When your spouse dies, it hurts. My desire with this post is to offer a glimpse into the hearts of those who have experienced such a loss. The heart is a fragile place, with many caverns of emotions and feelings. I asked some of my fellow widow and widower friends to share their feelings, and what they wish others knew and understood about their hearts, and the challenging experiences they have faced.
The comments are raw, unedited, and candid; straight from the heart.
As you read through the feelings expressed, please think of what President Monson declared: As we follow in Jesus’ footsteps, as we ponder his thoughts and his deeds, as we keep his commandments, we will be blessed. The grieving widow, the fatherless child, and the lonely of heart everywhere will be gladdened, comforted, and sustained through our service, and we will experience a deeper understanding of the words recorded in the Epistle of James: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
A common theme in the comments expressed, is the utter loneliness that occurs after losing the love of your life. No one can replace the beloved companion, but we can all reach out to those who are alone, and lift them up in small, yet profound, and meaningful ways. I know that Heavenly Father has a special love for those who are left a widow or widower, as well as the children who are involved in such an enormous loss. He wants them to be tended to with love and kindness. Sometimes we do not know the words to say to offer comfort; we do not want to say the wrong thing, we do not want to offend.
Where words fail, actions speak.
Each widow and widower have different situations, needs, and emotions. But as you follow the promptings of the Spirit, you will know how you can best serve those that you know and love. I promise that every act of kindness offered to those in need is recorded in Heaven. Acts of kindness are like a healing balm to those who feel alone and forgotten. It does not take much to act as the Saviors’ hands — to lift those in need of comfort and love. It does not take much time, or extensive effort, to make a tremendous difference in someone’s life.
Look around you, and notice the widows and widowers — some are older, some are young. I want to give you a glimpse into their hearts, so you might know how to better reach out in love and tenderness towards them. There are so many out there who are alone, so many who need love and encouragement. Take a moment and think how you might be able to lift the hands that hang down.
The life of a widow and widower is a challenging path to travel. No one should be left to walk the path alone.
My hope with this post is that you will have your heart touched, that you will reach out, and remember the widow and widower — they need you.
To the widow and widower, know that you are not alone.
From the Heart of Lynda:
(8 months into my widowhood married 3 years Shaun died from organ failure due to an infection in lungs and on skin. He was 37)
1. Biggest fear…If I’m to sad, to often or for two long that people won’t want to be around me. I keep my tears hidden often and am alone in my sadness because I want people to want to be around me.
2. Worries- I worry everyday if I’m doing it right. I’m a great mom but a sucky dad, and while I’m doing the best I can, I still feel its not enough sometimes. Please take the time to let a widow know she is doing a good job. Kind words from those around me have helped.
3. Do- talk about our dead loved one. It may make us cry but we want to hear it. Please share fond memories, or a happy thought with us about them because we miss them, and it lets us know they aren’t forgotten.
4. Don’t be quick to judge. Most of us have never been down this road before, nor did we ask for it and there is no manual, and we are doing the best we can to hold on, and move forward with our new normal. Please give us a little slack.
5. I wish they knew that there is no right or wrong way to grieve, while grief may feel similar, each persons journey with it is different so different. There is no magic timeline when someone they loved will stop being missed so quit thinking they will get over it. The pain may lessen but it will always be there.
6. There is no timeline that is right to start dating again. For some its years, others only a few months. The reality is that our loved one is gone, and not coming back and we are doing the best to move forward. When we start to date or love someone new, just be happy we are trying. It doesn’t mean we loved our spouse any less. For me I absolutely know I will love another man again. I had an amazing love the with my late husband and I know I can have that kind of love again. I have within me an infinite ability to love and have no doubt that I will share that kind of love with another.
7. Please don’t let us sit alone. We are without our spouse, and we can have hundreds around us and still feel alone…make sure we aren’t.
8. Please help with the kids. Take them, be examples, be mentors, leaders, and friends, . And be patient with them.
From the Heart of Janice:
I have been a widow for 3 1/2 years. My husband and I were married for 50 years he was my everything, plus my best friend, my protector, he treated me like a queen everyday. Has it gotten easier? NO in fact it has gotten harder because I have been without him. I have gone through every thought and action any one could have and that is I have been bitter, to feeling so sorry for myself, to having thoughts of doing something so I would be with him again. Every where I go I feel so alone, even if it’s a room of 300 people I still feel alone. I look at my life and yes I have many blessings and many tender mercies. But my heart is broken I don’t know if it will ever be fixed. The one thing I do is try to keep busy and get out of the house everyday. The thought that this is how my life is going to be forever I never knew what the word meant that is loneliness I guess I am not the one to ask to how us widows survive but thanks for listening.
From the Heart of Judy:
I have been a widow for almost 14 months. Probably the hardest thing for me (if I ponder it out) is, my husband and I had the rest of our lives planned out. Everyone else lives go forward and I have hit a dead end a stalemate and I must rewrite what I want to do with my life. Or better yet learn to listen to what my Savior wants me to do for the rest of my life. It is really hard. I look at some who have lost a spouse and they seem to handle it way better than I am. I know in my head we all have different trials but in my heart I struggle, I am just barely to the point where I want to thrive not just survive but that being said having a hard time to know where to start or which direction to go in. At this stage attending church, grand kids, and kids make me happy but also makes me sad. My husband and I were all about family and making memories. I try and then I’m sad because he is not here to share that with me anymore. I don’t know if this even makes sense it is hard to put into words, feelings of the heart. My husband was 58 just a month shy of 59. He died suddenly They ruled it coronary. We were in the hospital because he had had a heart attack but was getting ready to be released. We were walking back to his room from showering and he collapsed. Life has away of throwing curve balls and you just are not ready for them, no one is ready for becoming a member of this club. How grateful I am to have this group to help me other wise I would totally think I was crazy.
From the Heart of Jenny:
5 months. Loneliness even with friends and family around.
From the Heart of Kathleen:
I would like others to understand that when you remarry your love for your former spouse does not die. Your heart enlarges so you can love both people at the same time. To choose between spouses would be like choosing between children.
From the Heart of Susan:
(4yrs) You have no idea how it will affect you and it affects everyone different. You become a different person and it can be a struggle to figure out who that person is. Trying to figure out where you fit is hard. I’ve done a lot of “flailing” trying to figure things out because I’ve felt that I lost my tether. He died at 53 of a right sided colon cancer one year after having the surgery that discovered it.
From the Heart of Beverly:
(4yrs) I’m still waiting to feel better. I was counseled that I would have a different future, different feelings, become a different person. No one mentioned that I might not like that different future, the different feelings, or the different person I have become.
From the Heart of Kimberlee:
17 months …
Seems like Forever ago
I too, keep busy, positive, strong, giving service, having Fun?! Keeping the Faith.
Coupled with = not wanting to get out of bed, feeling sorry for myself & uncertainty,
Indulging in Haagen Dazs quite frequently
and so you have it. !!
Balance is Key <<
From the Heart of Christopher:
I’ve been a widower for 3 years 1 month
There is no moving on, getting over it, etc. As long as you love those who have passed on, there will be a hole in your heart that is continuously healing. Be patient and try to be understanding of those who are suffering, no matter how long it’s been since they lost a spouse.
If you haven’t lost a spouse, there aren’t any words that you can say that will help. So instead, do something nice for those going through their great loss, without being asked. Those kind deeds are what are remembered as positives during the hardest time in those peoples lives.
From the Heart of MaryLynn
Something I hadn’t expected to feel was the loss of control. I spent my first 37 adult years (I am almost 59 now) taking care of myself and everyone else and doing a fairly good job. After my husband was diagnosed with aggressive bone marrow cancer in 2013, and died in 2014, I have felt like life is out of my control. The positive is I rely on the Lord a lot more and am more aware of His hand in my life, but the negative is that I have more anxiety about my ability to deal with the many, many challenges that have come up since he died. My confidence in myself is shaken.
From the Heart of Jennifer
(3 yrs) (He was 3 weeks short of 37 yrs. old)
I want people to know that suicide leaves the survivors with guilt, unanswered questions, and mental anguish that doesn’t go away. I wish people would step up and volunteer to take my son on outings and activities with men and boys.
I find that I ask for help, but I’m not going to beg. Follow through if you say you are going to help. Loneliness is my companion lately.
From the Heart of Don:
4.5 years. Died at age 49 from cancer, leaving five children aged 15 to 25, one of them special needs.
1. There is no such thing as getting back to normal. The old us will never be back. Life has unalterably changed. There will be a new normal in time.
2. There is no such thing as moving on, only moving forward. Our late spouses will always be missed, even if we marry again. They are a part of us.
3. It takes a LOT of effort and time to process the grief, not just a few weeks or months. Be patient. Talk to us. Talk about our late spouses. Don’t avoid us. We are alone in a crowd; talk to us in a way that doesn’t make this worse.
4. Especially early on, don’t say, “If you need anything just let me know” and walk away. Our world has just been shattered. We have no idea what we need. Instead, look for something that is needed and just do it. Pick up the kids to take them to an activity. Mow the lawn. Call and say, “I am bringing dinner over. Would Tuesday work?” Come over and watch the kids without being asked so the overwrought parent can have some much needed down time.
5. The need for support does not end after a week or a month or even a year.
6. Our children need mentors to step in for the missing parent. Be the leader who takes the child or young man or young woman in. Help the YW with personal progress. Take the YM on the scout campout or Fathers and Sons campout. If you can’t, help arrange for someone to do it.
7. Whether we decide to date and marry again, and when, is highly personal. Don’t rush it. And if we do we are not dishonoring our late spouse. In many cases they wanted us to marry again and said so. In all cases they want us to be happy, to have joy in this life. Loving again does not take away from the love we have for our late spouse; in fact it amplifies that love. There is room in our hearts for more, without diminishing the past or taking away from the future. It is hard to comprehend how this is possible without actually experiencing it, but it really is true.
8. Our children are grieving also. Be patient with them.
9. All our dreams of the future have now been changed or even eliminated. It will take a long time to figure life out again. Please don’t say we should be over it by now. It is not a quick process. It took me a year to even be in a proper emotional state to begin to figure it out, and that was just the beginning.
From the Heart of Janet:
Don’t tell me you know how I feel just because you lost your 95 year old grandfather. Even I don’t know how I feel! (19 mos out; he was 58; brain cancer) (That said, I do want to add that we as WW should try to realize that most people mean well. They don’t mean to hurt us.)
From the Heart of Karen:
Husband died at 51, took two meds (one first time) that didn’t mix and died in his sleep. I think others need to remember certian things will always trigger an emotional response, no matter how many years have passed. Be gentle, pass the tissues, and let us feel the warmth/sorrow of those moments. Sleeping alone, over 6 yrs and still have insomnia and keeping track of time. It like an internal clock stopped in my body, probably a defense mechanism.
From the Heart of Billie Jean:
My husband died at 65 from stomach cancer. We had been married for almost 32 years. He has been gone for 16 months.
We have a wonderful immediate and extended family. 6 married kids and 22 grandkids. They are sad for me but also grieving the loss of their dad. Grateful all the kids are grown.
I have gained a new appreciation for our temple sealing and our promise that families can be together.
I feel Heavenly Fathers love and peace through the many tender mercies shown me and my family.
It is difficult to move forward without the love of my life. He made me feel complete. I am less secure in my confidence and self esteem without him. I find it difficult to think to far into the future because he isn’t here to share it with me.
I am trying desperately to determine God’s will in my life now. I had hoped we would grow old together. I want to live the rest of my life in a way that will help me to be with my sweetheart forever.
I feel that my husband misses me too and doesn’t want me to be too sad. I’m trying to move forward in faith.
Because of my deep and loyal love to my husband I don’t want to ever forget our love for each other.
This pathway is one that allows us to rely on Godhead in a new way. Without our loving Heavenly Father, our brother Jesus Christ who died that we might all live again and the comfort of the Holy Ghost this journey would be hopeless and impossible. I’m so grateful.
From the Heart of Sherlene:
Its the hardest thing I’ve ever done to close that casket; it was the end of a lot of things. but it was also such a relieve that he was free or years of difficult suffering. I miss him every day it doesnt end. I hate walking in to every event alone. BUT I am not broken or fragled, so dont think you have to fix me. I am tired of doing every thing by myself, but Im greatful for what I can do by myself. I know that the Lord has sustained me through it all. 3 years 9 months.
From the Heart of Kathyrn:
MD died Oct. 17 4 years ago. In August prior we had to call 911 and he was taken to the ER and then in the hospital and then to the Providence Extended Care where he had physical therapy. One thing people need to know is give the spouse a lot of leeway because words comes out of our mouths that they can think inappropriate. For instance the day MD died all the family was there and I knew MD had been really concerned about it getting winter and not being able to get the car in the garage. Di and son-in-love Ron came over and cleaned it up and moved things around to make room for the car. I asked Mike to give MD a blessing to ‘release ‘ him and they were upset because they thought I was meaning ‘releasing from life’. that was saying to hurry his demise. I should have used the word to ‘release his from worries, or concerns”. So families should have understanding and not be judgmental of us because we are not ourselves. ./ Another thing I did not like was when people, thinking they were being kind, said ‘ he is in a better place now’. I realize that they were meaning to be loving and kind, but at that time our hearts don’t want to hear that. /You are right the second year was horrible. The third year was not much better and this year I determined I would not let the missing, the sorrow, the loneliness, the companionship , the reading to him, serving in the temple together and all this get to me, but serve others and get out of myself. I serve in the temple Wed. mornings and this past year in prayer meeting the married couples are sitting together, which they did not use to do and my heart weeps a bit when I observe their love and smiles they give each other in that sacred place.
From the Heart of Jennifer:
I miss having someone to talk the options over and make decisions together. I miss my partner. And right now the hardest part is juggling work, church, my mental/physical health, my son’s mental and physical health needs, the house, and trying to get back into the dating scene. I can’t do it all by myself, but I feel I should.
From the Heart of Don:
I really wish family members could try to develop a little more empathy. Everything’s fine until the widow/widower begins a new relationship. Then it gets chilly with some people. Yes, I know it is uncomfortable for you to see me with someone else. I get it. It’s even ok if you admit it’s uncomfortable, and that it might take a while, but you’ll try. They need to understand my world is different now, and I need to do what’s right for me. I still want to be their son-in-law, their brother-in-law… After all, I am still sealed to their loved one. But like others have said, my ability to love is not used up.
From the Heart of Lisa:
The hardest thing for me was getting over the amount of time I felt I lost when Cameron died. I felt like my life was over. I had been with him since I was 18 years old. We grew up together, built a family together, had ups and downs for 20 years and now he is gone. How do you make up that time? You don’t. No one can replace that time in my life. I will never be able to start a new family and have babies, and be young again. Even though I just remarried–and am very happy–it will never be the same. My 20’s and 30’s are over and I feel like I am missing out on so much because I went through that phase of my life and worked out those hardships in my marriage and it was just getting easier.
From the Heart of Lyn:
We prepare for or dream about a lot of stages in our lives – when we’ll graduate or leave home or get a job or get married or have children or become empty nesters, etc. But we seldom think about becoming single. Odds are that most married women will become widows since women usually outlive men. It’s something we ought to spend more time thinking about and planning for. We counsel our teens to make decisions ahead of time so that they won’t have to make the decision in the heat of the moment when temptations or difficulties are pressing. I think women should be doing the same thing.
I remember the week after my husband’s funeral thinking that I needed to decide what type of widow I would be. I wanted to be proactive in this matter rather than just let myself evolve into someone who might not be the woman I wanted to become. It’s funny that the thought never occurred to me during his 18-month illness – I suppose because we were busily focused on his needs and doing everything we could together while we still could.
So I examined my priorities and whether I still wanted them to be priorities. I thought about my house and all that the upkeep involved. I thought about how I wanted to spend my time. I looked at my budget realistically. (The costs involved with the death of a loved one is another matter we ought to plan for, but that’s a whole other issue.) I thought about the things we had done together for so many years and whether I wanted to continue to do them alone, as well as if I could still do them and how I would manage it if I wanted to keep enjoying them. Most of all, I wanted to maintain a place with the living and not become a recluse living in the past or in the world of “what might have been.”
When our parents die, we miss them and wish we could share things and activities with them. But it is different than when a spouse or even a child dies. We expect that a parent will die before we do, but we don’t want to think of the death of a spouse or a child who is supposed to outlive us.
So when a spouse (or a child) dies, we become torn between two worlds if we have a belief in the doctrine of life continuing after death. I have tried unsuccessfully to describe this to someone who hasn’t lost a spouse. It was such a comfort to come on a mission and serve with other widows and find I’m not alone or unusual in this.
I have an intense interest to learn all I can about the post-mortal life. To many this seems almost morbid. But it isn’t. When my husband traveled for his work, I loved having him describe the places he was seeing and the things he was doing. I have that same interest now – but he can’t really describe things to me. I want to know how he spends his time (if that’s even the way to describe it – time is a complex concept.) I want to know that he is happy and that he is okay. I long to know that he approves of what I am doing.
I notice often that someone who has experienced the loss of a spouse (and I’ve seen the same thing when a young child has died) becomes more serious about learning from and valiantly completing the lessons of mortality. Perhaps it is from a recognition that mortal life can be extinguished so quickly and unexpectedly. Possibly it is because of having one foot in mortality and the other in spirit world. Personally I think it is because the dearest desire of my heart is to be able to spend eternity together with my sweetheart. Whatever it is, it sometimes makes me figuratively roll my eyes to hear what occupies the time and minds of others. I try not to be judgmental, but at times it is frustrating to see the amount of effort spent on pursuits that seem not very important in the eternal scheme of things.
From what I have studied, the learning curve on the other side of the veil is different. So I want to try to keep up with him as much as I can from mortality. I don’t want to be a stranger to him when we meet again or have it feel awkward. I think that probably sounds bizarre. As a new widow, the first time I sat through a lesson on marriage my initial thought was that this no longer applied to me. But now I’m not so sure. So I actually occasionally spend time pondering what I can do to strengthen my marriage.
The greatest challenge to being a widow is loneliness. An apostle who had lost his wife described it as “devastating loneliness.” It doesn’t matter how strong your testimony of the eternal nature of things, you are lonely. Grief lessons, but loneliness never does, though with time you are able to not break out in tears at so many random times. I am 5 ½ years out from my husband’s death. I still miss him every single day. Sometimes it is difficult to watch the little intimacies of a married couple – the fleeting touch, the conversation spoken through eyes alone, the laughter. It isn’t a jealousy or a wish that they weren’t as bonded together as a couple, in fact it makes me hope that they are appreciating what they have. But it is a reminder of what I no longer have.
You invest a lot of energy in a marriage learning how to be interdependent. Then suddenly you are forced to be independent. But you continue to miss the interdependence – the emotional support, the many forms of temporal and physical assistance, the conversations, the touching. Friends and family, especially children and grandchildren, help fill life with enjoyment and company and the events of living. But there is a hole that never gets filled.
I have one-sided conversations with him all the time and wish he could answer me. There are sacred times when the veil is very thin, and I feel him near. Sometimes I feel he is communicating with me but not in the way we used to do. It is more a conveying of a feeling of peace and calm. I sometimes wonder if I could experience that more often if the busy-ness of the world weren’t so much a part of mortality. There have been other times when I know without any doubt that he has protected me. But explaining these events to anyone else usually isn’t successful. You have to experience it yourself to understand.
Without taking anything away from how hard it is to be widow, I think we need to be more helpful and compassionate to divorced sisters. All the things a widow has to face are also faced by one who is divorced. However, the divorced sister doesn’t have the benefit of knowing her spouse left her unwillingly. A widow has the blessing of looking forward to a joyful reunion with her husband, but a divorcee doesn’t have that comfort.
From the Heart of Stan:
The two most important things early on for me were #1 Deciding to live life, engage and turn outward and #2 finding a woman to just be my friend. Someone to talk to on a regular basis. Someone to just listen and someone for me to listen to. I needed a female friend like I needed air and food and water.
From the Heart of Cindy:
I miss the small things…. Someone to talk to at night, someone who tells me I’m the most beautiful when I first wake up. I miss him planning my birthday and anniversary for weeks, I spent my 56 th birthday alone yesterday. I still have a problem going into a restaurant and saying “just one please” and almost always being asked if I mind sitting at the bar to I don’t take up a table that two or more could use. Once I was asked that and I said “no, I’m celebrating my anniversary”. I tried not to cry when the waiter brought me a cake on the house with tears in his eyes as well.
On a happier note, I’ve discovered a strength that I never knew I had inside me. God has blessed me and I feel his comfort continually. I’ve learned to do so many things for myself and I ask for help from few. God sent me a dog, Teddy 6 months before Gary died and this sweet boy has literally saved me life. He’s my co pilot now. I’ve already told the vet he has to do a two for one special when it comes his time. Ha
From the Heart of Genell:
My husband naturally compensated for some of my weaknesses I didn’t even realize I had– organization, time management, lightheartedness, things like that. Discovering those weaknesses was hard for me. I felt guilty for underappreciating him while he was alive, and overwhelmed realizing that I now had to learn new skills on top of taking on the responsibilities of two parents. But hey, I did it! Sort of…
My house flooded 10 days before my husband died. There was a lot to do. Help with fixing things around the house that I couldn’t do on my own would have been VERY appreciated. I asked, but I guess people were busy.
My husband and I had a few very close friends who we considered family, and would very often gather at our house. My kids were included in our conversations with them and loved their company, too. I wish that the men would have taken time to spend with my son who was 15. It would have been a huge comfort for him. But those friendship dynamics change. Everyone else moved on rather quickly, and my son felt abandoned.
From the Heart of Kenneth:
I think one of the hardest parts is the loss of the plans and dreams that we had together. When my wife died we were just getting to the point that we could really start to enjoy life. We had dreams of how things would be. Going on a mission, family vacations, couple vacations. All those lost along with the house that we had built together. I also just miss holding her.
From the Heart of Teresa:
I needed people to be present with me as the weeks and months drew along, even when I was too prickly to be physically with them during the first weeks. The first two weeks were a blur of shock and devastation and I needed to hunker down with my kids. People said they’d like to get together for lunch or to touch base with me later, “when things settle down.” By the time I was aware how much I needed such contact, it was nowhere to be found. Not only had my life (and our children’s) irrevocably changed, but my future and my sense of self were gone. I lost the closest link to past memories (nobody else who knew those events and challenges), the day-to-day self-identity of “wife,” and the future direction we had for what we would do as a couple and as a family. I was not just broken-hearted; I was shattered. There were many kind-hearted, well-meaning people around me, but too often they didn’t follow through on promises or told me how they thought I should feel. (“Don’t be sad, be glad he’s in a better place, have faith you’ll see him again…”) I was struggling at the hardest challenge of my life in mourning, floundering, struggling just to remember to feed my child every day — not bothering to eat for myself — and people who hadn’t ever buried their spouses while raising kids were telling me I was doing it wrong.
What helped most was having people acknowledge, not diminish, the significance of my loss.
From the Heart of Terry:
My husband and I were a team. We went to the temple, visited family, attended church, participated in family milestones, attended concerts, counseled children, dined, vacationed, worked on projects, talked, laughed and cried, etc…together. Now I do them alone, if I do them. When the temple is nearby, I have no problem going by myself but my temple is now two hours away and the stake center is an hour away. Not fun going alone so I have to call various people to carpool. Sometimes requires several calls because cars are full or members are already going with someone. I haven’t stopped going but sometimes it seems it would be easier to just give up. But then my Father envelops me with His love and I know I am part of His team. It is my responsibility to attend, therefore; I will find a way even if I have to go alone. This new attitude is a result of the many years my husband encouraged and pushed me when moments of self doubt would creep in. My widow’s heart tells me The Lord works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform.
From my experience, I have come to find that widows and widowers are some of the most courageous people I know. They fight against the fear and grief that would take them captive; the battle is real, the battle is often brutal. They are strong, capable, passionate people full of life and understanding. But even in their strength, I firmly believe they need to be lifted up in love by others… and we can all do our part.
“Let us remember that after the funeral flowers fade, the well wishes of friends become memories and the prayers offered and words spoken dim in the corridors of the mind. Those who grieve frequently find themselves alone. We cannot bring them back the morning hours of youth. But we can help them live in the warm glow of a sunset made more beautiful by our thoughtfulness, by our provision, and by our active and unfeigned love. God grant that those who belong to us may never be left in loneliness.” – Thomas S. Monson.