Polly's pages (aka 'Donna Williams')

Ever the arty Autie

When grieving the loss of someone who is more than ‘just a partner’


Chris and I have been more than husband and wife, more than lovers, more than family to each other…. we have been incredible best pals. We have spent 17 years in each other’s company and we are still so interested in each other’s lives, thoughts, feelings, learnings, experiences, silliness and bad jokes.

People imagine when I leave my body that he’ll be a man who has ‘lost his wife’… and he will be that. And they say (well intentioned) things like ‘so have you given him your blessing to date?’, or ‘don’t worry, there is hope, there are so many online dating sites now’…. That may be their style, reflecting their own marriages and losses but for 17 years Chris’ style of a relationship has been being with someone with more than ‘checklist compatibility’.

With him migrating here in 2002 and me with only an intermittent connection with my younger brother who I commonly had no contact with for years at a time, we were also both family to each other. There’s plenty of people happy to be ‘family’ for a moment… and enough drowning people or rescuers willing to play the ‘family game’, but it doesn’t cut it. When someone is really family its not a game, a role, a cardboard cut out. Many people don’t even find a sense of family with their biologicals. If one does it is an awesome thing but it isn’t something immediately replaceable.

More than partners and family, we have been best pals. You can’t just get that like you might shop for a new tee-shirt. When you meet a best pal you know it. I knew it when I met my closest pals throughout my life (some of whom I’m so lucky to still have around me) and I knew it the day I met Chris. We had ‘warm fire’ and it was cosy, fun, integral, sustaining, a place to grow and learn and adventure and to just ‘be’. He can’t just go down the ‘relationship supermarket’ and ‘get another partner’ because best pals aren’t found that way.

One is so lucky if one ever forms any that are so enduring and it is like throwing a Yahtzee if one actually has a great sexual connection with that best pal and is lucky enough to meet them when available and sane/mad enough to know when you want to house share with them and gutsy enough to commit when you realise you want them to be your family for the rest of your life. I got that, Chris got that.

When I leave my body, in time, sure, he’ll find a partner, and he will have the ‘family’ and friends within our/his communities, and if he so deeply misses his closest pal of 17 years, I take solace that he’ll be connecting with my other close pals who will also be losing me and for whom, I will also continue to be there in their hearts and minds, walking with them when they wish that.

I told Chris that when we lose a long term, forever closest pal, a bestie, that our friendships within the community amount to a sort of dispersed best pal…. sort of like 1+1+1+1+1 also equals a 5. I married my closest pal, he married his. Though he will lose far more than ‘his partner’, neither of us have any regrets whatsoever to have been so ‘both feet in’ even if it means that the loss is so much more extensive.

Everyone does loss and bereavement differently. Some where it like a black cloak of misery and ‘just survive’ through the rest of their lives. Some, either allergic to loss, perhaps had never loved as deeply as they portrayed, or never got/did a healthy transition toward their loss, throw the baby out with the bathwater seeking quick ‘closure’ as though loss were some ‘four letter word’ instead of being part of the gift of love (which for some is also a four letter word they just dip their toe in and never truly give their heart to). For some its mechanical and solved by a shopping trolley approach of ‘finding someone to fill the space’. For some its a time to surround themselves with a menagerie of animals (I’d have been this one). For some its a time to gather with community, long term friends, interests, nature, pets and stay grounded and alive as they walk healthily with their loss as well as all they love of their pre-loss life whilst embracing all that develops organically as their new life (this was Chris’ way and would also have been mine). There is no one size fits all anymore than there is one size fits all autism.

This is why transition at the end is so important to those going through what Chris and I are going through… to help the one that lives on toward the changed life that will take them forward… and only realism fully embraces the ability to put transition into action and fully embrace it together in the time that is left.

This is why pie in the sky hope for someone in their last months is no gift… it is a time waster, an energy waster, distracting from the time one has left. We have so enjoyed our months since September 2016. It has been wonderful, poignant, fun, rich, warm, fabulous and I’m so grateful to all who have supported us and Chris in that.

thank you so much.

Polly Samuel (aka ‘Donna Williams’)
Author, artist, consultant and presenter.

I acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the Traditional Owners of this country throughout Australia, and their connection to land and community.