Chapter 3: Identifying your losses

Roles and relationships

My wife was always the one who arranged get-togethers with family and friends. I realized rather quickly that she had built relationships with all sorts of people who were part of our lives, but about whom I knew very little.

I filled the washer fluid in the car the other day. A simple thing but I had never done that before because it was always my husband’s job. I felt proud that I managed it on my own.

Your spouse likely played more than one role in your life. Asking yourself questions such as, “Who was this person to me?” or “Who were they in the larger world?” can help you to:

  • Recognize that you may be dealing with many layers of loss.
  • Find ways to adapt to your changed situation.

Awareness of your losses and their impact may come to you slowly, over time, or may arrive in a sudden jolt. As you are confronted with the responsibility for tasks that you never have had to handle in the past, you may experience feelings of stress, anger, frustration, anxiety, or fear, or even a sense of abandonment.

Click the boxes below to see a few examples of obvious and subtle roles that your spouse had:

Examples of obvious roles



Getting groceries; banking; preparing taxes; cooking meals; vehicle repairs or servicing.


Examples of subtle roles



Starting conversations; being social or extroverted; comforting others; planning and initiating gatherings.


Tasks that may have once seemed ordinary or simple may now seem especially tedious, difficult, or overwhelming. It can be challenging to fit them into your day-to-day life. You may be feeling more impatient than usual, as well as physically and mentally exhausted.

What may help

  • If you’re struggling with tasks, try writing out lists that break them down. Decide which ones need to be done now and which can wait. Next, choose the ones that feel manageable to you.
  • For items that can wait, create a reminder so that you can turn your attention to them later. For tasks that you feel okay about doing, create a schedule or use a calendar to help keep you on track.
  • Allow yourself to ask for and accept help. Who might be able to help with tasks that seem “too much,” even temporarily? Could someone pick up groceries for you? Are there any prepared meal services that you could use? Can you ask your friends to recommend someone for home repairs?
  • When you feel ready, are there people in your life who can help you to learn new skills, such as how to do small repairs or household chores, or who could provide some basic cooking tips or recommend a user-friendly cookbook? You may also want to explore web-based “how-to” or DIY (Do-It-Yourself) resources.
  • In time, you may discover that you are more capable than you thought. Accomplishing something you have never done before can help rebuild self-confidence.
  • Change is often hard. As much as possible, try to be patient and suspend any self-judgment.