Eddie: "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".
Danielle: “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.”
Ronnye: “So he had his interests. And I had mine. We had our interests together. So I had a life apart from him. Not exclusively apart from him but I had a life. And I think that was important. It is important.”
Darrell: "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."
Jane: “After he died I joined a bereavement support group which was a really good thing to do. The social worker who led it said 2 very important things that I found helpful: ‘Keep busy. And time will make things better.’ There’s a lot of pain and it’s almost like a physical pain.”
Jane: “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.”
Diana: "I was never a therapy person, never, never had a therapist growing up, adulthood, until I realized that I couldn't handle the grief, not because it was grief, but because it came to me when I didn't expect it and oftentimes not conveniently. So,the grief is not the problem at all. I mean I want to feel the grief because it's the only place where I can visit him, where he exists now. There's such a sense of relief when it interrupts your day, when you're in the middle of business or when you're in the middle of Barnes and Noble shopping and then you'll hear a song...and I realize that maybe I need to have it more often and not on the rare random moments where I'm doing my thing and and it hits. Maybe I should be more aware of it as this living breathing organism and incorporate it into my life more."
Diana:"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."
Sue:"I was a member of the “Y” in which I still am. And when I came in after sitting shiva, everybody said, just keep on going, keep on going. And if anybody asks you to go out, go even if you don't like them, go, just get out. And that's what I did."
Sue:"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."
Dennis:"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."
Judy:"Wow. It's kind of romantic. I loved it. It was kind of a wild story. It was like God put his hand in and said,'here are two people who might enjoy each other's company'. And indeed we did. We were best friends, we were lovers, we were adventurers together. He was just my favorite person in the whole world. We shared so much. We each had a lot of interests, some of which we shared, some of which we didn't share, some of which we taught each other to share."
Judy:"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."
Paula T: "I remember once my dad died, I looked through the big picture window that looks into the living room and I saw my mother in there just walking aimlessly, like she didn't know what to do and that picture really didn't resonate with me until I went through it. And I know exactly what she was doing. She was lost.I think the biggest gift that comes out of a horrible event like this is empathy, developing empathy. I think I will never miss a ceremony of a friend or a friend’s loved one. I think it's so important to be there. I want to be like the people who were in my life who helped me."
Barbara: "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".
Barbara:"I just wanted to be with myself and I think that was kind of alarming, and actually it was very instructive because now when I turn on music, it's very deliberate. Today I want to hear Beethoven, tomorrow, I want to hear Motown or ragas, because I have a very broad interest in music, but it's not just background. It is very much part of where I am at that moment. And that happened at that time, which I thought was kind of interesting. It happened quite naturally. I didn't think about it."
Lori: "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".
Lori:"I wish I had gotten in support groups, before he passed away, before and after, you know. Well, I did after, but I mean right away. I tried to carry too much on my own shoulders and now I would recommend to people to ask for help. Ask for specific things and don't be afraid to ask people to do things for you. But people want to help and I didn't realize - I felt like I was being too needy. I would really recommend to people to put that aside and, reach out to people".
Rami: "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".
Edward: "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".
Edward:"It's like everything about romantic love was out the window. It had nothing to do with that. I understand seeing eye dogs with their masters and mistresses, how devoted they are. And how concerned, and how they have to watch every second and I understand it completely. It was truly…we had a wonderful life together. I said, to the doctor ‘Well, maybe we'll go to Europe’. And she said, ‘go, go’! And of course she meant it was temporary...and so we went. That was wonderful. It was like an oasis in the middle of the desert. And then it was downhill from there."
Edward:"There are things that keep you alive and in the world. Because you are naturally suicidal when you feel this way. But it's not my nature, I don’t think. Sexual pleasure, it keeps me alive. I mean, I can deal with that myself. That's not hard to do. The sexuality is working and that's a very important part of my life. I feel it's one of the main things that keeps me alive now. It’s like a food for the soul".
John: "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.
I have a friend from college whose wife also passed away, so I was trying to get advice. How do you handle this? But then I realize, people can tell you how they handle it. You have to figure it out".
John: "I guess I've never been alone because I have friends and family, but I'm lonely a lot, a lot. We talked about everything and I definitely feel a piece of me is gone. I can't talk to her and I don't really have anybody to talk to like that".
Melissa: "The quality of the short life that George had was really good. And that was important. You don't know it at the time. You don't know he's going to die young.
Once he died I started to say like, 'Where is he? What is this? What is this all about'? And the advice I was given is friends, family and your faith - those three things get you through it. So I started to go to church. I've become very good friends now with one of my priests. We go to dinner. We golf. It's like going to a therapist".
Melissa:"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'?"
Edith: "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."
Debi: "In the Buddhist system, it's very ritualized mourning. This Lama was so kind.He urged me to call him every week. ‘For the first week you keep a light on in his room and after that week you can turn the light off at night and for 49 days you say these prayers’.
And that’s what we were doing at home. At the community center all the members would come and they would do the same prayer with me. We did it for 49 days. And it was hard because in the prayer you have to say goodbye."
Debi:"I really miss talking to him. It's not that we talked all the time. He was a very reserved and quiet person, but he'd be sitting there watching TV with the headphones on. I'd be reading and I would read something that I wanted to share with him, andI still find myself doing that, saying, ‘Oh, look at this. So and so says he's changed his mind about this and that’. And then of course, there's no one to talk to."
Harriet: “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.”
“I kind of felt I was always Max’s wife. He was the star of our show. I was my mother's very devoted daughter. So I was a wife, I was a mother, I was a grandmother…I want to be me! And that's what I did.”
“To me, it’s more gratifying to be loved than to love.”
Donna:"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".
Stephanie: "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."
Stephanie: "People say that when someone dies they live on and I guess that's true. There are ways that, if you allow it…like I see him in my son. So, seeing it is like you're allowing someone to exist".
Sari:"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:"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".
Carol: "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. ' "
Carol: "I'm trying to have people still remember him. They're not going to remember him the way I do, or their children, or my children or my grandchildren. But it's important for me to know that he was here and even if he's not here now that you have memories, because memories are the only thing that you have of the person. And when I die, the memories that I have of him will die with my children. At some point those memories die. And that's just the way life goes. But while they're here, I really want them to kind of remember him. He was a very good person and he certainly impacted so many lives. I want them to honor him with memory".
Carol:"When I realized how much stress I was under is just this past Thanksgiving when I went to visit my kids, and stayed in a hotel for the first time in 53 years without my husband. I took one of his pictures. I wanted to have his picture with me. And then, I slept through the night! I went, wow, I wasn't listening for him, his breathing - I wasn't listening. Did he fall in the bathroom? And I really had never really honestly thought about it until Thanksgiving. And I said, wow, I slept through the entire night without jumping up, and 'Are you okay'? And so it's bittersweet. I of course miss him, but I don't miss the stress".
Richard:" 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."
Richard:"Every once in awhile I'm thinking of her, I have a fire up, a folder on my phone - I have over 4,000 pictures on my phone and have a file of Nancy and me. So I go there sometimes, you know, and I'll scoot through them. It was the best thing I ever did in my life. I’ll see a picture and I’ll kiss it. I miss her.She was very special, like I said we got married three days before my 57th birthday. She had to be special. I was incredibly lucky that Nancy sort of fell into my life".
I am happily remarried since 2012, but was widowed in 2008. There is nothing like the grief one experiences after a life partner passes away. When I lost my first husband, I searched for books and articles addressing this particular loss - I was looking for comfort from others who'd had that experience. There wasn't much. I meet with widows and widowers of all ages, gay and straight, having been in legal marriages or simply committed partnerships, have a conversation, and make a portrait. This process is emotionally satisfying for me, and my sitters as well, as they tell me. My intention is to share their stories with others who might find some comfort and connection.