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.