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Kathie Lee Gifford opens up about 'crippling loneliness' since husband Frank's death

Kathie Lee spoke to AARP The Magazine about the trying time after husband Frank Gifford's death in 2015 and why she decided to leave TODAY.
/ Source: TODAY

Kathie Lee Gifford has opened up about enduring "crippling loneliness" following the death of husband Frank Gifford.

The TODAY anchor lost her husband of 29 years in 2015 when the former New York Giants legend and broadcasting star died at 84 at their Connecticut home. In a cover story for the April/May issue of AARP The Magazine, Kathie Lee, 65, spoke candidly about that trying time.

"You battle different things as you get older, especially as a widow, you battle the loneliness when you lose a spouse," she said. "It dawned on me the other day, I'm a widow, I'm an orphan, because my mother also passed, and I'm an empty nester all at the same time.

"If you're not careful, what you've lost in life can define you. It's so much better to be defined by what you still have, it's just healthier. I'm making big changes in my life because I need to, really big changes that are feeding my soul. Otherwise, despair sets in and loneliness can be crippling."

Adjusting to being alone was a difficult challenge.

"I didn't have a reason to have to stay in this big house anymore," she said about her Connecticut home. "I found myself dealing with crippling loneliness. I had to make a move to someplace physically, and I had to make emotional moves and spiritual moves. You gotta make new memories or the old ones are going to kill you."

KLG's magazine cover for AARP The Magazine
Kathie Lee Gifford opened up in the latest issue of AARP The Magazine about the difficult time following the death of husband Frank Gifford in 2015. AARP The Magazine

Kathie Lee also shared a heart-wrenching story about the specific time of day that has been the hardest.

"Sunset used to be a huge thing in our family,'' she said. "Every day, no matter what, we'd yell, 'Sunset alert!' and we had to stop whatever we were doing, go out, and honor another day.

"And now I still say it out loud to the puppies. We still go and do it, but sunset alerts are some of my saddest moments when it's just me and the dogs at home."

Kathie Lee Gifford magazine cover for AARP The Magazine
Kathie Lee said she suffered from "crippling loneliness" following the death of Frank, whom she married in 1986.Getty Images

Navigating social situations has also been difficult.

"When you're part of a couple, you don't realize that the whole world is just made up of couples,'' she said. "And all of a sudden, you're that odd number at a dinner party. You're the fifth, seventh, ninth person at the table. They're always making an adjustment for you.

"So I didn't want to go out and go alone to things. I go to professional things alone, but nothing social. I just wasn't comfortable. And I didn't want people giving me that widow look. 'Oh, how are you? Are you OK?'''

Good friends like TODAY anchor Hoda Kotb, as well as Kathie Lee's children, Cody, 29, and Cassidy, 25, have helped get her through a challenging period.

"My dearest friends during my darkest, darkest time, which was last year, my dearest friends already knew I was going through a terrible time. A desert," she said.

Kathie Lee, who has previously announced that she is leaving TODAY on April 5 after 11 years, has made a movie, "Then Came You," with former late-night host Craig Ferguson. The movie, whose release date has yet to be announced, is about a widow who takes her husband's ashes around the world to the locations of their favorite movies.

"I'm not reinventing myself at all,'' she said. "I am evolving as an artist and a human being, and I will be till the day I die. People who think I'm a silly person do not know me at all. I'm 10 percent silly and 90 percent dead serious in my life."

She also spoke about her decision to leave TODAY.

"Maybe it is someone else's dream job," she said. "But there was a more powerful dream within me that had yet to be fulfilled. All I ever wanted to do, from the time I was a little girl, was sing and be in movies."