Unique And Devastating Loss

iStock_000024198102Small Unique & Devastating Loss

A few months before my wife’s death in the summer of 2009, I would sometimes hear a certain popular song on the car radio. Even now after almost 6 years, I still vividly recall listening to that sad melody one dark, rainy night as I was driving home from the hospital where she was being cared for. Although I would later learn that the song is “Where I Stood” by Missy Higgins, at the time I didn’t know its title, who sings it, or very many of its lyrics. But what really struck a chord with me that evening is the one line that keeps being repeated:

I don’t know who I am, who I am without you . . .

In a rare moment of insight I suspected even then, months before my wife’s death, that these words would soon be mine. And I was right. Each day for more than a year after she died, as I wandered adrift in my new life without her, it was made abundantly clear to me how accurate those suspicions actually were.

We widows and widowers know all too well how destructive the death of our spouse is to virtually every aspect of our life. As excruciatingly painful as it is to lose that one unique person in the world we were closest to, our devastating loss actually extends well beyond that, and often includes even our own selves. But for many of us, finding the right words to explain to our non-widowed friends and family members why our pain is so great and why our road to healing and recovery is so long frequently proves to be a frustrating task. Because of this, towards the end of my first year of widowhood I wrote a one page document called “Unique and Devastating Loss”, and subsequently posted it on YWBB.org, an online support group for young widows and widowers where I was known as WifeLess. It ultimately became one of the most widely read and shared posts on that site.

As it may also be of interest to Live The List Nonprofit readers, a copy of that document appears below. It attempts to describe as concisely as possible the unique nature of losing our spouse, how devastating that loss has been to our life, and the tremendous challenges we face as widows and widowers. As I suggested when I first posted it in 2010, words alone may never be able to truly convey these to the non-widowed, but words are all we have. Perhaps the following ones can help.

Unique and Devastating Loss (by WifeLess)

With the death of our spouse (which here includes fiancée, significant other, partner, etc.), we grieve the loss of so much more than someone we merely loved or were close to. We grieve instead the loss of: The one we loved most deeply, cherished and felt the very closest to. The one we swore commitment to in that unique human bond of marriage, which many consider sacred. The one we shared the ultimate partnership with to live as one and perhaps bear children with. The one who embodied our true sense of home. The one who was our best friend and who was to be our companion for life. The one we confided in, depended on and trusted most. The one who really knew, understood and accepted us as we were. The one we felt safe and protected with. The one we shared private moments and intimate feelings with. The one we mated souls with.

But it is not just that this most precious person has been torn from our life, as unbearably heartbreaking as that alone is. With the death of our spouse, and only of our spouse, many additional profound losses must be grieved as well. For we also suffer: The loss of who we ourselves were while with them. The loss of the couple we were once half of. The loss of the life partnership we once formed. The loss of the husband or wife role we once embraced. The loss of the life we once lived. The loss of the plans we once made. The loss of the dreams we once shared. The loss of the future we once envisioned.

Amidst all this, we are also suddenly confronted with many hardships we never expected to face at this point in our life. Besides financial survival, increased domestic burdens and perhaps single parenting, additional challenges less apparent to others but all too real and terrifying to us. We must now find it within ourselves: To create a new identity. To redefine our role in life. To establish a new connection to the world. To build a new network of social relationships. To discover a new sense of purpose. To formulate a new set of goals. To decide on a new direction for our future.

And we must accomplish these without dishonoring our former life, but while suppressing bittersweet memories of that life, so that they not hold us back. Memories of happier times mostly, but also those of our spouse’s death, either sudden and shocking or after prolonged illness. We must further endure the feelings of guilt and disloyalty that follow us as we attempt to forget and move forward, but with our heartstrings tied so tightly to the past.

And all these tasks must be taken on at the lowest possible point of our life in the worst state imaginable. When we are the weakest, most vulnerable, most insecure, most isolated, most heartbroken and most emotionally exhausted we have ever been. Without that one person we long ago became accustomed to relying on to help get us through life’s greatest challenges. The one who, just by being there, would have provided us emotional comfort and moral support to draw upon, as well as the strength and confidence we need to complete those tasks and so much more. But now we face all this alone.

Profound indeed is the death of our spouse. Unique and devastating. For nearly all of us, much more catastrophic to our life than the loss of any other. And truly comparable, many of us widows and widowers often feel, to one other death only. Ours.

We hope this blog is helpful!

Our mission is to help widows, widowers and their kids live life well after their loss, but we can only do that with your help. Please consider a donation to help us achieve our mission.

Thank you and please share this blog with anyone you think might appreciate it!

43 thoughts on “Unique And Devastating Loss

    • Thank you for explaining how we all feel. I have been at such a loss for words to describe this horrible time! I lost my husband suddenly on March 23. I am so lost! My kids are lost especially out 7 year old son.

      • Jenn, This is an offer of support for your children (and anyone who lives in the United States). Your children can enroll in the free Tradition Program.

        Family Lives On supports the lifelong emotional wellbeing children and teens whose mother, or father, has died. Grounded in research and clinically identified needs for healthy bereavement, the Tradition Program makes it possible for them to continue activities or celebrate traditions that they used to with mom or dad.

        “We don’t do it with them, we just provide everything the family needs – tickets, ingredients, crafts, etc. And we do that every year, for each child in the family, until they turn 18 and graduate out of the program. Then we ask, how will you do this for yourself, for the rest of your life? Because the relationship never ends. Your dad is always your dad…”

        Traditions provide a more natural context for communication and connection, and help children to maintain a healthy emotional bond. Celebrating the life story is a powerful holistic approach that focuses on moving forward and the future. It isn’t therapy but it is therapeutic.

        “Equip children with the awareness that their own internal resources can be far more powerful than any external panacea”

        Available anywhere in the United States, Family Lives On serves all children & teens ages 3-18, regardless of race, gender, religion, socioeconomic status or cause of parent’s death. To learn more about the Tradition Program, please visit http://www.familyliveson.org. Or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

        Family Lives On Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization entirely funded through charitable donations.

  1. THank you for sharing this eloquent explanation of our grief, our loss. It is within this unique community of broken hearts that we are able to feel known and understood. Were it not for the experienced people who have shared their stories with me, I do not believe I would be moving forward and opening the windows and doors of this altered life. Thank you for sharing this path with an open heart.

  2. Your words are beautifully written. I have always said that you cannot truly understand the devastation until you have walked a mile in someone’s shoes. It is without a doubt the worst thing a person can experience. I just lost my husband of 44 years 2 months ago. At first I was in shock planning a memorial service to honor the good man that he was —-almost like it wasn’t real. Now reality has set in and I feel totally lost without my other half. I think about the summer coming up with no more camping trips, his stupid jokes that made me laugh everyday, and the great big heart that most people didn’t see. The memorial is over and all the calls have stopped,and my friends in trying to be helpful just think I can move on with life and start a new one. I cry everyday for him and miss that smile. We had another devastating issue in our family that only he and I could talk about and truly understand where other people only judge. I am having a hard time now, worse than when it first happened. Now the new normal has set in and it is truly heartbreaking.

    • Elaine, first I want to say I am sorry for your loss. This is so very new to you and you have so many different steps you personally will go through. You are still numb and in shock. It is step by step and one day at a time. You grieve as long as you need to. You will go through anger stage, feel sorry for me stage, leave me alone stage to I just can’t stop crying stage. Everything u go through is Normal. I was a younger wife and was with my husband 30 years retired Army. I was 48 and he was 53 when the word Cancer came into our life one Aug night and I lost my best friend 5 1/2 months later. That fast he was gone !! I had a son just turned 20 in that Aug and 7 days later we got a death sentence. I told all that came by our home, friends and family. Check on me in a year or so. I was so use to him being gone do to the army it felt like a deployment. That year came and passed and he never walked through those kitchens doors I then feel a part. I cried and screamed was very anger he had the nerve to leave me a lone. I was to young to be old but to old to be young what was I to do with my life ??? So after a few weeks of trying to figure out my life I got up and went down under our oak tree at the corner of our lot and sat in the swing he had built and where we sat in the evening drinking tea and watching the neighbor hood children play and family’s walk by and finally said . God I am so lost !! I don’t know what I am suppose to do with my life !! And I heard this voice say sit and be still I have it all under control. My family , friends, neighbors were so concerned 1 year, 2 year , 3 and 4 year went by I did not date only took care of my home and we were blessed with our first grandbaby and little girl a year and a half after he passed. I watched her and what joy came into my life. I did have some serious health problems one being a bad heart attack at age 48 but I am here lived through it so that let me know God was not done with me. A little over 4 years of sitting under that oak tree a fine man came through my gates. He also was a widower and retired Army. And the rest is history. We r engaged planning to marry in the future. So life will go on in time and maybe years for some of us. You do what ever u need to do to get through the day. This is the hardest thing you will ever go through. My prayers are with you that God holds you tight and comforts you. Talk about him and laugh at the good things and times. Most of all u do everything in your time and take as long as you need to for peace to finally be in your life. Love and prayers, Big Hugs, Cheryl Matthews

    • My husband died 10 days before Christmas, after 30 years of marriage. My new normal is just setting in and it is devastating.

  3. Your words share exactly what I am feeling. I lost my wife of 40 years just 8 months ago. We were best friends, the love of my life, my soul mate. God had blessed our life. The walk through the discovery of her cancer to her unexpected death was just 7 months. She has been gone now 8 months, and it is such a loss that I have never experienced before, even with the loss of parents. You shared it is your other half, and that is so true. It is all of my heart which feels deeply the love that was our union. I am fortunate that my daughter, son in law, and two grandchildren are close and are very dear to me. I am struggling with what God’s plan for my life going forward is…. I pray for his Guidance, and comfort. I also thank him for my salvation, and the wonderful blessing of my wife in my life. The path is not an easy one, and I hope your blog helps others to understand what we are going through. One day they may have to travel the same path. I better understand what my father went through when my mother passed away. Thank you for a wonderful expression of what we are experiencing and for your courage in sharing with this blog. God Bless.

  4. I so appreciate this my marriage was short lived but loss all the more profound. He fit me..my kids so well. He was a Dad to them..he was my true mate that after 20 years we found one another again. We agreed so much it was scary. He was my confidante and my confidence. I gained so much and lost everything so quickly. Every day I talk to him..and my kids talk about him. Which I am glad for. He was truly a blessing to them and my kids deserve a good memory of thir stepdad. He treated them like his own..and their real dad did not. I was just so happy…and maddly ecstatic couldn’t stop smiling..and BANG..gone..just gone. I knew that a tragedy could fall..but that..and so soon I could not predict. He called me his smart beautiful classy lady..he and asked my kids for permission to marry me..had a ring made just for me…without telling me he wrote his own…Wrote vows for me..and said them on 1 knee at our wedding. I listen to “to where you are” Chloe Agnew sings it as does Josh Groban. I also listen to Not a Day Goes by by Lonestar. Every day..and just be in those moments because I can. The kids see his Angel signs and and are comforted..he told them being named for 2 saints meant he would be s guardian angel. I believe he is. But I miss him..I miss his protectiveNess even when it was silly. I miss play sparring..and in the process he taught me self defense..I miss listening to my 12 yr old daughter an him debate serious world events. I miss the way my 15 yr old actually listened to him..and respected him because he earned it. I try to hold my head up..but I miss every thing about him. And every day I find myself stalling. I’ve met new people..had fun even..but the ring stays put..so far I just cannot deal with it being off. Sigh..just still need it I guess. But thank you for saying it so succinctly. It brought a spill of tears..that I can appreciate because the whole thing was true..so true! Thank you!!

    • Heidi…I still wear my rings. Doesn’t feel right if they’re off. Lost my husband October 14, 2012 & I am still lost. I feel your pain.

  5. “The new normal”, that is what it is. I have said that very phrase as well as saying to a very close friend, “I don’t know who I am anymore”. It has been 6 years since my husband passed. Now the kids have all grown, moved on to their own marriages. So now the “aloneness” has really set in. This is a whole new stage of grieving as I watch my married friends achieve anniversaries that I will not, even though we got married before them. I watch them travel together on trips I had hoped to take, and now would have to go alone ….I’m not even sure how to do that. People tell me to get out there and find someone, like it really is sooooo easy. From the age of 16 I had only dated my husband. I really don’t know how to put myself ‘out there”. I don’t get invited out to the things that couples would be invited to and that hurts too. Again, a loss of identity. The loss of sharing is the hardest however, I don’t have my Best friend to talk to and confide in. My parents don’t even understand because they still have each other. They look at me like I am some foreign being. I’m sure that by the Grace of God I will find my way. It all seems to just take so much time.

    Thank you

  6. So wonderfully expressed. I have felt such a responsibility and push to build a new life, find new purpose, have new goals– it is what my husband would expect and want for me– to honor him and our life by enjoying and relishing every moment in my today— the hardest thing is I loved the partner, life, goals and plans I had-

  7. the same applies to loss of spouse with a divorce. With the exception of knowing they are still alive and living it without you. The grieving is and was unbearable at times. I used to say a “death would have been easier to take”
    So to speak. Both are devastating.

    • Marsha the same devastation certainly applies to a divorced spouse. After nearly 20 years of marriage my husband had an affair and left. Our son was 17 and daughter was 12. I was devastated and so were my children. Life was very difficult emotionally and financially for years! This was the hardest life’s tragedies I have been through.

  8. Yes…this conveys what I feel and what I miss…my partner…my sharer of future dreams. I am out in the world without him…I don’t like being without him. I do all to enjoy the life that I am so blessed to have…oh he fought sot hard to stay. God called to him and he realized his most fervent wish…to see God’s face. My husband represents my past…and now I walk alone with memories of him forever more etched in my mind/heart. I began my life without him and now will continue and end it without him. I truly miss him…his smile…his humor…his voice….and his love.

  9. Completely understand…I lost my husband 5 years ago…a boyfriend 2 years ago and a fiance last November.
    It helps when you read and hear that others have felt what you have felt and continue to struggle alongside you.

  10. Michael

    When you died I was numb. How was I going to live? All I wanted to do was crawl under the bed and disappear, die if I could. I know now why old couples go so close together, they could choose the easier way but I had to make a different choice and decided to:
    Go Threw The Motions.

    So I went threw the motions and;
    Had Alex over when all I could do was remember how you loved that child and held her in our bed when you could do nothing else. The emptiness was so more profound.
    Painted Sarah’s house when all I wanted to do was run and scream.
    Went back to work because all I wanted was to get out of the house because you were everywhere there and at the very same moment never leave it because it was the only connection I had to you.
    Ate cereal, there was no need to cook any more.
    Sleep with the aid of the pills I denied myself before you died so not to miss a need, but those too ran out and again I was alone- awake without you.

    With your death all that had meaning was now empty, a void, my home, my garden, my life. One widow told me it took her three years to see color. How do you not see color, it’s everywhere? Then I walked in my garden that fall day and saw. I saw the void, the colorless of my life because all it’s meaning died with you, the color has left my life.

    Everyone says the big things are hard, Christmas, Thanksgiving, your birthday those things you can and do prepare for. They are so wrong! It’s the little things that are killing me. The jacket in the hall I have walked by a hundred times and I see it and then you. The grab bar in the bath that has been there for over a year and I see it and then you. The helmet up on a far away shelf and as I look for something else I see it and then you. These are the things that cause pain that is real as any I have ever experienced, physical pain that stabs you in the chest and emotional pain that sucks your breath away with grief that stops you in your tracts because there is no way to prepare. They and all the other familiar things is the reminder of that every day life gone.

    I realize now why it takes so long to grieve. We where together for 34 years and somehow I have to put that life away piece by piece, moment by moment, that life we shared, of who WE were. So much of me is in that grave, where do I start and you leave off. Like a vine on the wall that when part of it dies, how does the gardener remove the dead without destroying the living, he can’t, we are that vine. How do I untangle this mystery call marriage and find just Carolyn.

    I keep going threw the motions and…. Someday…Somehow… I pray that the color will come back and the motions will become life again.

    • Thank you for your beautifully written and poignant comments. As for me, I don’t care if I ever see the colors again…he was the very air that I breathed. Everything else has become meaningless to me.

    • Some how I understand every word you wrote so beautifully. I lost my husband December 28,2014. I lost my father on the same day 6 Years earlier. My life has no color either. We were married on Valentines day in 1988. I have tried praying, crying, screaming but still I wake up every morning in a panic trying to figure out what now……I have children,grandchildren,sisters a brother, a mother and many wonderful friends that want to help me but they can’t…..I know they mean well but they have no idea what to do. I try to leave our home only to rush back in a panic and there is nothing here but still I can not break away from our home. Black and white is all I see. It is all the things I miss about him, he was my life and I want to see colors again also but how? Funny you brought up painting houses because that’s what we did for 25 years. He taught me how to paint and we worked together everyday until we lost our business to the economy falling apart about 4 Years ago.He Was devastated and just gave up on life. He tried to be brave for me but I knew it was taking its toll on him….and it did. I pray all day everyday and know he is with God but then the human selfishness of me gets mad and wants to see him walk in our door just one more time. I want to hold him, smell him, touch him just anything…when I realize its not going to happen I am right back where I started. He would want me to see colors again especially his beautiful blue eyes but I have not made it there yet…thank you for sharing you story…I hope your colors come back as well as mine.

  11. When you lose your spouse, your soul mate, you absolutely lose a part of yourself. I’ve found in the past 2 yrs. that some people just will never “get it” Their intentions are good but they still just don’t get it. My heart breaks for all the comments I’ve read on here, each one I can relate to even if it is in the smallest way. I’m a logical person and I know that we must go on, that our spouses would have wanted it that way, that it will make it easier on others if we do, they’ll feel less awkward around us if we just move forward, get back out there, return to normal….little do they know that in the midnight hour when we are all alone, that it all comes back to us….I hear his laugh, I feel his love and I experience the loss all over…daylight comes and I must give it another go…it’s a like a continual repeating loop. What is normal? I haven’t the foggiest.

  12. Fred, thank you again for writing this and for sharing it here. When I saw the post title I thought, “That’s what WifeLess wrote!” When I joined the YWBB late in 2010, I found “Unique and Devastating Loss” spoke words I could not then identify, let alone convey. Over the years I shared it with newer widows and widowers on that site, as well as on my personal Facebook page and in my blog resources page. Your words have helped many, many friends and family members better understand the challenges faced by the newly widowed.

  13. Beautifully written and the most true words I’ve seen in the three years since my husband died. I’ve tried to express some of these things but it never seemed to come out right. Thank you for putting what I have felt all this time into perspective for me.

  14. BLess you has only been a little over 3 months and we were together & married almost 30 years so hard like your words spoken buy I am thankful to have JESUS Christ my Lord & Savior, and my beautiful loving family. ️Blessings to all on the journey I call it a road few travel.

  15. My husband passed away on his 79th birthday on 15th December 2014. Until now I still in a dazed that he is gone. Some days goes by without any meaning and what are my purpose to be a live. I hope I will find my way soon . We had been married for 42 years 10 months. WE had our good times and bad.. I sure missed you Honey rest in peace

  16. It has been 4 months since I lost my Jim the day after Thanksgiving. He had a bad heart and he died in his sleep. Every morning I wake up to face another day without him. He was my one and only. We met when I was 17 and were married for over 50 years. I hug his pillow at night because it still smells like him. One day soon after he died I was sitting and sobbing and my kitchen light flicked twice. There was no reason and it hasn’t done it since so I know it was my Jim saying he is with me. I miss his silliness, his calmness, his sweet smile. I wonder how long I will have to wait before we are reunited. I picture myself running to his open arms. I have so many friends who are trying so hard to help me through this but they can’t be with me in this empty house all the time. I don’t want to cook, I don’t want to clean the house! My reason for being was tied to him. My children are spread all over the country. They are trying but there is not much they can do to ease the loneliness since they are so far away. My counselor said I should take it one day at a time and that is what I am trying to do but our anniversary is coming up and I know I will spend the day crying. Medication is helping but can’t take away all the pain. Did I tell him I loved him often enough? I try to keep busy as much as possible but when I am home as I must be eventually it tears at my heart. My friends who have faced this before me say it gets easier with time. Maybe but I know there will never be anyone else for me.

  17. I just discovered this blog and relate to so much of what is said. I too sleep with my husband’s pillow. I do not cook, my hobby, because I cooked for my husband. I cleaned for my husband. My life evaporated. The yard is real estate, not “our yard”. He was my best friend, my best mother, my best child and the best husband. It will take courage to live in the new normal; I don’t know if I will make it. My husband died 8 months ago of brain cancer and was too young and way too wonderful to die. I am sure we all feel that it is inconceivable such a horrible thing could happen. Life seems like a bad dream.

  18. I sincerely thank each of you for posting your kind responses to “Unique and Devastating Loss”. I am very gratified that it has resonated with you in such a meaningful way.

    It is my hope that any new widow or widower who reads this blog and your thoughtful replies will find a measure of comfort in knowing that there are many of us out here who have walked the same sad road that they now do. And also, that we understand the truly unique nature and full devastating extent of the loss they have suffered. For me, this knowledge helped greatly as I took my first few steps on the long journey towards healing and recovery. Perhaps it will serve a similar purpose for them as well.

  19. This is an amazing description of how i feel and no doubt all of my friends, widows and widowers have been on this same journey. They can all relate to this – you have walked the path and I call all widowers and widows – “Real People” as you have dealt with reality and understand. I am truly grateful how you have put this into words.

  20. This is the best article I’ve ever read describing the reality of losing a spouse. I’m sharing with all my family, friens and fellow widowed.

  21. My husband died 8 months ago today; and whether imagined, or not, I feel those around me who have been supportive, have moved on in seeing me in real crisis. Yet for me, every day the center of my life is the absence of my husband and the lack of any security about how to live my life. I re-read “a unique and devastating loss” for comfort and felt understood. I am copying it to give to the members of the support group I have been attending, it is the best thing I have read about the experience of being a widow. I hope it helps other people too.

  22. Hell of a piece,Brother…..I,personally relate,as a bachelor ,of advanced years,to my loving,and sorely missed,sister,Addie..Gone these last several years..we were seperated by this vast continent of ours,me,extremely East,she West,both born in July,i as a 12 year old got to hold her as a 2-week old,so small,such a beautiful face..an unbroken Bond that grew and grew childhood,puberty,marriages,childbirth,most of which i missed in person,but shared in spirit,through lively electronic communications,that wonderful,wonderful laugh and reserved only for BigBro tone of respect,love,mutual admiration….and then,the Great Sorrow of a hateful disease,which came and then went……and than came again…and again and yet AGAIN.for that last pitiful time….i asked if i might see her at the time of finality and Hospice..but she refused and pleaded that i honor her last wishes not for me to see her as is,but as she Was….She had deteriorated terribly,in her words,and SO much wanted me not to add to her in that state,against all my protestations,her heartfelt wish prevailed…i stood put..and then she was passed,not alone,thankfully,but amongst those she held dear..i STILL hear that VOICE,like no OTHER…between loved Sister ‘n Her BigBrother…’Bye Addie..see ya soon….Peter.

  23. In your first paragraph, you embodied what I only just truly identified in myself over three years after the death of my darling husband. Many times since I he died, I have thought and even uttered aloud, “I just want to go home”. Many times that was said in the house we had shared. It was always said during moments of sadness, anxiety or fear. Only recently have I really made the connection that home was my husband and my desperate plea was for that place of shelter for my heart, that I had known, and so terribly missed. My heart was homeless.

    While I am far from figuring this out, I at least have that bit of understanding and knowledge to build off of.

    Thank you for sharing.

  24. Thank you so much for sharing this. Such a true testimony to what marriage is all about and all that we are missing out on. Being with my husband for 9 years, 2 1/2 years married, and having a 16 month old and then doing without is something I could’ve never imagined or prepared myself for. Never thought I would be a 27 year old widow. Everyday gets harder and harder. It will be 3 months this week since I have received the shocking news and it has been the darkest days of my life. Trying to get up and enjoy life as much as I can with our little boy but watching someone who mirrors his dad and whom will never know what it truly feels like to be loved by his dad is heartbreaking. You feel robbed of your entire life. This blog came to me in one of my darkest nights and look at it every day for encouragement to go on. As horrible as it sounds, to see other people go through this nightmare makes me feel not so alone. I am so sad of always being “homesick” for the one person I can’t have. Thank you again for posting.


  25. Pingback: Catch 22 |

Leave a Reply