Assistance After Losing a Domestic Partner

The death of or separation from a domestic partner, though very different, are similar in the emotional upheaval and  turmoil they create – each rendering the person left behind immobilized, anxious and overwhelmed. While the specific needs of each individual are as varied as the individuals themselves, general concerns are common to all.

  • Where do I start?
  • Who will help me?
  • What things do I keep, donate, sell, discard or store?
  • How will I be able to change a home which was once “ours” into a home which is now “mine”?
  • How do I perform the routine tasks (financial, personal, household, etc.) once performed by my partner?

Respectful of their emotions, sensitive to their struggle and attentive to their needs, a third-party often is able to do what friends and family cannot: work closely with the individual at his or her pace to help create a comfortable home and bring order to their lives while they are experiencing emotional strife and  transition,. without judgment, expectations, personal history, pressure, time restrictions or hidden agenda.

Struggling with the death of a domestic partner

During an initial visit, such a third-party assistant  can engage in a personal, rather than business, discussion to learn as much as possible about the partners’ lives together, their personalities and the current situation. This approach provides insight to determine priorities. Immediate concerns can be addressed and remedied while short-term difficulties and long-term problems can be assessed and resolved.  Ideally, a bond of trust develops and  a partnership is created.

In the weeks that follow, the assistant can help the grieving party sort and categorize all possessions,  sparing the surviving partner any unnecessary emotional upset.  This can be the beginning of a time of healing, as stories and anecdotes of lives spent together are shared in the process of working together.  Deciding what possessions to part with is often more painful than their actual disposition. The assistant, at this point, should compile detailed inventories of items to be appraised, sold or placed into storage. If the surviving partner is not sure what to do with some items, no decisions need be made at that time Instead, these items should be addressed at a later time. Some days are filled with such emotion and sadness that work is placed on hold briefly. It is all about working at the survivor’s pace.

It is the beginning of redecorating and transforming a home which was once “theirs” into a home which is now “his” or “hers” – a home filled with warm memories rather than cold reminders.

Often a surviving partner is emotionally unable to handle any clothing or deal with the feelings associated with the final parting from the items.  Familiar scents or textures alone can often overwhelm the partner. Clothing and personal items to be donated or sold should be discreetly and respectfully packed, donated and/or sold without the presence of the surviving partner.

Determining which household possessions  (furniture, household accessories, keepsakes and mementos) are to be kept, donated, sold, discarded or stored is an emotional process which the surviving partner should not undertake alone.  Rather than keeping remaining items in the same place they were kept when the partner was still alive, it is much preferable to give these items a new context. Re-arranging remaining items emphasizes the importance of each item and the memories attached. It is the beginning of redecorating and transforming a home which was once “theirs” into a home which is now “his” or “hers” – a home filled with warm memories rather than cold reminders.

Struggling with the separation from a domestic partner and remaining in the home

When domestic partners separate, meaningful personal items are often taken from “their” home, creating both physical and emotional loss and destruction for the partner remaining in the home.

For a third-party assistant, it is important to learn about the separation, including the immediate changes it creates and its long term impact. This personal discussion allows a determination of priorities and the beginning of making the home and parts of his or her life whole again.

In the weeks following the separation, the remaining partner needs assistance to create an “it’s all about me” list for each room.  This includes changing the use of a room (i.e., den into extra bedroom ), purchasing new items to replace those removed, re-arranging furniture and home furnishings, determining the proper placement of items with sentimental value, removing unwanted items (determining later if those items are to be sold, donated, stored, or destroyed) and re-decorating.  The partner remaining in the home may have always wanted to implement these changes but was prevented from doing so by the former partner.  Other, more immediate and less complicated, changes represent the need to establish calm, order and comfort throughout the home.

At times, emotions surrounding the separation may surface, self – confidence may be low and the feeling of failure overwhelming.  These feelings may cause work to be interrupted for a few days.  His or her emotional well-being is far more important than any established timeline.

The result of the “it’s all about me” list is the beginning of transforming a home which was once “ours” into a home that is now “mine”  – a home filled with welcomed change and growth and personal creativity.

Struggling with the separation from a domestic partner and leaving the home

Often times when domestic partners separate, the leaving partner takes only those items he or she brought into the partnership and a handful of keepsakes or mementos from the relationship.  The partner who stays lives in a home which is all too familiar (yet now so very different).  The partner leaving, even though he or she may have initiated the separation, faces an equally challenging situation: that of moving into a place which is empty and void of anything personal, creating a feeling of being displaced.  He or she is assured that with the emptiness of a new “house” comes the freedom to create a new “home.”

Placing all personal possessions where they can be easily seen and appreciated is important.  This begins the creation of a home filled with familiarity and well being.  In the days to come, the assistant should accompany the remaining partner while walking through each room determining its use, what to purchase and the placement of each item.  As each room is completed, his or her creativity and personal taste are unleashed and what was once devoid of anything personal becomes a home filled with new beginnings and promise.

Similarities shared by those struggling with the loss of or separation from a domestic partner

Sometimes the surviving partner or separated partners have been excluded from or only partially involved in the financial, personal and household responsibilities. A third-party assistant can help the grieving partner with important tasks, including identifying monthly responsibilities should be identified; bookkeeping and tax payment systems established; important documents and legal papers organized; filing systems created.  What begins as a time of uncertainty and apprehension ultimately becomes a triumph in personal growth and independence.

While assisting surviving and former domestic partners create new homes, evaluate personal possessions and learn new filing and organizing systems, there is one final aspect of their new life that ought to be addressed – a change in attitude.  In some instances, donating clothing he or she no longer wants and purchasing new clothing gives him or her a new style and instills self-confidence  –  creating a new attitude about how they look, feel and act. . With others, working together to cultivate new interests and re-visiting old ones leads to socializing with new people.  The assistant should also discuss the benefits of a new health and exercise program or the return to a program that may have been placed on hold during the difficult and chaotic times.

A new life for those struggling with the loss of or the separation from a domestic partner

It is important to work closely with those suffering loss, suggesting and encouraging ways in which to succeed in their struggle to become comfortable with and accepting of their new life and surroundings.  This allows them once again to:

  • Anticipate walking into “their” home
  • Enjoy entertaining and welcoming friends and family into their new home
  • Relate to and spend time with family and friends  as they once did
  • Engage in the things and activities they once enjoyed
  • Appreciate and savor all that they have accomplished
  • Meet someone with whom they can share their new life and new home

Creating a new home, accepting responsibility for household tasks, learning financial and record keeping systems and achieving personal growth all contribute to a life filled with independence and confidence.

Melanie Kay helps those coping with the loss of a partner, spouse, parent or sibling, as well as empty-nesters and elders in transition.  She is a graduate of Ohio State University.  She honed her organizational and problem solving skills as a special events coordinator for a national bank and national charitable organization and as a director for a Sonoma County winery.  As a child of divorce and suffering the loss of her father when she was only 21 years of age, Ms. Kay learned, first hand, of  the need for compassion, empathy, patience and understanding during times of emotional upheaval and personal turmoil. Ms. Kay can be contacted at  and 510 649 3047

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