when a partner dies Illustration by Sophi Gullbrants

Suffering the death of a partner is part of many people’s experience—so common yet so distinct to each partnership and to each person. In this three-part series, Love and Loss, we bring you three stories from people who lost their partner to illness: first how they fell for each other, then how death separated them, then the navigation through the foggy landscape that followed. If you’ve experienced a loss and think your story could help someone else, feel free to share it in the comments section. 

Alissa

We met at work, at a previous job I had. He was actually my manager.  He owned a shoe store, and I was working retail there when I first moved to the city. He was 13 years older than me. He was very calm about everything. Nothing really ruffled him, which was a nice thing to have in my life, because my life is kind of chaotic. He was a stabilizing force. We had been together for about 11 years, married for 7. We have a daughter together. 

February marked two years ago from when he died. He died on Valentine’s Day.

In early December 2018 he had a kidney stone, and when he was in the hospital, they did some imaging and saw something on his liver that the doctors found concerning. So they did a bunch of tests over the next month or two. In early February they diagnosed him with Sarcoidosis—an autoimmune condition that causes these little sarcoids, a hardening of tissues that affects the liver, lungs and heart primarily. They first located sarcoids in his liver and then he had further imaging that showed some spots in his lungs. They never really checked his heart and I’m not really sure why, still to this day, but it’s likely that is what killed him. Basically his heart just stopped. They did an autopsy and found these sarcoids all through his heart, liver and lungs. He wasn’t even not feeling well. He had started medication for it. Things we’re supposed to be getting better. It’s not fatal in most cases, but two weeks later he just collapsed. 

 It’s hard to celebrate Valentine’s Day at night with a child, so we went out to lunch. Everything was fine. He went back to work. I got a call two hours later that he collapsed. It’s been an interesting ride since. 

If I didn’t have this other relationship, I don’t know if I would’ve gotten through my husband’s death.

Immediately after he died, I found myself in a relationship with someone I had been close to prior. It was complicated because he was somebody I worked with and he was also married. We kept it pretty quiet, mainly because I felt like I would be very much judged, but also because we were still working together. There were some close friends that knew. Some were very supportive, some less so. No one was a downright asshole, but there were people I trusted more to talk about it with than others.

The relationship I had with him was incredibly different than the relationship I had with my husband. As human beings it is possible but healthy to love multiple people. People have more than one kid and love them both. Why can’t you have more than one partner in your life and experience love for both? I loved both of them very much, still do. If I didn’t have this other relationship, I don’t know if I would’ve gotten through my husband’s death. He helped me a ton. Not just grieving, but in being able to function in everyday life. 

We found ourselves in this place where we kind of realized we were in love with each other.  It moved very quickly until a few months later he realized he couldn’t leave his wife, which was understandable. I had never really asked him to. It was all very complicated. He ended up taking a job out of the country and he moved. We were talking long distance, but not for long and I began feeling very lonely, and angry. 

The last two serious relationships I had, one ended up dying and one fled the country. 

I went on online dating sites at that point and went on many random dates and hookups. I was sort of self-medicating with sex. I had a lot of random relationships in those few months. I have one partner from that time that I still see. Well, I don’t see anyone anymore, but talk to casually. It was a very casual relationship, but we were getting into a routine. He wanted a more serious relationship, not necessarily with me, but in general. He knew that I couldn’t offer that so we pulled back. I’m not in any position to be in a more serious committed relationship. 

[The married man and I] haven’t spoken in over a year now. That’s been really painful for a lot of reasons. We had this very intense connection and then coupled with everything I went through and that we went through together. That’s still something I’m recovering from. That year I had two men in my life that I loved very much and that loved me very much and I lost both of them. That kind of put me off having a serious relationship. The last two serious relationships I had, one ended up dying and one fled the country. 

Having lost, then falling in love again quickly, experiencing loss again and then still kinda feeling in love with both my husband and this other man have been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. I don’t actually feel open to love at this point, but I know that probably will change. 

One thing I’ve learned in this weird post loss/grief thing is that there’s no right or wrong way to do any of this, especially when you lose a spouse and you’re talking about finding new love or new relationships. People are going to judge you no matter what. People will judge you if you fall in love too fast. People will judge you if you’ve taken a year and haven’t gone on dating apps. They’ll say you need to move on. Do whatever you need to do.

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