grief journey

I woke up today realizing I feel more alone now than I ever have in my life.

And it’s not just that I’m living alone for the first time – no parents, no child: totally alone in this quiet house. It’s a different kind of alone than just being alone physically. This is a kind of alone that I didn’t know existed before I shared my life with Rick.

Before I met Rick, when I was a single individual, I had my family and my close friends to share things with, but there was that place inside me that I had never shared with anyone, not even my closest friends. That place where my most private, secret feelings and thoughts were stored. But that changed when I fell in love with Rick. I let him into that place. Rick KNEW me and I knew him. We shared every part of ourselves with each other. I felt joined to him mentally, spiritually, maybe even telepathically sometimes.

For more than twenty years, I shared a bond with someone who almost became a part of me. We were joined in a way that I had never experienced. I’d been in love before Rick, but usually it was an imbalanced kind of love. Either I loved him more than he loved me, or vice versa, and the relationships didn’t work out for one reason or another.

But with Rick, it was different. With Rick, I felt totally safe. I let him into that most private place inside me and he did the same. We knew each other’s hopes and dreams, our flaws and foibles and failings and insecurities. I know it sounds cliche – but sometimes I think he knew me better than I knew myself. This sense of oneness was something I didn’t realize I had missed in all the years before him. I hadn’t known it was possible to join with someone like that, to form that most intimate bond. I trusted him with my heart and soul. I felt like he was a part of me. He was with me when we were miles apart.

That’s why, now that he’s gone, I feel more alone than I ever have in my life. Now that the bond has been severed by death, I am back to being a single individual, but this time it’s different, worse than it was before. Because this time I’ve experienced something I didn’t know existed: the ability to become so close to someone that they form a part of you. Before Rick, I had no idea what I was missing, that there even was a possibility of that type of intimacy. Before Rick, I was ignorant of the joy of being that in love, the safety net of that kind of love, the confidence that – despite anything I could possibly do – he would continue to love me, and I him. Before Rick, I never experienced the serenity that comes from knowing that I’m not alone in this world.

In the first weeks, months, and year after he died, I felt alone, but the grief was so overwhelming, and there was so much to cope with and adapt to, the alone part was probably only a small part of it. Time went on, and now I’m pretty much back to my old self, adapted, adjusted, making plans for my future. I wake up okay now and go on about my day, with only those sporadic grief pangs to get through. I’m adjusted to life by myself, and I can physically and mentally cope with just about everything. But there’s just that one piece that will never, ever be filled. The piece where he lived inside me.

Every once in a while, I think I feel him there again – joined to me inside my mind, but it’s not as often now as it was when he first died. At first, I felt his presence everywhere, but as much as I hated to admit it to myself, that feeling began to lessen as the months went on. I still feel him with me now and then, but more often than not, I just feel alone.

In reality, I’m very grateful to be blessed with so many loved ones that I’m not physically alone much. I also work forty hours a week – four of those days in an office filled with colleagues. And most nights of the week I’m busy: I have trivia, movies, card nights, and dinners with friends. I babysit and visit with my kids, niece and nephew, stepkids, grandkids. Sometimes, when the house is too quiet, but I don’t really want to be with anyone, I find ways to be alone but in a crowd, so I go to a dinner or movie by myself.

But whether by myself or out with others, I feel a loneliness now that I didn’t know was possible in the forty years before I met Rick. I know now.

This is different than just missing the person I did everything with, shared work and playtime with, told the day’s events to – which were all the things about Rick I missed when he first died. This is like a Rick-shaped puzzle piece that’s missing from my brain.

Maybe someday, I’ll wake up and feel at peace with being this alone again, but I doubt it. Once you’ve experienced that bond, it’s nearly impossible not to feel like you’ve lost a viable part of yourself, and to feel that no matter how fulfilled your life may be, and no matter how much you look forward to your future, something’s missing. Maybe one day, I’ll even feel that bond with someone else, but it wouldn’t be THIS bond, the Rick-and-me bond, the bond that was a part of me and that I cherished for twenty years. Maybe I’d feel a little less alone, but I’d still know that other piece is missing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not feeling sorry for myself. I’m just acknowledging that this is how life is now. I’m coming to terms with what this empty part inside me is. I think I’m almost relieved to know that this is what’s been nagging at me, this is the thing that I couldn’t put my finger on. I’ll wake up and look forward to my day, acknowledge that the grief has lessened, that I’m feeling like myself again and making a new life and future, but sometimes there’s still a sense of disorientation, some confusion that I think is the result of that hole in my brain.

Although… maybe I’m less alone than I think. It just occurred to me that my whole life I’ve talked to myself – usually in my head, but sometimes out loud. Yes, my mind is rarely still as I carry on my dialogue about ideas, plans, worries, and schedules in my head. That voice in my head was always my own voice, but now, very often, I’ve discovered that it’s Rick’s. And sometimes, it’s even me talking TO Rick and him answering. So, now that I think about it, maybe I’m really not as alone as I think I am. Maybe that bond is so strong, that even death can’t break it. Perhaps I haven’t been paying attention, or I’ve been looking at this all wrong. Maybe he’s still a part of me, and I’m not alone, after all.


On August 13, 2017, I lost the love of my life. Rick Palmer and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary one month before he died at age 63 of complications from treatments for small cell lung cancer. He was my partner and soulmate, the love I had been looking for and finally found at age 40.

Rick was a talented writer and web designer and, in 2002, we began our own web and print design business. We worked together building the business and enjoyed traveling, writing, and playing together. Our dream was to spend our golden years together doing more of the same, but in the ten months from diagnosis to death, that dream shattered.

After Rick’s death, I quickly realized that the enormity of his loss was too much for me to handle on my own, so I began grief therapy. I also began writing through my grief in a journal of feelings, thoughts, memories, and poetry. As I navigate my new life alone, I share my journey and my efforts towards creating my “new normal” on my personal blog: The Writing Widow. I’m also on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

I recently published two books about my grief journey: my poetry book, I Wanted to Grow Old With You: A Widow's First Year of Grief in Poetry, and compilation of my blog posts A Widow's Words: Grief, Reflection, Prose, and Poetry - The First Year." Both books are available in print and Kindle versions on