What I Learned From Grieving in Public

As humans, we inevitably will experience some sort of grief in our lives. Until then, we put our grief in a box, lock it with a key and place it on the highest shelf, hoping never to touch it.

 Only I am living in that box. I am scrambling for a key to close it, but the key doesn't fit. You would never expect to have to open that box until you are standing there with your world shattered. There was no warning sign–in an instant, I lost my husband, father of my children, and best friend.
 I have been living in my grief box for almost six months and I have learned many things along this horrific journey. One of the things that I have learned that I find most unsettling is that I took advantage of my pre-grief life. My pre-grief life centered around my family. The five of us. “Party of Five,” as I would refer to us. I have so many memories that I hold on to as treasures because I know we will never experience them again. This has taught me to make the most of every moment. When I think about my husband Steve I think of a man who lived a life to serve others. He was absolutely made to do just that. Every moment of his day centered around others; so much so that it didn't leave him much time to do the things that he enjoyed. I know he wouldn't have wanted to live any other way. I have learned to be more like Steve and to put others ahead of myself.

Another thing that I have learned living in this box is to live in the moments. By that I mean to do what I can. I have had several cliche phrases told to me over the last six months, and one has been, “One day at a time.” While that is true, sometimes one day is too much. Sometimes I can only focus on one hour, one minute, one second. When I think too far into the future my heart physically hurts. I am tortured by the “what ifs.” The “what should have been.” That is my darkness. That is where I am the weakest. That right there is when I need prayer the most.
 I need prayer for the special moments when just being me isn't enough because I am not a father. I need prayer for the moments when I want to share them with a husband but I can't. I need prayer for the every day moments that taunt me because my husband was only 41 years old when this tragedy happened.

One of the most important things that I have learned is that no one will ever understand my pain, and that is okay.

One of the most important things that I have learned is that no one will ever understand my pain, and that is okay. Let me explain. I cannot even count the number of lives my husband touched and the pain that our family and community have endured. I cannot compare my pain to others because I do not share the same experiences as others did with Steve. I can only speak from my perspective and experiences and I will say that this pain is unimaginable. Every day I am faced with reminders of a life that should be mine.  This is not the life I had imagined. This is not the life I expected. I always thought I would meet the man of my dreams, grow old with him, maybe even travel the world with him or babysit our grandchildren together. Well, I did meet the man of my dreams, but unfortunately, God had other plans.

I have been overwhelmed by the love and support of the community. I have often prided myself on not needing help from anyone. I am the helper. I am the teacher, so I shouldn't need any help. I am typically the giver. It makes me happy to give my time, service or even gifts. It has been an incredible adjustment to now become the receiver. It is awkward for me to hold out my hands and accept meals, donations and offers. I am not used to it. I used to be of the mindset that I can handle anything and do not need others to do things for me. What I have learned is that just like me, people enjoy giving. I need to be more willing to accept the gifts, love and support that people in the community want to give my family and I. I have learned to be a receiver. It is not always easy for me, but I know that it allows others to feel as if they are helping us. The prayers are what have been most encouraging. Oftentimes I have caught myself thinking that after the dust settles, will people still remember our pain. Will people still think to pray for us? I am encouraged to know that they will. I still receive daily messages from people, including strangers telling me that they are lifting my family and I up in prayer. I cannot begin to explain the love that shows me.
I have seen this love transcend into the community as well. The hardest part for me at first was seeing others. I would put ear buds in when I had to go into a store and try to be as quick as possible. Sometimes no matter how hard I tried people would stop me. It is awkward to have someone look at you as if your world is ending. I already thought that, but to have the sympathetic faces of others remind me of that was earth shattering. I know that people did not mean to be malicious. Then one of two things would happen when I was stopped in public by a person.
First, they would ask me how I was. At first I would respond with the truth. I am horrible, I would respond. Then I saw it. People instantly became anxious about my response. More awkwardness when I felt guilty for legitimately responding to their question. I felt guilty for making them feel awkward and it was a strange headspace to be in. Now when people ask me how I am I respond with a simple ¨fine¨ hoping to move to a different topic. I just cannot see the look of dismay on another person's face if I reveal my true feelings.  

The second thing that would happen when I was stopped in public was people would try to give me cliché advice. One of the ones that resonated with me the most is that someone actually told me, "You'll get over this." Let me be clear, this is not a "Get Over" situation. This is horrific. This nightmare I am living is the worst. I have grown to understand that people are just trying to make me feel better. I would smile at their words of wisdom and move on to the next person who would share with me about how their great-uncle passed and that they know what I am going through. (This is another one of my favorites). Eventually, you learn that nothing phases you. You grow numb to the questions and advice that others share with you because you know they're just being kind and they are blessed enough to not have walked in your muddy shoes. I have been tempted to write a book titled, "Things Not To Say To A Thirty- Something Widow." I will save that for a different time.

Let me be clear, this is not a "Get Over" situation.

I had taken almost four months off of work because to make matters worse, Steve and I worked at the same school together. In fact, some of our first moments together were within the walls of the school. Shortly after I had to go into the school for an event for my daughter. I remember the physical toll it took to even walk in the door. I sat there, in blinking horror thinking, this is my life now. Alone. Without Steve by my side at these events. Only I wasn't alone. I was surrounded by love. Community members were extremely respectful not to bombard me, but to also let me know they were thinking of me with a little nod or a smile. I also found my strength with my co-workers. Though every day it has been a battle to not see him in the hallway, I remind myself that my co-workers loved him too. Seeing their love of him reassures me that Steve will never be forgotten. I see t-shirts that represent him and our family. I have people connecting and offering to make his legacy one that will be long-lasting. The students all loved Mr. Baker too. They loved his smile, his silly antics. They have welcomed me back with such love. It warms my heart. All in all this community has supported us in immeasurable ways. Without that support I would probably be in the fetal position on the floor of my basement asking why someone so amazing was taken from this earth. Some of my worst days were ugly. They are locked in a closet now as I had worked on making myself better to in turn make my family better. The four months I took off were some of the hardest days of my life. I did not know that my body could produce so many tears. I had to grow up. Some days I wanted to stay in bed and eat chocolate all day. That is not what Steve would have wanted.

"You are strong." I hate that phrase. The moments where I am so broken that my chest physically hurts and I cannot escape the agony that stirs inside of me is not the sign of a strong person. What people do not realize is that I have no other choice. I have three amazing children who need their mother more now than ever. I get out of bed every day for them. I pretend my world isn´t over for them every day. I would like to say that I am a pretty good actress because I have tried my hardest to make things relatively normal for them, though we all know nothing will ever be normal again.
When we put our grief high upon a shelf, we forget that it could ever happen. We think that this sort of grief happens later on in life. We forget that life is so incredibly precious. We forget to savor every moment, to be present, and to show love to others. The knowledge that I have gained from having to open my box earlier than most is all-consuming. It makes me angry. My grief questions fairness. The hope that I carry with me knowing that I will be reunited with Steve drives me to continue to live life as he did, for others. May you remember that every day matters, you may not know what God has planned for you, and to relish in God's promises. This is the wisdom from a broken, thirty-eight year old widow.

Ryan Rovito

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