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United in Grief: Two Widow’s Perspectives

"Losing a partner is cruel, unnatural. You don't just lose your soulmate; you also lose your sense of home, your identity, your future. This loss changes you."

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Written by Diana Nilsson and Olga Fontanellaz 
Art by Hélios Lulamae Carle

There are women amongst us who are neither single by choice nor separated or divorced. These women could have been lucky enough to know the fairy-tale worth love in all its magic, but their happy-ever-after turned happy-never-after at the end of the day. These women didn’t decide to leave their partners, nor had they a chance to rekindle their relationship. It was all signed and sealed for them from above, whatever above there is.

These women are widows.

To start with, we don’t like the word “widow”. Though we must admit, it is sobering. We’d much rather think that our partners are somewhere on a long trip and will return to us. We really want to believe that they ARE, not WERE. Using past tense is a sensitive thing, and we often avoid it. It is a kind of constant denial until you have to fill in a form. As soon as you tick the box “widow”, the finality of it all gives you a devastating blow and takes you back to reality. We couldn’t conceive it in your worst dreams. Was what we thought a happy ending just the beginning of a never-ending nightmare?

We are two young women who were married to young and healthy men. We both lived our lives in the most creative way possible. We travelled. We moved countries frequently. We worked on independent projects. We both ditched offices and worked four ourselves. One of us was raising children at the same time. We were chasing freedom; we wanted to see the world and ultimately find a way to change it for the better. We did it together with our partners as a part of a team. We were madly in love, and we shared dreams, goals, and the future. Our teams were unstoppable.

We were both holding our partners’ hands when we received the diagnosis equal to a death sentence.

We are fighters, you know. We didn’t go home to die. We challenged heaven. We supported our partners through the surgery, the exhausting radiation and chemo treatments. We were on a constant lookout for new treatments, trials, and repurposed medications. 

We didn’t know each other back then, but our paths crossed so many times. We regularly bought pills and food supplements for our partners in the same pharmacy in a city neither of us lived in. Our partners even had treatments in the same hospital but different buildings. We were two strong women on a mission to save our world, and we never gave up. 

Though it wasn’t an identical journey, the finale was just the same for both of us. We sat on the hospital bed and watched the love of our life fade away and take their last breath right in front of our eyes. And we couldn’t do anything to save them. The desperation of this helplessness will always stay with us.

Losing a partner is cruel, unnatural. You don’t just lose your soulmate; you also lose your sense of home, your identity, your future. This loss changes you. You are now a different person defined by chronic sadness. Your heartbreak lasts a lot longer than what society allows. Your social circle shrinks. You can no longer fit in.

The first months after our partners passed away, we saw all the survival mechanisms we didn’t know we had, activated. One of us had to go to rehab and then shut herself in her parents’ house, refusing to go out. Another one started living two different lives: upbeat on the outside and suicidal on the inside. What followed was a deep black hole of depression. Years of suppressing our mental health struggles, keeping it up and living with unresolved grief came back like an avalanche of pain we could not handle. We wanted to shout on top of our lungs, hoping our hearts would shutter in a direct, physical way. 

How can a woman who lost her future to a devastating disease get back on her feet? The answer has always been there. Women support women. In grief and outside of it. Literally. 

This was when we turned to the faceless online world, which is often easier to confess to and more willing to listen than your friends. And this is when we met each other – two young women united by unbearable pain, loneliness and isolation. We could relate to each other’s grief like no other.

We both found it impossible to function; both were mourning our love, our future, our invincible teams, and the persons we once were. We had no energy or motivation to get up and push projects we started together with our partners. We were unable to focus on anything for months. 

We didn’t want to, but we both knew we had to work to stimulate our “broken” brains. So, we decided to help each other, one baby step at a time. It could be one step forward and two back some days, but the dynamics were what mattered.

You know, widows are such an underrepresented group. Widows around the world are stigmatised, judged, labelled as needy. Even though they are especially vulnerable to gender inequality and gender-based violence, they still get more bad rep than space to speak out. Widows lack proper representation and visibility.

You know, widows are such an underrepresented group. Widows around the world are stigmatised, judged, labelled as needy. Even though they are especially vulnerable to gender inequality and gender-based violence, they still get more bad rep than space to speak out. Widows lack proper representation and visibility. Is it because a young widow is seen as someone who is expected to remarry? We are sorry to say that, but the innocent, pseudo-wise phrases like “you are young, there is someone for you in this world” and “you will find happiness again” can be very hurtful. 

We have been through the most challenging thing in life, and we are now different. For many of us, the definition of happiness changed. A woman’s happiness does not necessarily come in the shape of a man. 

We have our unique story. That story can make a difference for others.  

Months of isolation, depression and hopelessness made us realise that no one can help us get back on our feet better than other bereaved women. So we wanted to give hope to other women like us. And this is how the idea of the Women Adjust was born. We have recently launched a campaign aiming to raise awareness about the challenges young widows face. It also offers beautiful jewelry in exchange for support. Every woman deserves understanding and helps whatever life throws at her.

How can a woman who lost her future to a devastating disease get back on her feet? The answer has always been there. Women support women. In grief and outside of it. Literally. 


Diana Nilsson is a London-based entrepreneur and a jewellery designer behind davidandmartin.com. Olga Fontanellaz is a Russo-Swiss photographer behind www.anywayinaway.com.


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