Graça Machel, in her first TV interview after six months of mourning her late husband, Nelson Mandela, told CNN's Christiane Amanpour on Monday that she still has not grappled with the full meaning of "this huge loss."
"I have to tell you that there were times where I would wake up and I wouldn't know what to do," she said. "Somehow he would expect me to carry on."
"During the time of his active life, we knew that people loved him. But it was beyond my imagination to see when he got sick, people who would send us messages, people who would write, people who would pray for him."
When he died last December, after months of grave illness, Machel did not follow the outpouring of support from around the world.
"I was consumed with my sense of loss. But I have been told that for days, every single TV station, every single radio would be talking about him, celebrating his life."
"I wanted really to take this opportunity to say thank you. Thank you. And thank you so, so much to every single person -- old and young, men and women from all over the world who really took the time to think of him, to celebrate his life, and to send him so much love."
In the waning two years of his life, Machel said, she purposefully sheltered her husband from South Africa's woes.
"I would say he was aware of -- about all these things, maybe until about two years back."
"But I decided to save him, to protect him, from getting involved and knowing in depth what was going on, because he was such a sensitive person."
Amanpour had asked Machel whether Mandela knew about his country's "struggle," such as the "growing inequality" and "oppression against women."
"How aware," she asked, "was he that the dream still needed a huge amount of work in order to make it really come true?"
Bringing light to Mandela's life
Mandela's longtime personal assistant, Zelda la Grange, told Amanpour last week that it was Machel herself who brought light to Mandela's life.
"She brought him about to understand or to appreciate the different things in life again -- beautiful music, look at the flowers, walking hand in hand in the street early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Ordinary things that we take for granted," la Grange said.
"Well," Machel said with a laugh, "Christiane, I'm sure you have fallen in love sometime in your life. And you know what it means? That simple connection, which you have with a human being with whom you have a special affection."
"After coming out of jail, and with obligations he had as a head of state, it was only when he stepped down where he really began to concentrate on family matters."
"I think because he was calm, he was not under the pressure of huge responsibility, both of us, we just enjoyed being together, spent time together as human beings. And I think that's what he enjoyed in the sunset of his life."
After her period of mourning, Machel is dedicating herself to Mandela's dying cause.
"In the sunset of Madiba's life, he was confronted with an experience of a child who died because he did not have the qualified services which were required to save this boy," she explained.
"That has enacted in him a real commitment to say we cannot allow this to continue. And that's when he started to say, we have to build a specialized hospital for children."
She is working now, as head of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health to work for women's and children's health in Africa.
Two of Africa's greatest
Mandela, of course, was not Machel's only partner; she was also married to Samora Machel, president of Mozambique, who died in a mysterious plane crash in 1986.
"You know, Christiane, these incidents of life, which we never plan for it -- it just happens. If you ask me how I ended up being loved and loving these two extraordinary human beings, I wouldn't be able to explain. But it did happen."
"So, my response to you is really I am humble, and I would like people to expect to see in me more than that rural girl who happened to have some responsibilities in my own country and somehow globally, trying to do my best."
"But let me tell you something: Personally, they were just my husbands. You can call them -- I mean, icon; you can call whatever. But the relationship I had with them, it was the relationship of husband and wife."
"We shared any detail of life as any other family. ... And of course I draw inspiration in those two human beings. But I'm too small. And I'm not going to try to feel that I have a special responsibility to building their legacy."