Andrea Remke lives in Northern Kentucky. She has a degree in communications and journalism from Saint Mary's College, South Bend, Ind. Her husband died in 2017 after a battle with aggressive tongue cancer that spread to his lungs. She is finding her way as a newly-widowed mother of an 12-year-old, twin 9-year-olds, and a 6-year-old. She is a freelance writer at kymomtotwinsandmore.com. Find her at Facebook and on Twitter
There are people out there who have never dealt with a devastating loss, yet apparently are experts when it comes to losing a spouse.
I recently put sheets on my bed. Well, it was really just putting sheets on a mattress. A mattress that hasn't had a set of sheets or a comforter on it for nearly three months.
It's been 90 days since the day he left. It's been 90 days since the blood-stained carpet was ripped up and thrown out. It's been 90 days since the sheets and comforter were washed and donated to Goodwill. Not too many days after that, all the bedroom furniture was sold, and the walls were painted, too. It's been 90 days that I've been in a carpetless, empty room (save his favorite ugly chair) laying on a mattress with only a throw blanket to cover up with at night. I want to erase my memory of a day that will forever be a nightmare that plays over and over. I wish I could undo the grief my children and I have felt since that day.
Many an Internet stranger have left comments on my blog posts that I have written over the past couple months. There are people out there who have never dealt with a devastating loss, yet apparently are experts when it comes to losing a spouse. One guy commented, in a roundabout way, that I needed to "deal with my grief" instead of projecting my feelings of hurt and loss on everyone else in writing my stories. One woman berated and judged me for, "taking off my wedding ring too soon." One woman told me, "blah, blah your stories are boring and sad." (Strangely I feel like this bitchy, mean lady and I could've been friends maybe in an alternate life).
But I'm not going to be mad at discouraging comments people write me. I know there are life lessons one can take from Internet trolls who criticize you when you are down. The troll serves a purpose here, too. So, I will address the grief question. I am going to humor that know-it-all who has never known the reality that is walking into a room to find their spouse and best friend dead on the floor. I wonder if having to see, hear and remember daily the screams of their spouses' parents and siblings at the knowledge of that death would be part of the process of "dealing with grief." How about questioning what you could have done differently that morning 90 days ago, and if anything you did differently could have changed the fates that day. Is that "dealing with grief"? Does the everyday recollection of your son's tears the morning his father died hold any weight in the "dealing with grief" category? I want to know if pulling out every shirt, every pair of pants, every hat from the closet, and holding it close to breathe in the smell of them one more time before you donate it, if that is "dealing with grief." I wonder if it's normal to live in your husband's ratty, old college sweatshirt... morning to night. And is it OK to keep his deodorant in the vanity drawer, just so you can hang onto one last olfactory link to the person you slept next to for almost 20 years? Are those indicators of "dealing with grief"?
I wonder if the woman who questioned me about my rings would care that I take my wedding rings out of the wall safe every couple of days to look at, hold and remember the days those diamonds were on my left-hand ring finger. Could that be classified as "dealing with grief," too? I wonder if choking back tears when your daughters tell you they want their daddy is "dealing with grief." Because I do that almost every day, too.
I would argue that any person who just lost a spouse - no matter how long they were together - will agree that "dealing with the grief" is probably more painful than having a limb chopped off, and probably just as messy. The tears from "dealing with grief" can come on as fierce as a hurricane and harder to stop - but you still try to hide them with assurances of being "fine." Dealing with the grief means sometimes you have to put on a happy face for your children, your coworkers, your neighbors - because if they knew the profound sadness of your heart, their heart just might break, too.
I've connected with quite a few young widows the past 90 days. Some of them were blindsided by the death of their spouse, others had time to prepare for getting their hearts obliterated. Our stories seem to vary widely; some of their husbands died of cancer, like mine. Some died from suicide. Others died from heart attacks or aneurysms. But if you really look at all of us, our stories are the same. We face an unimaginable grief every day. We try and relate the unexplainable feelings of loss to friends around us. We try to explain any and all of it to children who can't even tie their shoes yet. We see the people who tiptoe around us not to offend, or we deal with those who tell us to "just move on," or "get over it." (Note to friends of grieving widows: Telling someone whose heart was ripped and shattered to pieces to "move on" is a huge no-no).
We are "dealing with grief" every. day. we. wake. up.
What it looks like will be varied. It can present as empty smiles. It can be tear-stained cheeks. It can be a laugh one minute and wailing the next. It is asking, "why God?" alone at night or busying herself with her children's' extracurriculars. It can be pajamas at 2 p.m. and it can be ratty sweatshirts as a daily uniform. Yes, there are countless books about coping with grief, but to be honest, there are zero rules to follow. There is no timeline for how long it will last. There are absolutely no guidelines for "dealing with grief." We can't undo it. There is no getting over it. There may or may not be a way to move on from it.
Grief is now a torturous life experience sewn into our hearts. How we move forward, carry on and exist from here out is every widow's choice. She will know, and she will decide how "dealing with grief" will look in her life. And sometimes it may be just as simple as her putting sheets on a bed.