There is this club that no one wants to talk about and no one asks to be in. This group of young women have been bonded by an experience unimaginable to most, feared by all. We have been robbed of our person.

As our peers settle into the word wife, we are steering the identity of widow. This portrait series invites you into the world of women under the age of 40 who have lost their person, myself included. The deaths have stemmed from heart failure, cancer, rare diseases, addiction, suicide, terrorism, and unexpected events. As you read through these stories, please remember that grief is not linear nor does it look the same on any two people.


** This project is ongoing. If interested in sharing your story, please email rachaelcerrotti@gmail.com. ** 


Jenna / Georgia / Widowed at 30

"I remember carrying his cancer backpack for him down the BeltLine because it balanced my pregnant belly. We were walking together as a couple. He with brain cancer and a backpack with a treatment device in it. Me with a pregnant belly. The chord between the arrays on his head and the backpack on my back felt like an umbilical chord. It felt like if I carried some of his weight, maybe I could hold onto him." 

Nicole / Kentucky / Widowed at 36

"The thing about a brain tumor is that you lose the person piece by piece by piece by piece. First you adjust to the mental confusion and then you adjust to the person not being able to be your intellectual partner and then I had to adjust to the fact that he couldn't walk properly without my help and then I had to adjust to the fact that he couldn't talk and couldn't respond verbally to me. And then he couldn't even open his eyes... And the crazy thing about that whole period is that I have never in my life felt so connected to somebody. Marriage and love doesn't actually require, and it is good to hear myself say this, lots of shared activity. We were just connected to the core. And so when there was nothing else to do, but lay next to each other and hold each other's hand, our marriage was totally intact and I knew where I stood with him and he knew where he stood with me and we were at peace." 

Carrie / Colorado / Widowed at 29

"One thing that can be difficult for me is when people tell me I am so strong. 'You are strong, you are going to make it through because you have always been strong and you will continue to be strong.' I think these people who are close to me mean well when they say it, but what I have learned about this experience is that, for me, being strong actually isn't pushing through, keeping all my emotions bottled up, and going out in public with a smile on my face. I am learning that me being strong in grief is getting out of my comfort zone, telling the story, sitting with the emotions, showing these emotions, talking about it with others, going to my boss and saying 'I need tomorrow off because I am having a rough week.' Cancelling plans with friends and saying 'I can't go out tonight because I need to sit with grief.' That is strength."



Dana / Kentucky / Widowed at 36

"He was so goofy and such a romantic, but he was the manliest man in the room. He would write me poems starting in the first weeks of our relationship."


"Good Morning Beautiful.

Wish I was waking with you. My heart, it would be quaking.

Together, lying, touching skins, sweet tingles from within. 

Up we jump and hit the floor, a trail, a ride, a local tour. 

The things we find for us to play, laughing, smiling through the day. 

Back to bed, thats for sure, cuddle with you till I snore. 

Wash, rinse, repeat again, this is our recipe for permagrin."


Lisa / Georgia / Widowed at 32

"I think my faith has helped me see that I don't have control. I grew up in a church. Yeah, I pushed some rules here and there, but for the most part I have been a rule follower. I think that I questioned if I hadn't been faithful enough, that this was something I had to go through. But, then if I study the word and I talk to pastors, I know that is not how God operates. I truly believe He doesn't do that. He is not going to say 'Lisa, because you didn't do enough bible studies, now I am going to put you through this life trial.'"

Maureen / Illinois / Widowed at 35

"I wrapped my whole life around 'how is John doing today' and 'what does John need this week' and 'how is your husband doing.' And it was always that. So now it is 'how are you doing.' And, it is so odd... But, I really do cherish these new relationships, friendships, or even acquaintances I have made with other widows. We get the loneliness. We get the 4-month struggles. Or going on vacation, and if you have children, all the other kids squealing for their dads to look at them. Or seeing these nuclear families who look perfect from the outside. The constant losses - being invited to a wedding without a guest and going to a wedding when you just had one."

Sarah / Utah / Widowed at 38

"There is so much more to it than him being gone. One of the things I thought really soon was, 'who the fuck am I? I have no idea.' I think about the way our [widows and widowers] perception is a hundred times different than everybody else. All of these people bitching about whatever. Brian would complain about that, 'you worry about everything,' he would say. 'Once you get through that thing and you can't worry about it anymore, you will create the next thing to worry about.' Now, my only worry is getting to a place where I know who I am so that I can be the best mom that I can be."

Anna / Massachusetts / Widowed at 32

"One of the things that my uncle said in a beautiful card he wrote to me after Ryan died was 'so much has happened in such a short time.' And it was very true. We met, fell in love, got pregnant, got engaged - not in the typical order things would be done, but that was the way it was."







Lexie / Illinois / Widowed at 28

"I thought they were going to come out and tell me he was brain dead and ask what we should do. Even at that point, my brain was trying to go anywhere but there. And I remember the doctor came in and put his hand on my hand and I went, 'Is he okay?' And he said, 'he is not alive.'"






Allyson / Utah / Widowed at 29

“In year one, I was still in this place where I would tell anybody who would listen that my husband died while I was pregnant. In year two, I became more comfortable in my singleness and my single-motherhood and being alone. And then years three and four are finally like, this is what it is going to be now. I am always going to be sad. I am never going to all-the-way recover from this.”







Kate / Massachusetts / Widowed at 33

"I need to be better about raising my hand for help. Because I am so capable and I will take it on, but I don't need to. People will help. People can help. People want to help. They just don't know how."

Adrienne / Massachusetts / Widowed at 21

"I do feel empowered. As a woman who had so much hurt and was trying to deal with everything with going back out into the world and trusting it again... Being hurt in this way is empowering because when you have been through the worst, you feel like you can do anything."

Katy / Georgia / Widowed at 36

"People don't want to cause more pain, but they don't know that nothing they can say can cause more pain. I was already sad today. You saying something about Aaron might make the tears come, but mostly because I loved him so much and you acknowledging him punctures the wall because I have this emotion wall and I keep it together, but love and kindness breaks it open every time. So, that is the emotion pouring out, but it is a response to love, not because you made me more sad. That is not possible."

Sarah / Illinois / Widowed at 33

"I always go back to his battle and his fight and he was so positive. So I think during my hard days, I almost laugh at myself and say, really, he would be mad if I sat in bed. Because on his hardest days, sick, chemo sick, he would get off the couch and say 'let's go somewhere' or he would say 'lets book a trip' or we would be on a flight home from a trip and he would book another trip. And, not knowing how he was going to feel, he always got up and did next. And so, that is the fire in my belly that is there for my job, is there for being a mom, is there for just functioning in general. It is the most beautiful feeling and the most tragic feeling at the same time."

Rachael Cerrotti / Widowed at 27 (self portrait)

"He passed away just a month after our wedding celebration, two weeks before our first anniversary. We still had gifts unopened. A stack of condolence cards soon outnumbered those wishing us a happy and healthy life together.

I will forever be grieving all the experiences we were robbed of. No honeymoon, no home, no eating the frozen wedding cake or seeing our family grow. But the memories we created in the 7 years we were by each other's side will always remain full of life. 

Stories need to be shared and they shouldn't be shied away from because someone has died. If you know someone grieving, ask them about the person they lost. Laugh with them and smile with them at every possible moment because that life was damn good."