the loneliness of losing your wife after 39 years of marriage

Five years post Annie’s death, I still can’t accept what I know I must. The loneliness just hangs around me like a fog. Although the darkness has subsided,  I feel like I’ve been wandering in overcast skies now, for what seems like an eternity.  And perhaps it is, or will be.

When you’re living alone in what was supposed to be the glory days, full of fun, laughter, and retirement with the one you love, how could everything go so wrong.  In a soft voice — I don’t know.

As I look ahead, what do I have to look forward to. Yes, I have two daughters that have blessed me with some beautiful grandchildren, but what does that mean. It may provide some comfort in the middle of a storm, but it doesn’t fix anything. The void I feel is real, and can’t be replaced by the love of family. It’s a totally different love.

People say, “Bob, love is out there, you just have to find it.”  “No it’s not! Well maybe.” But there can never be another Annie.

When I lost my dog as a child and I cried, I was simply handed a new dog that was somehow supposed to make things all better. Sometimes a simple, but at the time logical solution to a problem, just doesn’t fix anything.  Certainly not a broken heart.

And I’m finding that out in a big way. Losing in love, during a long term committed relationship sets in motion a complex series of events that will bring even, the strongest person to their knees. Consider this. My planned future with Annie was swept away prematurely, and after suffering from a long and difficult grieving period, I’m now dealing with the loneliness which is slowly absorbing the time I have left here on earth. And I don’t believe for a second, I’m lacking in the wisdom needed to figure my circumstances out, as I think I already have.  Perhaps, there is no way out.

I know I could find some happiness in the moment from dating, and perhaps I will. But I’d never use dating as an illusion for happiness. Meaningful happiness takes time and a lot of effort to become special.

My marriage to Annie was for 39 years. Doesn’t it follow, that in most cases in today’s world, a couple that stayed together that long, had figured love out. Love is very complicated and can take years to nurture and mature. All the ups and downs, the struggles, and simply daily life can be challenging at times. But no matter what we went through, we loved each other through it, and because of that we were due to reap the rewards of a forever marriage.  And believe me, when you reach that point and you are still in love…What a wonderful world. Being together, loving and sharing in life until the end. That’s priceless.

However, sometimes fate intervenes, and “Life Happens.”  That was our case. It was, and is still totally beyond my comprehension. We’re talking about life here, and the effects the loss has had on the survivor of a couple, that appeared to have paid their dues to society and were preparing to reap the benefits during the final chapter of their lives’. But instead of retiring together, I’m left writing stories and trying to figure out why, some things aren’t meant to be.

A friend of mine that I respect, said to me recently;  Bob you need to understand and come to terms with what happened.  And I say, “if it were that easy, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”  You see, he’s not in my position, even though he’s been married to his wife as long as Annie and I were married. I wonder what he’d say if it were he, that suffered the loss instead of me. The truth, is part of the problem. If loneliness was a disease, and if one thousand or fifty thousand folks got the same disease, it will act differently in each one of them, although the treatment may be the same. But what works for some will not work for all.  There is no magical potion or pill that will make the loneliness go away. And yes, it will vary in degree of difficulty from one person to another. The more you love, the more you lose, in love.

Of course, after a loss most folks don’t spend every waking hour of their life in loneliness. And nor do I.  But it’s always there, hiding, often times in plain sight.  When I see a mature couple holding hands, or having a gentle kiss, it makes me take a deep breath, and the loneliness starts creeping back in.

So, if I were to get into a relationship, am I looking for love, or trying to quench a thirst — loneliness. That’s dangerous territory for me, and as I don’t want to hurt anyone or get hurt, it’s difficult to be that guy.

Here’s the thing.  When a person is grieving, contained within the “grief ball,” there’s many emotions.  One prominent emotion would be loneliness. Over time, as the “grief ball” starts breaking down, emotions start gradually drifting away. In my case, there was one that stuck around after the grief.  Loneliness. In my opinion, due to the chaos of the black whole caused by grief and its ability to suck me and everything around me down it, when grief dissipated, loneliness was still there. Why! Because like grief, it can also be a separate but core product of your loss, and serves as a reminder that it “ain’t” over until it’s over.  When loneliness is intermingled with grief, the grief can be very intense. But as I found, there’s a difference between the two emotions and fortunately my grief has dissipated.

In conclusion, no matter how difficult your journey turns out to be, never give up on love. I haven’t, and I don’t have a clue when things will change for me, but I know they will over time. And when they do, I shall capture the moment.

I love people and appreciate all the advice I get.  But some of you know what I know, sometimes through no fault of our own, life can get very complicated over a loss. Consequently, we glean a new perspective of what life is all about, which makes our journey a bit more difficult and at times logic does not apply.

Always remember, our journey post loss should always be about life and living our lives to the fullest. We’ve seen the alternative, and I for one am not ready for that.

Shawshank Redemption:  “Get busy living or get busy dying.”  It’s your choice, choose wisely.

Annie’s beautiful online memorial


Hear the whole story in Bob’s book, Because of Annie. All proceeds are donated to cancer charities.

Written by Bob Harrison
Bob Harrison was raised in the heart of the Redwoods in the far northwest comer of northern California. The little town of Crescent City, California was located near some of the world’s tallest trees, with the west shoreline being the Pacific Ocean. Bob spent most of his time fishing the two local rivers where some of the finest Steelhead and Salmon fishing is located. He was also well known up and down the north coast as an avid motorcycle racer, winning several hundred trophies, and one Oregon State title. Bob graduated from Del Norte High School with the class of 1966, then spent a one year stint at the College of the Redwoods, before having a strong sense of patriotism and joining the United States Air Force. After three years of service, Bob met Annie, the love of his life, and they got married in England in 1972. Bob’s love of country pushed him on to what turned out to be a very successful career, retiring in 1991. Bob’s last military assignment was Wichita, Kansas, a place he and Annie decided to call home. Together they developed and ran two very successful antique businesses until the stranger knocked on their door and changed their lives forever; “Because of Annie.”

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21 Comments

  1. Hello Bob,
    Your Annie was as special to you as my Carol was to me. Empathy radiates from your blog in an unique way. The way that only someone who has lived a similar experience can. After reading several articles tonight I found yours and I realised my loneliness was not as lonely as I believed. I was with Carol when she passed away and although I am grateful I was, another part of me relives over and over again the sight of the light leaving her eyes. I passed away that morning as well, the only difference being my heart kept beating even though it exploded in my chest. Funnily enough no one else realised this. That was the 4th May 2016 and since that day time has held me prisoner in a life that I know is a great gift but one I wish to return early. 43 years together is not something many can relate to nor understand, however, time and time again you did in your blog. Thank you Bob for putting into words all the emotions and thoughts I have lived but couldn’t express myself. You have made a difference in my life that I am truly grateful for. I wish you good things for the future.

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  2. Condolences on the loss of your Annie, Bob. I absolutely and completely understand how you feel, as I am going through this myself. My husband of 25 amazing years, Mel, died last year. He was my soul mate in this life. He was such a positive person and would want me to continue to ‘live’ life and not just wander through it without ‘living’ it. There just are not any words sufficient to describe this journey, rips your heart and soul to shreds. I am hanging on, trying to get rid of my damn negative attitude because I can hear Mel telling me that is what I need to do. I am sorry we are all on this journey, I wish everyone the best and hope we can move on with our lives to find happiness again.

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  3. No one knows these feelings, unless you’ve experienced the loss of a soulmate. Very difficult to get through. The loneliness and fog are very real. When around people , feels like something is always missing and they can’t relate, and you still feel lonely. Only been 2 mths for me, wow…even after 5 yrs! Anyone tried grief counseling, does it help?

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  4. This was very meaningful to read because it reiterates my feelings very much and separated the grief and loneliness that only ones who suffered a great loss of the love of their life can understand

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  5. I know your pain and I’m sorry for your loss!

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  6. My mom just died on April 28, something I’ve been anticipating since I started this journey 5 years ago to care for her after her diagnosis with Alzheimer’s. She was done. She was tired and ready to go. Her quality of life was limited to either a wheel chair or bed after her hip broke. I watched her final decline for 2 weeks. I called Hospice to help her final days be comfortable. I saw her that morning before she died later in the evening. While I have some sadness, there is much more relief. And a deep calmness inside me. I don’t feel alone. I don’t feel abandoned. I don’t feel stuck in a bad place. My duty to my mother is finished. It is time to get on with my life. I look forward to that.

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  7. Hi Sandra, Coming up on the 1 year Anniversary of Joe’s death is going to be particularly hard for you. I always called it the build up to the anniversary. Over the first three years, about a month before the anniversary it felt like I was falling deeper into the grief pit. And consequently, I did. But that has subsided now. Understand, you can’t fight grief. I tried for 3 years. It an emotion and will only subside with time. Please remember, you have to grieve to get over grief. It’s not easy, it’s hard, and at times will make you think you are going mad. That’s so natural. You obviously really loved Joe, and therefore, your grief is going to be difficult and perhaps long lasting. For me, I started turning the corner in my third year, and in the fourth year I actually knew I was getting better. Of course, once grief took down the tent it had pitched in my head, the loneliness started creeping in. I will tell you, being lonely is much easier to deal with than grief. You’re right, there can’t and will never be another Joe. And if you let your mind drift to that sort of thought, you’re wasting energy. Work on getting well, and let nature take it’s course. I’ll never find another Annie, and I’ve stopped looking. In fact, she’s been gone five years six months, and I wasted so much energy thinking, I’ll never find another Annie. Truth is, there is no other Annie or Joe. What you and I had, we had, now we are left wandering in the dark so to speak, always worrying about the unknown. Look, you don’t ever really get over grief, but you will get through it. Take your time, and grieve. In time, life and perhaps love will find a way. If you try to force things, or run from grief, it won’t end well. The old saying, you can run but you can’t hide–I suspect they were talking about grief. You most certainly will be attracted to those that speak like Joe, but don’t let grief fool you, they are not Joe. Grief is very deceptive and will convince you of things that you know isn’t true, to be true. That’s a grief trap. And you will probably fall into a few, as did I. But when you learn to recognize them, and you will, you are healing. If things get too tough and you need to talk more, you can reach me at bob@thecaregiverspace.org
    Sandra, if you go to http://www.thecaregiverspace.org and search the words—Because of Annie–you’ll have access to all my blogs. I’ve written 56 since Jan 2015. Many are on grief. Seek them out, find and read them. They will help you.
    I wish you the best.

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  8. Hi, Bob. The loneliness you are experiencing is not solely because of loss. I, too, am lonely. Lonely because of anticipatory grief that covets my every waking thought. Johnny and I were late 2nd marriages. After our third anniversary he suffered a stroke, then diagnosed with stage three prostrate cancer, and now, early dementia. I don’t know which grief is worse; I am sure you have experienced both. Prayers, buddy!

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  9. Dear Bob, I feel that you have gone inside my head and read my deepest thoughts with your article. All the emotions you talk about is exactly what I am going through. It will soon be 1 year since Joe passed & I am still grieving for him. We were married just 1 week short of 25 years, but I knew him 33 years. I feel that I will never find another person who could even come close to Joe, so I am not even thinking of looking for someone. I go out with a group once in awhile, but I usually find myself alone with my cat Pumpkin in the evenings. That is the time that Joe & I sat together & talked & read books and talked about them. He was so wise & shared his thoughts with me & I find myself listening to people who talked like Joe did, just to hear the conversation that I miss so much. This is such a lonely road that I find myself on these days, so I fill those lonely hours with movies & books & wish he were still with me. You have expressed the feelings that so many of us have. I hope it helps you to express your feelings knowing that you are helping those of us who read your columns.

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  10. Hi Dennis,

    So, so sorry about your wife. I am very pleased to see you are an advocate for ovarian cancer. It seems that cancer is so prevalent and pervasive; my cousin is in the last stages of brain cancer and he was an avid athlete, excellent eater and enjoyed his work. He is only in his early 50’s and this is terribly hard to believe. His sweet wife will be a young widow, as well.

    I understand about the loneliness and Bob has such descriptive terms to express the very same thing we are all going through; I lost my love on April 23, 2015. I’m not yet 60, so I’m hopeful that the years ahead of me aren’t full of the loneliness I have felt for the last 12+ months. For some strange reason, I recall the 8 month without Joe so vividly; likely because it was Christmas time. I loved holidays! I loved being a wife and mother (still a mom)…so many changes now and there are so many of us out there. My sons are very helpful, but it’s not Joe! I wake up in the middle of every night yearning for him, but knowing that is not going to happen…my new life; darn. I will pray for you and your family. This is a tough journey and something I never imagined; nor any of us that had a lifetime together and was preparing for the rest of that lifetime.

    Thank you, again, Bob, for this site. I did not go looking for it, one of my dear family members suggested I look into it and I was dragging my feet, but so glad I finally did! Blessings to you both! Lisa

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  11. Bob, you have written my story so much better than I could have expressed it. You have my sympathy.

    It’s only been 8 months since Sandy and I were separated prematurely by her cancer.

    I’ve become a very outspoken advocate on Ovarian Cancer Awareness and spend hours every week warning women about the great risk Ovarian Cancer poses to them.

    But, when I return home, I’m still alone.

    Finding a replacement isn’t an option for me yet. A woman who would want me, would be the type that takes home a wounded puppy or kitten to nurse. I’m not wounded, just lonely to a degree I never would have imagined possible a year ago.

    Sandy and I have three children and five grandchildren. It’s great to spend time with them, but they have their own lives and my house is no longer a home when it’s just me there, surrounded by so many memories.

    I don’t see any end to the loneliness and expect it may be with me for the rest of my life. At 63, that could mean a lot of years of loneliness, even as the grief fades over time.

    Between my business and my Ovarian Cancer outreach, “Dispelling the Darkness”, I have lots of activity to fill most of my waking hours, but as you put it so well, loneliness is always nearby, invisible to others, but always waiting for me. And simple things in life such as wildflowers along the highway can be the trigger that constantly remind of my great loss.

    Dennis

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    • Hi Dennis, so sorry for your loss. That’s how I felt Dennis. No matter what I did when I left my home to help occupy my mind, when I returned home, I was alone. I guess, I just missed Annie. Friends would come and go, and as they walked out the door they were no longer thinking of me and my situation, they were getting on with their lives. Going happily on their way, thankful, they were not in my shoes. And I absolutely understand that. I tried to never let my burden become the burden of others. It was mine to carry, and carry it I did. The first post I ever made on Annie’s online memorial, 10 months post death, was to do with the whole world getting to know her. Well, we both know that’s not going to happen, but I know, I’ve reached a few million people. Why was that so important–the same reason you’re going out and pleading with women to be pro-active in their healthcare, Ovarian Cancer Awareness. What a noble cause your are undertaking. Humanity at its finest. Through you, although you probably will never know who, a life will be saved. Your beautiful wife Sandy, did not die in vain. Through her journey, as told by you, many lives are being touched. I know it’s hard at times, but keep pushing forward, and educating others. And I think you’ll find, over time, it will not only become rewarding, it will be a means of healing a broken soul, and perhaps help mend a broken heart. I wish you the best. Dennis, if you ever want to tell her story on a much bigger stage, while educating others, get in touch with me. You can write it on here–The Caregivers Space. I can be reached at
      bob@thecaregiverspace.org

      Reply
  12. Bob, I am so honored that you replied; thank you. I read the same article and there is something inside me that desperately wants to dispute the #3 and change it to #2! I’m not sure about you, but I have terrible guilt about what I did and did not do during those 7.5 days of pure hell. Was I my love’s best advocate? Why didn’t I yell and scream and ask more questions? Did I tell Joe how much I loved and respected him enough??? All I can tell you is that when I saw my hunky handsome hubby completely mutilated with his chest opened (they had a shield over it, but they never were able to put him back together) and blood everywhere, I truly got sick…lost part of my hearing…felt like I was under water and lost 8 lbs. in 7 days. I do remember praying; I do remember begging his medical team to not let him have ANY pain; I do remember when the time came for him to go that I was able to get halfway into his bed and I drifted off with him…holding him and thinking I was in a dream; surely we would all wake up from this damn nightmare. I cried when I saw you laying with your sweet Annie. How can these things happen? I know they do. I know doctors are human beings, but when you say there was a time period of 18 months, that is unacceptable! It is unacceptable that my love was the healthiest man that morning of surgery and the team was joking that he would be eating dinner with me. I never heard his voice again. I never felt his hug or kiss again. The best part of my days were waking up with him and coming home after work either before him or to wait for him to get home. I always waved good-bye to him and greeted him when he got in with “how’s my hunk-o-love?” We always sat together in the evenings and just absolutely loved being together; a love story that grew deeper as the years passed. He made me giggle and I made him smile his awesome heart-melting smile. I have great fears of growing old(er) without him. Please know that I pray for you and I’m praying for your continued health. I wish you the best, as well. I know I will see my love again; he is preparing the way for me. For now, I will try to guide this ship the best I can without my calm and strong Joe. My son moved back from Utah to stay for awhile and teach me what I need to know about taking care of my home (live out a bit). My other son is only 30 minutes from me; thank God for these wonderful men. I have visited the online memorial; so so sweet. The music makes me cry. If you can, please keep in touch; you can write me on my e-mail addy if you so desire. Thank you again. God bless you! Lisa

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    • Hi Lisa, Considering you’ve only been grieving for just over a year, I’m surprised you can find many things you did, that you aren’t questioning. . That’s called Grief! Consider this. Grief is always with you, right! You know why? Because he’s pitched a tent inside your head and is living there, going everywhere you go, questioning all your decisions, and at times encouraging you to make the wrong ones. Of course you feel guilty, we all felt guilty. Perhaps you did everything right–regardless, grief will try to convince you otherwise. Part of the process. I wrote a blog last year called, Mr. Grief, My Enemy-My Friend. Here’s the thing. We think of grief as being horribly lonely, sad, we can’t think straight, make bad decisions, question all the good that we did for our loved one ect. In reality, if we don’t grieve our loss, we can never get well. So Mr. Grief is really not your enemy, but he is putting you through hell, to get you to where you need to be so you can get well. In essence, he is your friend. When you’re feeling guilty, reassure yourself, one day you will see the whole process differently. And you will. I did! When you’re caring for a dying loved one, you can only do the best you can do. One day, you will realize you were the chosen one to care for Joe, and that you in deed, did the best you could under very extraordinary circumstances. Henry Nouwen, one of the great writers, of our time, said, “There is no greater love than sharing the dying process, with the dying. Nothing harder.” That quote says so much about your last days with Joe. In time, you will realize just how much of a gift you were to Joe. Your post is all grief and exactly what one would expect from a loving wife that lost the love of her life under such traumatic and unforeseen circumstances by those that were supposed to be helping him. Because of the way Joe passed, there will always be more questions than answers. Try to understand, some questions can never be answered. At least that was the case for me. Take care of yourself Lisa, and if you like, keep posting on here. The machine 🙂 will let me know and I will find you.

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  13. Hi Lisa, I read your elegantly worded post with sorrow and sadness over your loss. We’re coming from the same mold. Married the same amount of time, and her loss can be contributed in part to, 18 months worth of doctors and specialists sleeping at the wheel. The cancer had to be right in front of them and they couldn’t see it and didn’t think she had cancer. They said she looked to good to have cancer. Truth is, how can a person at diagnosis receive a prognosis of “why is she still alive,” after seeing various specialist and doctors for 18 months. It’s beyond me and will always haunt me. As you stated, you will never come to terms with how you lost Joe. No, you won’t. Their mistake has changed your life and the lives of your children and others, forever. I wish you the best Lisa. If you haven’t looked at Annie’s online memorial, you should. It might just help in some way. The depths of my grief were pretty deep too. By the way, I just read an article in the NY Times a couple days ago–Medical errors are the #3 cause of all deaths in this country behind lung cancer and heart disease. I was glad to read the article, just maybe, the dirty little secret will finally be swept from under the rug.

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  14. Dear Bob, I am praying for you…for the surgery process…for all that you’ve faced; so sorry. I understand.

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  15. So well written; thank you for this. A little over a year ago, I lost the love of my life, unexpected, after 39 years of marriage and I feel like I’ve been sucked into a whirlwind of sorrow, loneliness, disbelief, fear, and a complete loss of what my future holds. With Joe, I never questioned my safety or my future. Without Joe, I have to rely on God and the wonderful people He put in Joe and my lives to get through each day. If I allow myself to go to that “dark” place of not knowing what will happen to me as the days unfold, it is really a battle to regain my strength and change my thinking/attitude. We married very young and waited to have our two sons; they have been a great comfort through this. I refuse to crash and burn because our adult sons do not need that burden on top of their grief for their wonderful Dad. I can completely understand when you say that “we were due to reap the rewards of a forever marriage”. Tears still fall heavily when I see other older couples holding hands and even riding in the car together. I weep knowing that all our retirement plans will never come to fruition. We were like two little kids planning our travels and our future; so excited…now so lost. And I can also understand the “you will come to terms with what happened”. No, not really. I will never come to terms with my true love having faced a mistake made at the hospital…never. I know we are all human, but that was MY true love…

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  16. Hi Jennifer, Solitary Traveler–that’s good! Haven’t heard it put that way before, but that is certainly a great inference to loneliness. You appear to be focused on the journey ahead, with the understanding that their will be little traps laid for you along the way. Initially you can’t avoid them, but you can learn from each and every one of them, and in time you will see them coming, and things will slowly get better. Emotional traps are not fun, but we have to move through them until things change–Hope, is the word of choice hear.We have hope, and where there is hope, their can be change. Take care Jennifer, stay safe and be well. If you ever need to talk privately you can get me at
    bob@thecaregiverspace.org

    Reply
  17. Again you have spoken my experience. The loneliness cloud follows me through my days even though I do find joy with my grandson, or spend time with my artist friends. I’m always stepping around the “Black hole” of grief just to be met with the current reality of unquenchable emotional solitude. I have faced the fact no love could never be the same and have recently tried to open up to the possibility of new relationships, but I don’t want to be responsible for someone else’s pain if I can’t go forward. So here I am, with memories, and tears as a solitary traveler.

    Reply

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