{My Story} A widow for four years

One FOF describes the singular and universal experience of losing the love of your life.

[Editor’s note: The essay below, by FOF Rosemarie Sussex, is part of a series of personal blogs from our readers. Have your own story to tell? Email your idea to geri@faboverfifty.com.]
I lay on my side of the bed, still unable to move move to the center. I’ve tried but I can’t.

I thought this feeling was unique to me, but I’ve learned from talking to other women who have lost their husbands that this is not unusual. One friend, also a widow, confided in me: “I don’t flush the toilet at night.” I was so shocked since I did the same thing.  We were both afraid that the toilet would overflow in the middle of the night. Then what do you do?

My husband Paul died in 2008. The first three months afterward were the easiest. People were there; the phone rang; I could wallow in the grief and no one expected anything from me. It was winter so it was easy not to go anywhere except work and home.

Then the spring came.

Friends and family wanted to get on with their lives and be happy again. Not that they were forgetting him, just moving on. Well, that was great for them because they had someplace to move too. I didn’t. My life, I learned, was going to stay the same.  No one to eat with at night, to discuss the day’s events, watch television, to sleep with or love with.

Before Paul died, I had a time line after work: Get groceries, come home, cook, set the table, eat dinner etc.  Now I had no clock to follow. I found myself going to the mall after work and walking until I was exhausted; then I would come home and just go to bed. Except for going to work on time, the rest of the day was not accounted for. If I was standing in line at a store, I didn’t care if I had to wait. Where was I going? Who is waiting for me?

Weekends are the worst time of the week. Everyone else seems so excited about Friday coming. For me the days just loom ahead with chores that also seem senseless now. Before, the weekends held promise of fun, family and friends or even just tacking a project in the house. Being together, sometimes even in silence, but together.

Filling out paperwork at the doctor’s office brings on a whole gambit of emotions.Those horrible little boxes: Married, Single, Widowed (and sometime Other–what does that mean!). Changing your “next of kin” to your kids. Taking his name off charges and utilities. It took me three years to put the car insurance in my name. I’m not even sure it was legal not too. I just couldn’t do it.

The first time I was faced with a repair in the house was numbing.  My dryer and hot water heater went at the same time. When the delivery man came to bring the dryer, I burst into tears because I just realized that the gas would have to be shut off to take out the dryer.  Luckily the man was so nice, he disconnected it and reconnected the dryer without a problem. But in my head I just kept thinking “You’re alone-handle it.”

My family is wonderful and I am blessed with 6 grandchildren, but they do not fill the space that the love of my life left. We were married for 38 years and together for 42. We went through so many trying times together. Our last battle was his pancreatic cancer. He handled it like he did life–with strength, humor and song. He had the most beautiful voice and sang with a group. Often he would come right from chemo and go onto a stage and sing lead for hours. I would watch him and want to shout to the audience: “This man has pancreatic cancer and just had chemo!!!!”

It will be 4 years soon, and slowly I’m crawling out of the deep hole that has been my life. What I’ve learned through most of this is that the grief one goes through, although one’s own, is also universal and shared. It is my hope that I can help someone else make this journey.

51 Responses to “{My Story} A widow for four years”

  1. Laurie says:

    I can imagine that it can be harder when the kids are grown with lives of their own. I lost my husband in 2000 when he was 46 & I was 43. My daughter was only 7 at the time so my focus was her so I still had a purpose and a place to be after work. Work was good for me and the nights after putting my daughter to be were hard. But I also had the love and support of 2 sisters, 1 brother and my inlaws nearby. My parents were 4 hours away but also very supportive. My daughter just turned 19 and she is the love of my life. My husband and both my parents have died but I still have my siblings and my inlaws which helps keep my late husbands memory alive.

    I am glad you are starting to feel better. Find new things to try, travel if you can and learn to love live as a single widowed woman. Read if you enjoy it. Find things that you always wanted to do but never did. Paul will always be with you in spirit and in your memories. Good luck !

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  2. Diane says:

    My husband died 9 months ago. I feel everything just as you do – I don’t seem to care much about anything.

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    • Rosemarie says:

      Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of Paul’s death. I didn’t think I could get through it, but I did and this year I didn’t stay home all day, but went out with my daughter and granddaughter and did a few things that needed attending too. I went to the grave and cried and played his music, came home and made dinner for my son and went to bed. This morning, I felt a little lighter inside, something lifted. I have no idea if it will stay, but for today, it’s better.
      That’s how it will be, and I know what you mean about not caring, you want to but the feelings are just not there. I can trully say that some of it will pass around 18months.
      Just hang on each day and wait for the next to come. Try and stay close to friends even when you don’t want to go out go! For a few moments you’ll feel somewhat normal. I am so sorry for your loss and hope you find some comfort.

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      • dimali says:

        Thank you for your encouragement. It still feels like half of me is missing. Friends will listen if I want to talk but the one I really want to talk to is him.

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        • Rosemarie says:

          Maybe this will help you.
          When a memory comes to me, I write to Paul as if we were talking to eachother. “Remember the time you bought me that candy apple and wrapped it like a present?” etc. It helps me to keep my memories, since sometimes I am afraid I will forget (the small things). I don’t do it as often now, but still when there is something I think I need to tell him.

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  3. Mary Leonard says:

    My wonderful husband died three years ago…Today
    would have been our 27th. wedding anniversary. I
    have two great kids, just bought my own little house and date a nice man – but there will always be a huge
    void where Michael was in my heart and I will never be
    the same person again – I look at everything differently now – I’m smarter – but don’t have as much Joy – maybe someday I’ll be a grandmother and experience great joy again. It’s such a terrible loss.

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    • Rosemarie says:

      Being a grandparent will bring some joy back into your life. I am so lucky to have six. Paul got to see five and the last little girl I know he kissed and sent down to us. Thank you for your words.

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  4. The Travel AgentMyrna says:

    It is all too familiar, you might want to read my blog myrnayancey.com. I am a widow of almost 9 years, I address some of the same issues and some concerning solo travel.

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  5. Kelly Aguilera says:

    I have no words… just tears…..

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  6. merrylady says:

    God Bless You and thank you for sharing your heart-felt story. My heart is aching for you. I wish I could help you, the very fact that you wrote this story is a true tribute to the love that the two of you have shared.
    You and your husband are quite special people, with a very special bond that only few will ever have!

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    • sussexr says:

      Thank you for your concern. My husband was an unique man and I am blessed to have had him and also blessed with our children. Thank you again

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  7. Laurab says:

    My heart goes out to you, my son and I moved in with mom when dad died at 56. The multiple naps a day stopped then and I think it was the beginning of her healing. I didn’t meet the love of my life until I was 48, can’t even think of life without him and we don’t even live together.

    To all of who, I don’t know what to say, I hope you all find something you love to help fill the void left by your loss. Nothing can replace him I know. As a nurse I want to take the pain away.

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    • FOF Editor says:

      Laura thanks for sharing your story. What a touching message that you left!

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  8. Joanne says:

    Thanks for sharing. I lost my husband just 1 yr ago this coming wk. to pancreatic cancer also. BUt it was unexpected and fast. I was left with a business and mounds of debt. Have much to keep me busy, but not things I want to do, but must. Long story. Somewhat comforting others in a similar boat…

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    • Rosemarie says:

      I”m so sorry for your loss. Itt is such a deadly disease that steals so much. I know what you mean by being busy with things you don’t want to focus on right now, life goes on anyway. You’re not alone in your feelings.

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  9. Chris says:

    I add my voice to the others who promise it will continue to get better as time passes. The situation never changes, but your emotional “muscles” strengthen so you can tolerate it and look ahead without just seeing an empty black hole. There will be things to look forward to. It has been 10 years for me. When I look back on those horrid days, I do not know how I lived through it. I felt like I had to focus to breathe. Now, so many years later, I do have moments of real happiness and I do have anticipation of good things in the future. It is our responsibility, I believe, to live while we are living. I intend to do that. I do, however, STILL sleep on my side of the bed.

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  10. Brenda says:

    Thank you for sharing. I totally get it- I have been widowed for almost 7 years. My husband was 2 months shy of his 50th bday. Sudden- a massive heart attack. I will never forget getting that phone call. Stepped into running his business and helping my 3 children. I am just now starting to move forward with my life. I still work in his business, but my 2 sons are helping me and I am starting to take some time off and travel. We never know what path life leads us down. We owe it to ourselves and our family to try to make the best of it and enjoy each day.

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    • FOF Editor says:

      Your so strong Brenda! Thanks for sharing your story.

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  11. Janet says:

    I lost my husband almost 3 years ago. Each day I put one foot in front of the other to go on. I did all the right things: Went to bereavement groups and grieved, waited two years before making any big decisions about the house, joined women groups, took classes. But truly, there is a need to help women make a new life and give them more direction especially at an older age. After 60, jobs are harder to find if at all and we tend to slow down a bit. Thank you Rosemarie for sharing your grief, but please share how to move on and make a new life after 60.

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    • Rosemarie says:

      I think for me personally, it is giving myself permission to move ahead. I try to remember that Paul had his life and I have mine. Some of the reasons I couldn’t (and can’t- because it’s a day by day thing) is that I still can’t believe that someone like him, so full of life so good could have been hit with a disease like pancreatic cancer and be made to suffer. He worked until almost the last few weeks and he never complained but to watch it for us his family was a torture too. So sometimes I feel guilty going on and enjoying life, I know it’s not the way he would want it, but the rational side of me doesn’t always talk to the emotional side.
      One woman wrote that we should prepare ourselves because most of us will be in this situation, I don’t think I could have lived my life like that, thinking that someday we would not be together.
      I keep hoping tomorrow will be better and sometimes it is.
      I try to stay as active as I can and am greatful I have a job I enjoy. Little by little the things I enjoyed before are coming back. I take each step as a victory.

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  12. Ruth says:

    Although I didn’t have my spouse die, the love of my life for nearly 22 years called one night to say that he”can’t do this anymore”. 2 days later, I found out he had been seeing another women for 2 1/2 years. I was ok for a while. One morning I got up to get ready to go to my job and I was suddenly terrified. I called a recommended therapist and spent the next 16 months working with her until I got over the “black hole” that I suddenly had seen ahead of me.

    First, I recomment a therapist or a grief counselor, perhaps a group that lost someone due to cancer. Then try to go out and do things. Even if you have to go alone, it will boost your confidence. I now travel overseas alone and love it! Pick a place and go, even if it is only for a few days. And of course, try to find some other unattached women to socialize with. I have some and we laugh a lot! Good luck!

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    • Leslie Bonner says:

      As someone who has gone through both; divorce and a husband’s death, for me personally divorce was in some ways worse. When my second husband died of a brain tumor I knew that he did not want to leave me or life. But when my first husband divorced me it took me years to recover. I thought I was a good wife, a loving wife and a good mother to our two children. How could he leave me? It took me years to build up my self esteem.

      I couldn’t go anywhere without seeing couples. Possibly they were miserable together but to me I felt like I was missing a part.

      Rosemarie’s story about her husband Paul was very sad. I feel for her. It’s a fact that most of us married women will be widows rather than the reverse so we need to prepare for it.

      It’s nice to find a male friend but you could also reach out to other widows in your community.

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  13. Dawn says:

    Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing.

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  14. sus says:

    thank you. my husband died almost 5 years ago—I still sleep on”my side” of the bed (when I make the bed I place “stuff” –books, magazines, etc on top of the other side—that’s only one of the strange new adaptive habits i’ve unconciously adopted). things get easier but the” aloneness” is always there.

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    • Vicki says:

      On my, I didn’t realize…. I’ve developed the same habit of piling things on the other side of the bed. Anywhere from magazines to pillows to folded clothes that I’ll put up tomorrow. I’ve even tried to get the cat to sleep there….. and I don’t let the cat on any of the furniture!

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  15. Penelope More says:

    Thank you Rosemarie, for giving voice to this great loss in such an honest and heartfelt way. I have been through a similar loss of my beloved many years ago now and although it was a very difficult journey and I still grieve him deeply there have been gifts that arose through this grief. I think I have a deeper compassion for people and an appreciation of the brevity of life. My moments of joy are sweeter by being hard to come by. I wish for you in years to come, peace and many moments of joy.

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  16. starsmom says:

    Oh, Rosemarie……..your story is almost the same as mine. I lost my husband of 38 years (together for 42…..exactly like you) 5 years ago to cancer. He was gone in 6 months from the time of the diagnosis. He handled it all with humor and hope, and when he died, I could hardly comprehend that he was really gone.

    I have loving, wonderful children and supportive, caring friends. They’ve made life bearable for me and I don’t know where I’d be without their love. I’ve also learned that I’m fine just being with myself. Such an amazing discovery!

    I’m here to tell you that, although life will never be the same as we knew it, it does get easier. I think you are discovering that. Like Vicki, I have a strong friendship with a good man. Not a romance, but he is there for me and it’s been so helpful when I need a male perspective. I spend time with friends and family too, and I no longer feel the need to fill every waking hour with some activity. I’ve learned that I’m more than capable of taking on challenges and of tackling the unfamiliar.

    I have my memories and I can laugh and smile when I’m reminded of him.There are still unexpected moments when sadness washes over me and I imagine that may always be the case, but I’m no longer paralyzed by them. Of course I’ll always love and miss him more than words can express, but I really believe that he’d be happy and proud of how I’m progressing. He would want me to live my life to the fullest. I’m certain of that. He would expect it of me, and I won’t let him down.

    And, I still sleep on my side of the bed, but I know that it’s just fine to do so!!

    I wish you the very best!!

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  17. Nancy Misir says:

    I have often wondered………….which is worse………….the death of a spouse………………..or being left and divorced by a spouse.

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  18. geri says:

    So sweet……….

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  19. Shirley Farley says:

    When my husband died half of me was suddenly and rudely amputated. Not only was I alone, I was no longer the same person I’d been the week before.

    Part of surviving the wrenching loss was realizing that I must work on repairing myself–rebuilding the void left by my missing half.

    How that might be done will vary profoundly from individual to individual. The first step is acknowledging the change in ourselves as well as in our circumstances.

    My heart goes out to all of us.

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    • Rosemarie says:

      It seems impossible that you can feel like you are a half a person, but you do. Also, there was a real pain in my heart that lasted over a year. I knew it wasn’t sickness, just the pain of losing Paul. Then one day I felt a little better.

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      • meppybn says:

        Amputation is exactly right -without a part of me now and to my mind, that cannot be ‘rebuilt’, but somehow, some way, another ‘life’ built. Yes, I too had a physical pain in my heart area for a long time – in fact I wondered if I was about to have a heart attack! – and still comes and goes during rough patches.

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  20. vclark500 says:

    Do you know what I love…is the comment, He handled it like he did life-with strength, humor and song. You were a very lucky woman to have that man in your life. I would pay for one day of that and you had 42 years of it. Praise God!

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    • Rosemarie says:

      January 5th is the Anniversary of our first date. We celebrated every year. On our last anniversary Paul was very sick but he insisted we go to Atlantic City. He drove.
      The next week he took the Christmas Tree lights off the house. He died on Feb. 27. I will never know how he did all he did.
      If you get a chance, go on
      http://www.theexpressionslive.com you can hear him sing.
      I know I was blessed with him and the three children we have. It just isn’t easy giving it up.

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  21. Vicki says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I thought I was alone…. Now I know I’m not! It’s been 2 years and yes, it’s better and then no, it’s not! None of my friends understand why I spend so much time in the mall and discount stores. The mall closes at 9…. the discount stores don’t close. I’ve hated the nights…. when it’s time to prepare dinner…. there is no “time”and who wants to eat alone! No routine, no reason to do anything. I do not work so there’s no reason to sleep or get up at any certain time. All my friends are married. And, the strangest thing, now my friends husbands think I’m “after” them. They all had hugs and conversation before my  husband died… not now. House repairs are horrible and scary! I relate to everything written here….. now I know…. I’m not alone! For everyone, I will tell you …. find a single male friend. Make it clear from the beginning…. Friendship…. someone to just talk with and share a meal. I found a friend. He’s single, the pastor of my church, has been married twice and is not interested in a relationship …. just friendship. My friends say he’s been so good for me. He about as opposite from my husband as possible except he is a sweet man just looking for a friend too. He has helped me try to move on. Yes, the nights and weekends are still terrible but now on occasion I have a reason to go somewhere and wear some of the multitude of new clothes I’ve bought. I’ve had “retail therapy” for 2 years! I finally moved my husbands clothes out of his closet when I needed more room. We CAN do this! It’s just finding a different way to live. Our life, as we knew it, died when they died and now we have to find a new way of living. 

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  22. Leslie says:

    Rosemarie, thanks so much for sharing your story. Paul looks like such a lovely guy. I lost my husband very suddenly five years ago and still have days like today, when I’ve had a big wrinkle at work, that I feel the Big Gaping Hole. No one to talk it over with (at least not The One Person I want to talk it over with), no one to give me a hug and tell me it’s going to be alright. I can muster all of that for myself, but sure wish I didn’t have to.

    I’d like to recommend my friend Cheryl’s site A Beautiful Death: Facing loss and grief with confidence, peace and grace. http://www.abeautifuldeath.net/ for wonderful lessons in being with grief, accepting what is, and allowing healing.

    Lots of love to all who have lost their mates.

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    • FOF Editor says:

      Thanks for sharing your friend’s site Leslie.

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  23. Margaret says:

    I’m very sorry for your loss. I understand completely, as I am suffering through the loss of my husband (under different circumstances). I too am alone, and understand your grief. You have my heartfelt sympathies.

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  24. mrs. eccentric says:

    Thank you Rosemarie for writing this. My husband’s aunt just lost her husband of almost 30 years. mr. e and his sister are her only blood relatives. Fortunately auntie is a very practical woman, and i think this helps her to deal with all the paperwork and various practicalities (dental appts, stuff around the house). But every morning she wakes up, and he’s not there bringing her breakfast like he always did. Your story here helps me to understand.

    Your comment about the toilet brings up a good reminder for all ladies. I’ve been married 12 years now, but i never married until i was 37. So i learned to do a lot around the house. It’s never too late to learn, and it’s a great feeling to be capable that way.

    Ladies who still have your guys – see if he’ll teach you. Or go online, or take an adult ed class. I know this sounds kind of dumb, but if you’re going to be here on earth, you have to keep up with all these things. here’s a decent starting site: http://www.fixatoilet.com/ and another: http://tinyurl.com/6qgwhel

    In back of the throne you will see some pipes and a little handle. This controls water flow to the top of the throne – turn it clockwise to stop the flow. You want your turning to bring the handle closer to the pipe – this stops the water. Try this out during the day so you’re prepared to move quickly if you see a problem – a clog is bad enough without a flood!

    I unclogged our very fussy upstairs throne using a snake a couple of days ago. It’s great to be able to take care of these things yourself, even nicer on the weekends or holidays 🙂 Thank you again Rosemarie – you are in my thoughts. steph

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    • FOF Editor says:

      Great suggestions Steph!

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  25. Susan says:

    I lost the love of my life 18 months ago next week and much of what you said resonates with me. I still keep his pillow on his side of the bed, and put my head on the corner, pretending I’m falling asleep on his shoulder like I used to. House repairs drive me crazy and make me mad – why do I have to do this? – but I know it’s not really the house that I’m mad at. I counter the awful loneliness with staying busy, probably too busy, and I’m so tired…….
    I’m sorry for your loss and for everyone who has to suffer in this way. I’m so grateful that I had the love I did, but the pain still outweighs the gratitude…….

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  26. Becky says:

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful story. I have not encountered this type of grief but I can empathize with you. As a result of what you wrote, I called my husband and told him I loved him. Just know……you will never forget, but the pain will lessen with time. Again….thanks for ‘waking’ me up!

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    • Rosemarie says:

      I’m glad you called him to say you loved him. I have emails and texts Paul sent me, he was always the romantic. I keep them on my computer and phone and they help me get through the day sometimes.

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  27. Tameron says:

    When my dad passed away, I gave my copy of Dr. Joyce Brother’s book “Widowed” to my mother. Since I am an only child without children, and I lived across the country, my mother had no extended family to lean on for support. This book was very helpful to her when starting her new life without my dad.

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  28. meppybn says:

    Totally relating to all you have written – My darling man died 7 months ago and it is hard, hard, hard. Just like you said, friends go on with their lives but I feel frozen, in limbo, aimless, without. The love of my life, my husband for 30 years ………………..

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    • Rosemarie says:

      I know what you mean by Frozen. You want to move but you just can’t. Small decisions are just impossible. I can tell you that it will pass, not quickly but it will. Just be kind to yourself and don’t make others decided when and how you are to grieve.

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  29. Patti says:

    I so understand. I lost my husband suddenly 19 months ago. I am just now feeling the lonely part in that I want someone to have dinner with, go to the theatre, take a trip, etc. Girlfriends are fabulous BUT just do not fill in that void. I love the way men think, being treated like a lady, knowing that someone is thinking about me even when I am not there. It is nice to know there is someone who feels the way I do. Thank you for sharing

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    • Rosemarie says:

      It’s not being someone’s Number 1 anymore. I just was reading an email he sent me just a moment ago and it’s like he’s still here, but he’s not. I’m sorry for your loss.

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  30. Jeanne says:

    I know just how you feel. I lost my husband almost 8 years ago. You never get over the loss, but, with time, you will come to terms with it. My husband committed suicide (health issues, long road to death). This was his decision, but it affected me deeply. Hang in there, as you still have a whole life time ahead of you. Cherish your memories, but let yourself move into a new life. It will be hard, but you can do it.

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    • sussexr says:

      Thank you for sharing. I’m sorry for your loss as well. Somedays are easier to live through than others and you never know when you will hit a wall and feel like your’re starting all over again. I thought I knew grief when I lost my mother at 66, but this is so different. Thank you again,and I do cherish my memories and am so grateful for the beautiful children we made together and now my 6 grandchildren.

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  31. Helen says:

    Tears are flowing!

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