Grief is a painful and uncontrollable process that eventually sneaks up on everyone. If you lose a spouse, your entire world is upended. Your traditions and responsibilities change, and you can be thrown into a state of constant struggle.
“The time after something like that … is just so foggy and thick and heavy. And you’re just in this combination between shock and total survival mode, especially with young kids,” said Tiffany Rampey, who was 37 when she lost her 39-year-old husband, Mike.
At the time of his death, her children were just 5 and 7. Almost three years later, she captures her family’s moments of grief, as well as their travels around the world, on her @rebuilding.joy Instagram account.
Your day-to-day living is forever altered, added Carolyn Williams. Her husband, John, died nearly three years ago as well, leaving behind children who were then 24, 26 and 38. Williams and her friend Dawn Allen run the podcast “We Grieve Differently,” which aims to support people after a loss.
The time before the funeral is the easy part, Williams said, as you’re busy planning and spending time with family. “It’s when the funeral’s over, and everybody’s gone home and the calls have stopped ... [that] you realize, ‘Damn, this shit is real,’” Williams added.
HuffPost spoke with readers to understand what grief feels like for those who’ve lost a spouse, along with the most difficult times after the death of a partner.
The evenings are hard.
“The loneliest times for me were driving home from work and knowing he wasn’t going to be there,” said Anna Fadel. Her 56-year-old husband, Ed, died four years ago, when their daughters were all college-age.
Rampey added that she would experience loneliness in the evenings too, after putting her young kids to bed.
“I was used to then settling down with my husband and watching something or talking through the day,” she said.
Dinnertime, in particular, can be tough.
“It took me about a year to do dinner because dinner was just freaking depressing,” Williams said. “[To] just go in the kitchen and try to cook a meal by myself — that wasn’t happening.”
Williams said she went out to eat a lot so she didn’t have to prepare food alone in her condo. She added that she also experienced loneliness each Friday, which had previously been a date night with her husband.
“That first Friday night when I had to leave work, I called my girlfriend and said, ‘I can’t go home,’” she said.
For a good three months, Williams and her friends would go out for happy hour on Fridays. When they couldn’t make it, she’d still go to avoid the loneliness of her home.
“[It] took me a long time to get into a new routine of going home,” she said.
The weekends can also feel long and empty.
Though many people look forward to the break from work and responsibilities that the weekend offers, people who’ve lost a spouse say their days off can also be some of the loneliest.
“Weekends were always a difficult time as far feeling lonely, particularly in the mornings,” said Fadel, who had previously spent those moments with her husband.
“Sitting on the couch, he’d be drinking his coffee, [and] I’d be drinking my tea,” she added. “I miss those times.”
Rampey noted that weekends were hard for a long period after her husband died.
“On the weekend, and especially once you start getting out and seeing other families, it’s like, ‘Oh, weekends are for families and making pancakes in the morning,’” she said.
“The weekends are still challenging for me because that’s really when we would do things together,” Williams said, adding that she’d spend those days going out to eat or listening to live jazz with her husband.
Adjusting to doing it all, including tasks that used to be done by your spouse, is difficult.
“The biggest things for me … that would really trigger the hard, hard stuff was just a sense of overwhelm,” Rampey said. She became the sole parent of two young children, worked as a classroom teacher, and had to keep up the house and manage the finances — all while grieving.
“It’s just a lot. It’s not a job for one person,” Rampey said. “To be a solo parent, where you don’t have any built-in breaks, is another level of challenging.”
Allen, the co-host of “We Grieve Differently,” said it was difficult to figure out her family’s new routine without her husband, Ashton. He died in 2022, when her sons were 8 and 13. Then, everything was on her, including the tasks that were previously done by Ashton, like making meals for the family.
“After the food donations go away and meal train goes away — ‘OK, I gotta feed the kids, and we can’t keep eating out,’” Allen said.
Kania Eustache Lebon — who was separated from her husband, Jean, when he died in March 2022 — added that it’s hard to realize you don’t have that backup anymore. Her kids were 19 and 15 at the time of Jean’s death.
“This was your person ... my person for the kids, my voice of reason,” Eustache Lebon said.
Big life moments are hard, too.
Beyond the adjustment to a new day-to-day, the big moments in life are tough as well.
“The hardest day was my son graduating high school, because as soon we found out I was pregnant with my son, [my husband] was like, ‘I can’t wait for the day he graduates high school’ — and he wasn’t even there,” Eustache Lebon said.
“It was just the weirdest, weirdest, weirdest day,” she added, noting that while she felt happy to see her son graduate, she was also mad and sad that her husband wasn’t with them.
Allen said she and her sons have treated big days differently since her husband died 11 months ago.
“Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas — we were away from our house for every holiday,” she said.
But grief does change with time.
“Something I needed to hear when I was early in grief is that it wasn’t going to be so excruciating and impossible forever,” Rampey said. “Because it’s really hard — this is thrust upon you, [and] you feel like ‘this is my new reality.’”
With the three-year anniversary of her husband’s death approaching in May, she said her grief has eased up and feels less daunting.
“That being said, I’m a totally different person than I was before my husband died, and I am still doing a ton of work to rebuild my life and actively seek joy,” she noted.
“This is a long game of being a widow and grieving. But the pain isn’t quite as acute as it used to be, and I have been able to find a ton of joy again in life. And I’m really thankful for the people who have helped me do that.”