The First Year

WSN: Widow-Man with Dr. Nyle Kardatzke

The first year after your wife’s death is unlike any before or after. You are in a world of unreality. Each day may seem like a new event, even though your surroundings haven’t changed. You may be in something like a state of shock, just carefully going through the necessary activities but feeling oddly outside yourself, an “out-of-body” experience. You may have to learn that she isn’t coming back repeatedly.

I’m a diary-keeper, so I can see in my first-year diary that I thought of my wife almost constantly. I made journal entries about my feelings during that first year and about the years of our courtship and marriage. I examined in detail everything I could remember about her and our life together. When she had been gone for three months, I wrote that this had been a long time, but now three years seems short. I have been a widow-man for ten years now, and I still think of my wife often. The good news is that memories of your wife may become comforting and energizing, as many of my memories have become.

My journals from that first year tell me I maintained some of my old routines, thinking subconsciously that those routines, as rituals, might bring my wife back. I knew this was impossible, but the rituals seemed to make the parting easier. The familiar routines helped define and stabilize my days. They made parts of my life seem normal.

Books on grief give much attention to the emotional impact of the first year. Each season, each birthday or anniversary, and each holiday that comes and goes in that year has special meaning. Besides the emotion of those special days, your first year is a time of learning to manage activities and relationships without the one who has died.

When I approached the end of the first year, I felt I had accomplished something important by completing that year, and yet I felt some regret in continually moving farther away from the time when she was alive. I expected an unrealistically clear turning point after that first year, but the following years had their own new experiences and new ways of learning to live without her.

In one of our last conversations, my wife advised me not to make any big decisions for a year after her death. She advised me not to get involved with another woman until she had been gone a year. I knew this advice made sense; she was thinking more clearly than I could about her death. When she died a week later, the enormity of her death hit me. I was thankful for her advice.

All of the milestones of the first year are potentially filled with emotions. The changing seasons, holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries often are challenging as they come around for the first time without your wife. Widowers warned me about them, but they were still difficult to navigate.


Look for Dr. Kardatzke’s insights to appear in his column named after his book, WIDOW-MAN, every other Wednesday. You can write Dr. Kardatzke at [email protected]


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