Andrea Row’s husband, Matt, was tragically killed in an accident at work on November 15, 2008. They had been married 6 years. Their son was 4 years old, and their daughter was 18 months at the time of their father’s death.
Andrea writes with honesty about the harsh realities of the journey after the loss of a spouse. Yet I was amazed, as I read her blog, to see that she still finds space in her life for gratitude. Those who care for young children in grief will also find her writings helpful. I was moved to read how she responses to the sometimes surprising ways children grieve. Here is her interview:
First tell us about your blog and what it has meant to you on your grief journey?
My blog Andrea Remembers began a month before my husband's death, and it was meant to be a way to record the everyday happenings in our family's life since I have a lousy memory. After Matt died, it turned into an outlet for me to get the thoughts out of my head and my heart that tormented me and kept me awake at night (and still do).
Since I seem to express my thoughts much better through writing vs. speaking, it's a great way for me to put into words how I feel. It's also a good way for family and friends to stay up to date with the kids and me. I learned recently that a lot of psychologists actually recommend "journaling" as part of their therapy, and it has been probably the best form of therapy I could have gotten.
In time, other widows and widowers found my blog, and I got included in a wonderful network of people. I also learned of the Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation and the widowhood conference that I went to last July. I met so many wonderful people there, and I plan to go back this August. My blog has turned into a source of support for others as well, and it means so much to me that I'm able to give back a little.
You understandably express a great deal of anger toward the company your husband worked for in your blog. How do you deal with the anger so that it doesn’t consume you?
Writing it out has helped a whole lot. What also helps is getting a plan in place to do something about it. It's taken a while, but I've realized that I need to turn my anger into positive energy and do something productive with it, and I've just recently decided where to focus my energy. I plan to push OSHA to add a few important and necessary steps to their procedures.
Jacob, being older, is much more verbal about missing his dad. What has his grief been like?
Jacob losing Matt has been a major void in his little life. His grief is much different than an adult's, but also the same in some respects. While he has a huge void in his life missing his daddy, he hasn't cried actual tears about missing him, but has been extra sensitive to other things that normally wouldn't upset him as a result. It's been a little tough finding a balance between understanding this extra sensitivity and not letting him get away with things he shouldn't get away with.
Matt and Jacob spent an enormous amount of time together, and I know I'm not nearly as much fun as his daddy was. He really misses the male role in his life, too. He clings to any man that comes into contact with us.
I learned that a child's grief is ever changing, and they will hit different stages at different times as they grow, and their understanding and perception of things develop. That's a bitter pill to swallow.
Once he mentioned that he wanted to die, and it was hard to not freak out about that. I asked him why he would want to do that, and he said so that he could be with daddy. I explained to him that his daddy wants him to live - he wants us all to live because we have a lot of things that we need to do in this life. We will all be together someday. I'm relieved that he feels safe to tell me these things, and I'm doing my best to keep the communication flowing. I don't want to shut him down in any way, or make him feel like the things he thinks and feels are bad or aren't valid.
He has also felt like he has had to take on the father role himself. He was only four years old when Matt died, and one of the first things he said afterward was, "I'm going to be the daddy now." I've done my best to let him know that he needs to be my little boy - not the daddy, but in his own way, has taken on the role quite seriously. He is very much still a normal five year old little boy, but there is a maturity and sensitivity about him that makes him aware of my needs and his sister's needs. For instance, he'll ask me how my day was, and what he can do to help if I'm working around the house. He's incredibly sweet with his sister and is a big help with her as well. I don't want him to grow up too fast, so I try to keep myself in check when it comes to how much I expect from him.
How has grief been for Sydney, who was too young to have memories of her dad?
Sydney was daddy's little girl. After I was done nursing her at 13 months, she was done with me and all about daddy. She would fuss and cry when I would change her diaper, but was happy and cooing when it was her daddy doing the same thing. Every morning, Matt would be the one to go into her room and get her out of her crib (no matter what shift he was on). After Matt died, it was extremely evident that she wondered where he was. She wandered around the house asking for daddy ("daddy" was one of her first words) and would cry inconsolably. I'd show her a picture of him, and she would be like "YES!" and then get mad because she knew I understood what she was looking for, but I wasn't producing him for her.
She is beginning to ask a lot more questions... "Where's daddy" is the most common one. Her brother has chimed in a few times to answer this question for her, and one of the explanations was that he was in a bad accident and his heart got broken (just one of the things that got broken). So she verbalizes as best she can what she thinks happened, but still asks where he is. She can't understand why he's not around even though we talk about him all the time and see pictures. She's just too young to grasp the concept. She asks everyone where their daddy is. For some reason, she's got it in her head that daddy is in Mexico which is kind of funny. Both of my kids are fascinated by other kids' daddies.
At one point in the blog you say that you are a different person than you were before Matt died. How has Matt’s death and the grief changed you?
It cured me of most if not all of my fears. It was my worst fear (aside from losing one of my children). I feel like I lost my innocence. I think I felt immune from tragedy, like it could never happen to us. I think everyone feels that way until it happens to them. There's a heaviness in my heart that was never there before and I doubt it will ever go away.
Being married to Matt and having these two incredible kids, I always felt like my heart was so full, and I was really living my dream. In one moment, it was gone. Our lives are forever changed, and there is nothing that can make it the way it was. There is a certain wisdom that comes from this kind of grief that I didn't have before, either.
At several points in the blog you comment that you can’t stand yourself for how angry you are toward others. How do you find ways to be gracious with yourself in these seasons?
I have forgiven myself a lot, fortunately. I've allowed myself - even though I complain about it - to feel whatever the heck I feel and not have to apologize for it. This is the biggest blow (aside from losing a child) that anyone can endure, and I simply don't have room for more guilt. I also think that forgiving myself makes it easier to forgive others, and that is something I'm working on. I need to let go of the anger I have towards some of the people I feel had a role in Matt's death. I need to let go of the animosity towards people who compare my grief to the death of their dog, for example, or who complain about their husbands working so many hours, or that something in their world isn't exactly the way they want it. I don't like when I feel bitter and angry, but I forgive myself for it.
You talk about your fear of leaving the kids in case you would die. This is something I deal with too. How do you work through these feelings?
One of the very first things I did after Matt died was got a will drawn up and appointed a guardian for the kids. I know they would be well cared for, but my biggest issue if something were to happen to me is traumatizing them more than they already have been. They won't get raised the way I hoped (heck - they're not getting raised the way I hoped because their dad isn't raising them with me). I talk about Matt all the time and incorporate him in our every day living and conversations, and I won't know that someone else is doing that for them. I'm not a perfect mother, but I think every mom feels like their children can't be cared for as well as they can care for them, or loved as much. The other way I deal with my fear of leaving the kids is to just not deal with it. LOL! Seriously, I really don't think about that very much.
You moved across the country within the first year after Matt’s death. Most typical “grief advice” says not to make any major decisions within the first year. How did you work through this decision? How did the move affect your grief?
Even though I was well aware of that piece of advice before I made the move, I had to follow my gut. I felt like I was the only one who would know what was truly best for us (or me), and no text-book advice could take the place of that. I figured if I was making a mistake, so be it, but I had to take that chance- what was the worst that could happen? Matt was already dead, so I figured it couldn't get much worse. If I hadn't taken that leap, I would always wonder "what if..." And if nothing else, I learned that life is short and you need to make the most of it while you can. I really felt like I wouldn't have survived trying to live the life we lead before Matt died. Nothing could ever make it good again where we were living without him. If our lives had to change with his death, then EVERYTHING needed to change. Not to mention that the planning of all of it was a great distraction.
I'm the kind of person that needs something to look forward to, and something to work towards. The only thing that cut it for me was to make a big move and lessen my responsibilities. As hard as it was to leave the home we built together, our current house, yard, etc. is a million times easier to maintain on my own. There are a ton of fun things to do out here, the weather rocks, and the people are awesome. I'm extremely fortunate that this move has worked out so well in my favor. It's been great for the kids, too, because as you know, if mama isn't happy, nobody's happy. While I'm still grieving Matt's loss daily, hourly, in many different ways, I'm at least relieved of having the association of his absence with the house we're living in, the places we go, the people we hang out with, etc.
You have several blog posts where you specifically list things that you are thankful for. How did taking time to notice the things you can be grateful for help you more forward?
It's just in my nature to appreciate my blessings and try to see the positive in things. It's been a huge asset my whole life; especially now. If I wallowed in self-pity, I wouldn't get anywhere. It would not only hurt me, but my children. Appreciating the good things in our lives (which are many) has helped give me the energy and will to go on.
The first time you “feel normal” is over a year after Matt dies when your brother is sick. You mention that you think it is because for the first time the focus is off you and your loss. I think you are on to something significant there. In grief on top of the pain of our loss, we become the focus of everyone’s pity, which adds to the abnormality of our situation. What else can you say about this?
I think you said it very well, Janelle! It's a bit tricky, though... Even if Matt's loss isn't being acknowledged, there seems to be some paranoia on my part that that's still what people are thinking about when we're together. But when you have a situation as significant as my brother's illness, the focus was undoubtedly on him. Maybe in time this will change...
Thank you, Andrea, for sharing from your journey.
Andrea mentioned the benefits of writing or journaling for healing. Read suggestions for grief journaling. An idea for helping young children with grief is to create storybooks, you can read more about this in my children and grief memory book article.Return from Andrea Row Interview to Journey through Grief homepage