The Public Widow

At Gulf Coast Getaway in Panama City, FL

A month or so after Jeremy passed away, I remember trying to read anything and everything I could find about grief and loss. One of the books I read talked about how the kind of widow you are affects how you grieve. Everyone's journey is unique but there are certain common experiences for widows. There are some categories that were defined as 'needing special support.' For example, losing a spouse when you're in an unhappy marriage, people who had very unstable childhoods, war veterans, losing someone to a perpetrator, someone who experienced more than one loss, etc.

I fell under two categories: pregnant and public

Because of the work Jeremy and me in the church, college, and community, I think I would qualify as "a public widow." And social media these days has created that platform as well. I'm not famous by any means, but my story ran further than I could have ever imagined and before I knew it, people from around the world knew of me and my situation. And everyone was following. Some still are.

It's tough to grieve publicly and feel like people are constantly analyzing what you're experiencing, or watching you non stop. But I think it's been more of a blessing than anything. It may be a little egotistical, but having so many people follow your grief journey really sets the stage for support. I've created an avenue of perspective for people who have no idea what grief is like. It allows them to see into my heart a little and perhaps customize their prayers and offers to help. This is a wonderful thing when you don't know what to ask for. I've had a few people tell me that the posts I leave on Jeremy's FB wall each night are the first things they read in the morning and it allows them to know what to pray about for me each day. What a blessing.

I try not to let the fact that people are watching really affect what I say or feel in this process. Have I censored some things? Hell Heck yes. Have I let out all my demons? Absolutely not. There are so many layers to grief, some that even my closest friends couldn't understand. But I won't apologize for how ugly my emotions can get. I obviously know that people are reading what I write to my husband every night. If I have something to say to him that others can't read, I'll send him a message. But the posts are not for everyone else. They're for me...to remember, to process, and to analyze what I'm experiencing each day. I go back and read what I wrote him all the time, just to remember how far I've come. It's also for Jeremy...my crazy way of still ending my day talking to him like I have for the last 8 years of my life. The things I want him to know about my day.

This is just me. If people get sick of hearing that I am STILL grieving and feeling awful, too bad. If my crappy situation reminds people of their own mortality, fine. I have good moments, but there isn't a day that goes by that I don't experience pain of some sort. And I have days where the pain is almost as bad as the day I found out, maybe worse. But it's the support of those who have stood beside me on this journey that has held me up and kept me going. For that, I'll take the public eye in exchange for heartfelt prayer any day.


With this ring...

It's been 7 months now since Jer died...

and I haven't been able to take off my wedding ring. Nor have I been able to take off my necklace with Jer's wedding ring on it. I think I left the house without my ring on once, and the second I realized it thought I was going to have a panic attack.

This has been on my mind a lot lately. I started reading a book by another widow who said she took her ring off immediately because she didn't want to pretend to be something she wasn't. And I instantly thought "Am I pretending? Am I trying to be something I'm not? Why can't I take it off?" I know there is no protocol for this. I know some people can take their rings off sooner than others. But I was wondering why I in particular have such a hard time with even the idea of parting with these pieces of jewelry. For anyone who knew Jer and I as a couple knows that my rings are important for a few reasons.

First of all, Jeremy proposed to me 3 times. That's right, three. The first time he proposed to me with the necklace I now wear with his ring on it. He had gotten me the necklace for Christmas, but the chain was too short. He went home to return it in exchange for money to go toward a ring, but he couldn't so instead he bought a new chain and proposed to me with the necklace. If you knew Jer, you knew he wasn't very fancy, or showy. It wasn't well planned out, but it was heartfelt and the excitement I saw in his eyes outside of DC at Rochester College that day is stored in my heart forever. I don't even think he got down on one knee, but I didn't even care. I was over the moon.

The second time was when he finally got enough money to buy me an engagement ring. I knew he was going home for the weekend, but he didn't say much about it I think in hopes to surprise me - like I'd forget something like that. I remember him calling me on the way back from Canada, and trying to get it out of him, but he wouldn't say anything. He just asked if he could take me out to dinner when he got back. So, of course, I'm giddy like a little school girl and we decide to eat at Applebees because it was our thing back then (we LOVED their ranch and mozzarella sticks and frozen kiwi lemonades) - and it was one of our first dates. This time I was actually expecting him to get down on one knee. But, he didn't. We weren't even sitting across from each other, we sat next to each other. So, mid conversation he just kind of pulls it out of his pocket and gives it to me. I could tell he was so nervous (even though, remember, he had already technically proposed and of course knew I was going to say yes) and to see a big guy like that so vulnerable was just about the sweetest thing ever.

I was never really upset about the informal proposals, but I loved to give Jer a hard time about it. I used to tease him that he never gave me a proper proposal. He used to say some day we'd travel the world, go to Europe and he'd have the money to buy me ring he thought 'I deserved' and give me a formal, fancy pants proposal. And I told him he could never pull it off - he'd be red up to his ears of embarrassment doing something so sentimental and romantic in public.

July 3, 2006 was one of the worst days of my life until Jer died. It was day I lost my wedding ring. We were boating in Houghton Lake and it fell right off into the water. I screamed, wailed, and hollered until everyone on the boat was crying too. The worst part was that Jer wasn't on the boat, he was on shore watching Faith who was only a couple months old at the time, so I had to tell him what happened. It was awful. I cried all day. I fell asleep that night in Jer's arms crying. My ring was hardly worth anything but it meant the world to me because there was much love behind it. Jer kept trying to reassure me that it was no big deal and we'd get another one but I was crushed.

The last picture of my first wedding rings...

October 1, 2006 Jer bought me a new wedding band (my engagement ring and wedding band were soldered together so I lost them both). It was waiting for me opened on the coffee table when I got home from grocery shopping. When Jer got excited about something, he couldn't wait to finesse a plan of execution...he'd end up giving it away. I could always tell when he was trying to do something romantic for me. Anyway, no proposal there and we didn't even celebrate it much because in my grocery bags was a pregnancy test that revealed we were pregnant with Caleb. Big day. But I remember calling all our family and friends that day and I kept looking over and my ring finger and smiling with a full, warm heart.

February 27, 2008 - my third and final proposal. We had just gotten our tax return back, and even though we had already determined what the money should be used for, Jer was driving home from Gander Mountain, passed a Jared's Jewelers and on a whim decided to buy me a beautiful engagement ring instead. He really was romantic. And in true Jeremy fashion, he was just too excited to wait to give it to me, so he had his friend Chris keep me distracted with his wife for the day (little did he know, it was Chris' birthday the next day, so we were decorating his office at work and trying to keep the boys distracted as well). It made for a funny scene, when the four of us saw each other that night, each of us with smirks on our faces from the surprises the others didn't know about.

I don't remember the details of driving home. I think Jer must have put the kids to bed for me, and told me to wait downstairs. I knew he was up to something, but I wasn't sure what. In true Chandler and Monica form (Friends was our favorite show to watch together), he led me up to our bedroom filled with lit candles. He turned around, got down on one knee, and showed me the ring. I was so shocked to see him down on his knee, I barely remember what he said! He said something about being sorry he never proposed to me properly, but that I was worthy of so much more. I smile and ache remembering how much that guy loved me. I've never known anything like it. The ring was perfect, the moment was perfect. And I had both the rings insured to make certain they could be replaced if something ever happened to them again.

The day after my perfect proposal. Third time's a charm

When I look at my wedding rings, I know why I can't take them off. I can't face that this is all really happening yet. I would tell anyone who would listen about my multiple proposals (how many girls can say that?!?) and looking at them remind me of how much that man loved me. It was such a feat to get these rings, how could I possibly take them off? But, it's also a wall that I'm comfortably staying behind. It keeps people at bay asking if I'm single. Maybe it wouldn't be so uncomfortable if I didn't have three kids in tow everywhere I go. I do not want the judgement that comes with a mother of 3 kids and no ring.

I don't know when I'll be ready to take them off. I've thought about just adding my rings to Jer's on my necklace, but I haven't been able to do that. My hand doesn't look right without them there. I don't want to pretend or be something I'm not, but right now I'm still living every minute for him, to make him proud, so I don't feel like I'm pretending. I know I'll have to remove them someday.

Just not today.


An update

I'm still here. I honestly hadn't opened my computer in over a week, things have been so crazy. My only connection was on FB via my phone. Let me give you all a little update:

I finally closed on a house! This has been a very long process, but I wanted it to be the right decision, and the right house. The house we're in now isn't safe or big enough for our family anymore. I think we've found something that suits us way more. We've been working on it (me and a ton of wonderful people) non stop for a few weeks now and every day it starts to come together a little more, and I am in love with it. It's perfect for us. The best part is, our next door neighbors are wonderful, they have a little boy named Caleb who is 2 days older than my Caleb - and they've all been connected at the hip since they met!

When I get a chance to finally sit down and play with my before and after photos (oh and get the house in order to actually have after photos) I will share them. I will tell you that I am pretty proud of myself for learning how to stain and seal hardwood floors (I had to call in help to sand the floors). There are flaws that will likely bug me more than anyone else, but overall it looks pretty good:

I have been ready to move out for awhile. More than awhile, Jeremy hated this house. Knowing he wouldn't want us here without him made the decision to leave very easy. I never thought twice about leaving it, that is, until this week as I pack up my things. As much as I am not tied to this house and am excited about starting in a better place, it's still painful to leave the last place Jeremy ever lived. Our last home together - our only home together. I can feel the anxiety of seeing it empty creeping up on me.

I have pushed a lot of grief to the back burner with everything going on. Not necessarily on purpose, it's just happened that way. But what I'm finding is that while every day gets a little easier, it also gets a little bit harder, and little more real if that makes any sense. Today has been the first day in weeks that I was just home, getting stuff done, no one around and I went grocery shopping for the first time in awhile. What a disaster. I was completely caught off-guard by the emotions I was going go through just slowing down and doing every day normal things. I cried harder today than I have in months.

There is so much on my heart and mind that I want to write down before I forget, I just don't know when I'll find the time to do it. All I can say for now is that prayers have never been needed more and I will never stop asking for them. Thank you.


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