic about the things you really need to do versus the things we feel we ‘should’ do. Lean on other people and ask for help. Focus not on what you’ve not done, but on the things you have achieved.

What advice do you have for someone navigating the loss of a parent?

Firstly don’t put pressure on yourself to overcome it. Listen to your body, your mind and your soul. You instinctively know what you need but often we push those instincts to one side and instead listen to what we think society or other people think is best for us.

Grief is a very individual journey and there is no value in comparing your loss to someone else’s. This is about you and what you need. Give yourself the time and the space to sit with your loss, to cry, to feel sad.

This is not wallowing. This is grieving.

Find a way of releaasing your grief. Exercise for example is brilliant for grief as it brings down stress and cortisol levels and releases feel good hormones instead. Even just a power walk around the block is valuable.

This is not wallowing. This is grieving.

My sister is angry with me – she says I didn’t do enough to help before my mum died and I feel guilty, although I felt like I was doing my best. How do I deal with those feelings?

Grief can throw up all kinds of emotions, including guilt or anger.

Family situations can be complex at the best of times and the death of a loved one is often a trigger for underlying issues. If a family member has issues or concerns that they’ve not dealt with, often they project these onto the people closest to them, wanting them to feel the hurt that they are experiencing.

Remember that this isn’t about you, it’s about her. When she’s lashing out at you it’s about what she’s trying to deal with, rather than a reflection on you. She could be crying out for help in some way, but doesn’t know how to express that.

We all have choices in life and this is where we have to take responsibility for our own decisions. Some people live in a victim mindset, blaming everyone else but themselves for how their life has turned out.

In terms of guilt, just remember that you did your best with the knowledge and resources that you had at the time. We can all look back in hindsight and wish things were different, but we make choices based on what we know and how we feel in the moment. You did the best you could.

If you’re experiencing loss and would like to find out more about how Karen can help, visit her website or follow her on Instagram.

Frolo app