Widower Wednesday: Social Media and Public Grief

Widower Wednesday

For today’s column, I’m sharing (with her permission) a letter I received from a woman who is married to a widower who has two young children. Based on the numerous other emails I receive about this subject from women in her position, I think her letter speaks for many others wives of widowers out there.

Dear Daughters,

Today is the one day a year when I am not your mother. Every other day I pick up little socks, sooth you when you wake crying in the middle of the night, make your meals, buy your clothes, and teach you about the world. Every day Emily says to me as I’m leaving for work, “Ok, Mom. But, don’t go too far.”  And I promise her that I will return as I always do. Karen asked me the other day, “What does soggy mean?” and I explained that she should eat her cereal while it's still crunchy, before it gets too soft. And, it occurs to me how many things I will need to explain. Even though I am not your "real" mother, I love you more than I love most things.

So, today as memorials to your "real" mother turn up in my social media feeds, I will try to keep my bearings. I will try not to withdraw into myself for protection. Because I know you need me and today is no more significant to you than any other day. The three of us have no memories of that past life because we didn’t know her. Or at least I didn’t. Maybe Karen has some small glimmer of memory, but her wondering will most likely have more to do with her birth family. And sweet Emily, who knows if your little body remembers the loss of the body that grew you. Time will tell us all of these things, but as people look to the past today, I will do my best to look forward and embrace the life we have together now.

Social media has become a place not safe for those of us with complicated personal lives. If your parents are divorced, you have a front row seat to photographs and musings about their new-found happiness. If your husband is a widower, you will have a front row seat to all of the stories, remembrances, and photographs of his other big love and a time you were not a part of. If your widower husband has children, you will be reminded that in the eyes of everyone who knew his late wife, the children you are raising as your own will always be her kids--especially on the anniversary of her departure. On that day your life will revert back to "their" life and people from their life together will talk about the past without respect for the present. And it’s funny that the person they are trying to reach with these public prayers of grief will never see them. Meanwhile, I wish so much that I didn’t have to.

I will quietly try to bolster myself and support the two of you today. I will remind you that you will not be left again and that you need not worry that I will go too far. As I remind myself every year at this time, a mother is not always the person who carries you in her womb; she is the person who carries you fiercely in her arms. I will hold you in my arms today and everyday and always in my heart.