Gailanne-32 years together, 6 weeks after: “Taking a nap has been something that for me has always been, well, I've tried, but it never worked. So, in the last few weeks I found myself suddenly sometimes right after lunch feeling like I'm tired, I'm really tired. And, I've gone into my bedroom, with my book and lasted about two paragraphs and just closed my eyes. And I said, I just don't want to pretend I'm reading. And not really slept, but just kind of tried to call him, you know, like just tried to be in a calm place where I could say, ‘Oh, look, honey, I'm taking a nap. Are you happy? You always wanted me to take a nap, now I’m taking a nap. Like, let's chat. I'm not busy. I'm fine. And up running around. Like we can talk, you know?’
I force dreams. I close my eyes and I force, I say, ‘Come on Gerard, come and show me, show me your face’. And so, it's more like what I'm telling you, that I'm constantly conjuring him and sort of like yelling at him to show up, you know, that's the one thing that I really want. And I think some people don't want that, but I do. I'm not afraid of that. I'm not afraid of ghosts. I want him to come.
I never felt calmer than in the first three weeks after he passed away; I felt so calm. I felt, I guess I felt like everything was right. Because he'd been so sick. And so, I felt like I was shielded from maybe anything that didn't keep me feeling calm. I felt like in some way there was like a bubble or something around me, keeping me calm because I'm not a placid person. But I felt that way. And I still feel that way. I did everything, nobly and properly and with dignity, and for him to have it.”
Mike - 21 years together, 1 year after: "She died when she was 39 and I was 40. We met in high school, traveled to college together, traveled around the world, ended up here together. It was kind of crazy because we became adults together and so everything that I knew about being a functioning adult was a skill set that I had developed in tandem with somebody else. And, so all of a sudden being single, it was really disorientating. I mean, beyond everything else that goes with coupledom, everything that I loved about her and everything, I mean, everything that was her, that was lost. And not having a sounding board.
We were definitely planning decades out and it was the type of thing where she got sick and the whole time she was in the hospital, which was two months, I saw a transplant at the end of it and thought that, like truly thought, that everything was going to be fine. And then the day before her transplant, she went in for preparatory surgery and had a heart attack on the table and died.
And then two and a half months later after thinking about this whole thing, I decided that I was going to go after creating Janesi Comfort
. And that also gave me a focus because it felt like something that my wife would have been happy about. The idea of spreading comfort to people that were in her situation is something that I think would have really made her happy. And so having a big goal that was a really encompassing thing that you could spend a whole lot of time and effort on, that also would be kind of something that was done in both her name and with her ethics and ethos I found to be really therapeutic.
Barbara M G - 54 years together, 3 years after: "When he died, I went right back to work. I took a week to do all the paperwork and all of that sort of thing, the administrative stuff you have to do, cleared out his clothes immediately - everything. I do things right away. And then I went right back to work and I was good. I was okay. He had been in such bad shape, and in such pain, that the release of that was to me really a blessing for him. And it's funny, I actually felt his presence, the essence of him, more after he died than I had for a couple of years before. I just felt such an intense sense that he was with me and I could almost feel him next to me in bed. It's funny. As a result I didn't have this enormous grief. I was grateful he wasn't suffering anymore.
I always felt that every person is unique. We know that about twins, even identical twins… everybody's unique, their journey in life is unique. The way they look at that journey is unique. Their fingerprints are unique. So, with such uniqueness, it seems to me that the universe would think it was a waste just to destroy it and it's gone. That's my rationale, one of my rationales in believing in an afterlife, in a continuation of the essence of the person."
Sue -55 years together, 11 years after: "I went to a bereavement group at the “Y” and I said the problem that I had was that I had no women friends. We were all couples. And so one of the yentas said to me, ‘when you stop playing bridge with all the men you’ll have women friends’. So I started to play Mah- Jongg."
Diana - 22 years together, 6.5 years after: "Part of taking care of yourself is taking care of your kids because it's all the same. That's what I say. And my therapist or a friend will say, what have you done for you? And I say, you're only as happy as your most miserable child. The best thing of all is these two kids and when they have suffered trauma,you are that much more fierce about your happiness being in large part about their being able to adjust and cope and function with the grief and sadness in their lives, and to also learn that they can experience joy and pleasure."
Barbara - 50 years together, 4 years after: "Friends were in touch and some people wanted to come by right away and bring things. And actually I wanted to be quiet and alone. Didn't want a circus. I never wanted a lot of people around. My daughter pointed it out because she came after and she said, ‘it's so quiet here’. And I stopped listening to everything. The news, music - I always had music going - and I didn't listen to music for at least a year, not deliberately."
Carol - 53 years together, 1.5 years after: "I am very grateful. He was on home hospice. He did not want to be in a hospital bed and he was in our bed. I slept with him. He wanted to be able to touch me and this was sometimes very hard for me. At one point I almost said to the hospice social worker, I don't think I can do this, but I stopped within two seconds and said, ' I'm doing this - do not place him anywhere. I don't want him to be placed anywhere. I want him to be here. ' "
Danielle - 28 years together, 2 years after: “Grief counseling. Whenever I would feel lost, I would give them a call. That really helped a lot.” “I just think everybody deals with it differently. A lot of people have opinions on how you handle it.”
Darrell - 25 years together, 1.5 years after: "We had a cocktail hour every Saturday evening after Roger came home from church and before going out to dinner. It usually included wine or champagne, cheese, some fruit, nuts, and crackers. We would have some unobtrusive music on. This would be our time, every week, to really talk to each other. About life, our shared or personal histories or any plans we had for the future."
Donna - 35 years together, 1.5 months after: "Part of me is lost. I don't feel that I'm alone, but I miss him very much. You know, just conversations. I'm at the crosswalks and this part of my life right now - I'm not making many decisions. I think some people really don't see a future. I do. I don't know what it is and I'm not going to rush to make a plan."
Eddie - 27 years together, 14 years after: "In the beginning, the dreams were vivid. I remember one particular dream where I woke up and saw her silhouette coming at me, kind of a white energy, if you will, but I saw a silhouette. I didn't see her face, but I knew it was she and I saw her coming at me as I sat up and it was frightening. Frightening at first and then as it engulfed me, I felt a sense of calm and so to this day I associate her love and her protection in that moment of being engulfed in her silhouette."
Edith - 33 years together, 4 years after: "Every Friday I have breakfast food for dinner because it was a Friday that he died and I made him brunch. I made this brunch and that's when he asked me, you know, you usually do Sunday brunch, why Friday, you know something I don't know? I said, no, I just figured that we should do this. He said I don’t know- you’re up to something. I said no… and so now every Friday I'm alone, and I have breakfast food on a Friday."
Gail S - 46 years together, 9 years after: "I don't think his doctors were really treating the whole patient. I think maybe he could have used an antidepressant. I think they weren't managing his care as well as perhaps they might have. And there was nothing I could do. All we could do is live out our lives. He was not the man I married, but I was there for him and did what I could.
I wish I'd done more. I wish I’d been kinder, frankly. But, I did as well as I could and he did as well as he could too. I mean - we loved each other to the end. We weren't always as nice to each other as we should have been. So I try to remember that."
Harriet - 47 years together, 29 years after: “I was very fortunate in the way I took his death. When you read a book you finish the book, you close the book. That doesn't mean you don't read another book.”
Jane - 30 years together, 2.5 years after: “I’ve read that when older people lose their partners then you don’t get touched. To be without touch is a terrible thing. It’s like up there with food and shelter. And that’s why it’s good to get out there and meet people and yes, have companionship. I think people sort of go back to their usual state before a spouse died. I mean if you’ve been a person with a sense of humor you will go back to having a sense of humor- you retain your basic self.”
Elaine - 16 years together, 8 years after: "It was a very unusual match on paper. There is nothing we had in common. First of all, he was Gentile and I’m Jewish. He worked at a job that I think paid $25,000 a year. He never went to college. He didn't have children. He lived very modestly. That was his decision. He did not spend money. I was almost the opposite on everything.
But we lived the exact same kind of life, which is we both loved animals. We had dogs. We loved staying home. We loved watching television. We were really homebodies and we loved the same music.
He left me a note every day in my gym shoes. How happy it was. And that's one of the clues that something was going wrong is that he stopped leaving the notes. In 2009, he changed dramatically. He had no filter. He would just say things that came to his head. And he just wasn't the same person that I had married. I went to my therapist saying I’m leaving him. And I was telling her the symptoms and she said, take him to a neurologist. We went to a neurologist and he was diagnosed with frontal temporal degeneration.
Money was nothing for him. He had great friends, lots of great friends. And he was just a great guy. And even when he was ill, I never felt it was a burden taking care of him. I felt in a way, it was a blessing that I was allowed to do this, because if he was single, what would have happened to him if he had gotten this. And you know, I, I've written many essays about him and in some of my essays, I haven't come back to earth and he's sitting here and he's at the piano and we have a conversation. Those are the fun things. I bring him to life a lot. I know Tommy is happy I got a dog again because I didn't have a dog for seven years. I know he's really happy I got the dog. So, I feel him here too."
John - 32 years together, 15 months after: "I have always been seen as a strong person, but never thought I would ever need therapy until it got it. You know, with a black family, therapy is not high on the list of priorities, but a black family needs therapy as much as anybody else."
Judy - 30 years together, 5 years after: "I feel his presence very strongly sometimes and I mean I've never tried to pin down what it is that triggers that. I know sometimes I get into bed at night and I know there's something I can discuss with him and then it sort of hits me - 'well no. you can't'. Um, it's very jarring. And his presence is very real. Sometimes, I'll be in the bedroom or I'll be here in the living room and I know he's in the other room. I just know he's in the other room."
Lori - 22 years together, 11 years after: "I was looking for comforting books and trying to reconcile God's role in the whole thing. And how can bad things happen to good people. And why is there so much suffering in the world and all those age - old questions. And then afterwards I got really caught up in the girls and I started doing a lot of reading about that. I remember I have this book called Fatherless Daughters - I just really wanted to know how could I help them, and there was almost nothing on it."
Melissa - 30 years together, 2.5 years after: "I went back to work about two weeks after the funeral. It's a very strange feeling to go back. People look at you. They don't know what to say to you. I guess for some people it's easier to ignore it and just ignore you than to confront you and say, 'How are you doing'?
I think living on my own was one of the hardest things that I've had to deal with. Just figuring out how do I feed myself because there were always two of us, you know, and when you go from two to one, sometimes I don't eat - sometimes it's like two or three days, and I'm like, 'Did I eat'?"
Paula GR - 25 years together, 7 months after: "I have to be home because I keep saying I think he's lost and I have to be here in case he comes back. I want him to find me here. I have no desire to travel.
There are so many people who haven’t known love in their life and it's those people I feel so sorry for. It’s why I can't be greedy. I keep feeling I can't be greedy because I had him for 25 years."
Paula T - 25 years together, 9 years after: "I'm not religious, but there's one thing that happened when she passed that was just the weirdest thing in that room that she was in, it was a beautiful room. It was in a revamped house and there were gardens and flowers outside the windows and she had these French doors that looked out to the garden, and looking through the glass doors, there were two bunnies on their back, legs at the glass looking in.
And then all of a sudden I looked outside and there were like 20 bunnies all rolling and playing. And then she was gone. So, you know, it’s that crazy time when you look for magical thinking. I know that. And if anybody notices my art collection at home, there may be a bunny here and there, because it always stuck with me."
Dennis - 12 years together, 3 months after: "She died the second month of this year, February. I'm seeing a lot of people from all walks of my life. I'm getting together for lunches, dinners, hanging out with people and I'm also seeing my therapist twice a week. So I guess I'm taking care of myself the best I can. I'm scared because, you know, I'm 72. Judy and I found love relatively late in life and I thought we would grow old together, I really feel lost,really feel like the wind kicked out of me and I feel like half a person. So every day is different. Some days are more weepy than others. I'm not sure what brings it on. I don't like being home by myself in the mornings, and the nights are very hard. I wake up with a lot of anxiety in my chest."
Rami - 29 years together, 11 years after: "We did a renewal of the vows when she was already very sick. I surprised her. We had friends over for a barbecue when she was already pretty ill and I said, okay, we're now going to do a renewal of our vows. I had a friend act as the rabbi, so to speak, and read something that I had prepared. It made her feel really good. So if you could do something like that for your spouse, it can make them feel very special."
Ronnye - 20 years together, 17.5 years after: "We both had kids from previous marriages and we were introduced by mutual friends. So he came to pick me up for our first date, it was a blind date. And he was wearing the toupee and a polyester suit. ‘Oh’ I said, ‘no, like no.’ But I had a good time. We went out and he was kind and generous
and attentive and so I went out with him again."
Santiago - 25 years together, 2 years after: "It's been two years. I think about her all the time. When I see my sons, my daughter - I see my wife in them. She was the best woman for me in the world - a beautiful person."
Sari - 22 years together, 16 years after: "I don't think there were fireworks when we first met, but it was very easy to be together and it kept getting better."
Sam - 38 years together, 13 years after: "We'd both been in a long-term monogamous relationship and I think we find that situation comfortable."
Sari: "I was a relationship person my whole life. My husband died right before my 50th birthday. I knew that by 60 I'd be married. I just knew. I'm a relationship person."
Sam: "I think we're both lucky. We both acknowledge that side of our lives is important. You don't minimize it. We share all sorts of things, quirks of our former spouses. Sari finally sees, in my daughter, a lot of what my wife was like."
Stephanie -10 years together, 3 years after: "The way I kind of wrap my head around it all is, it's not just that someone died - it's like a weird way to end the relationship. It’s the weirdest way because all these conversations were never finished, and nothing is ever resolved."
Sandi -35 years together, 16 years after: "There were people who saw us weeks before he died. They thought we were newlyweds. It was that kind of relationship. We never walked down the street without holding hands. We’d go to a movie and he'd be patting me on the knee. And my heart still skipped a beat when he came into the room."
Edward - 58 years together, 8 months after: "Neil was sick for a long time. I'm glad he died before me. He couldn't have managed on his own.Now, I don't know what to do with myself a lot of the time. I mean, there's lots I have to do. I haven't really been able to settle down to writing for about five years because things got very heavy. I'm now starting to think about that. It's coming to me that it would be a very good thing to do, to write about the story of our relationship".
Richard - 18 years together, 2.5 years after: " One of the things that Nancy used to get on me about is finding something to do during the day - and that's it, I don't have any interests. She went to Pilates three days a week. She went to Tai Chi, she took up knitting and she made this sweater for me. And so she kept herself very busy, she had a book club at night, once a month. I guess I'm just not into any of that. I like to go out at night and listen to music and have a couple of drinks. That's my life. It's my lifestyle before marriage, during marriage and since, you know, she passed away."
Ellen - 10 years together, 6.5 years after: "I kept on looking for some young widow group. I couldn't find anything that looked appealing. I found a support group online that I would occasionally post on. But I tried to go to therapy a few times and couldn't find a good match. I didn't connect with anybody. I didn't feel like I found the right person at the time. And I was so focused on getting my kids' mental health sorted that that kind of became secondary."
Gail F - 23 years together, - 7 weeks after: "All the phone calls and all the paperwork, you know, that takes up a lot of my time. So I’m focused more on that than woe is me. And then I also think of the fact that he's so much more comfortable than what he was before. It wasn't right that he continued to live in that pain. It wasn't right for anyone to suffer. And whatever I have, whatever feelings I might have, even down the road, they'll be so minimal compared to what other people go through in this world today. Everything. I put everything in the right perspective."
Susan - 21 years together, 13 months after: "I didn't do bereavement counseling. I did rest a great deal. My first concern was that I had heard of stories of relationships, of one spouse ending and the other spouse leaving afterwards, kind of like a twinning situation. And I was very aware and concerned of that, so I rested. I strategically rested, like flat out, made myself lie down and rest just to deal with the biomechanics of death. You're with someone 21 years. You don't know what your nervous system is going to do. You don't know what your heart's going to do. You don't know what your brain's going to do. You have to just let it recalibrate. I had dealt with the passing of my son before. I have a son who passed and he was 18, so he taught me, you know, one of the amazing kind of gifts that he gave me was he taught me about deep grief."
Bonnie - 40 years together, 5 years after: "The paradox of my life is, I raised three kids. I had a marriage for 40 years. I had two, three quarter time jobs. I was working more than 60 hours a week. I had a sick husband, at the end, to be with and attend to as much as I could. And then all of a sudden I'm a widow and I have so much empty time. And that realization was profound. I still struggle with it because once mortality hits, you know, you lose your life partner. I mean I didn't even need to get cancer to have that mortality message. And then I got cancer. So mortality hits and you think, okay, fortunately I've survived. How do I want to spend my time? What is worth my time? And so that's an ever - evolving quest."