Dear widow police, I won’t return my widow membership card.
Nearly 6 years ago I was given exclusive membership to one of the worlds crappiest clubs.
October 9th, 2009—the day I went from being half of M & M, Mrs. Michelle Steinke, and the wife of Mitchel Steinke, to becoming a widow.
You can keep your membership card because at 36, with a 1- and nearly 3-year-old at home, and nothing but years of life planned before us—I didn’t want admittance to your club. I didn’t ask for it, and quite frankly it sucks, so take it back and give me my loving and wonderful husband in return. PLEASE!
It took me awhile to come to grips with the fact that I was a member of this horrible club and no amount of pleading, begging, sobbing or anger would revoke my card.
I am a widow.
As a new widow I lived through things no human being should have to ever experience. I decided what body parts could be donated to help save others. I went down a list that spanned his corneas to his skin and virtually and methodically dissected a man who was my best friend—all to a stranger from the donation center via a phone call.
I sat down with my nearly 3-year-old daughter and read a script I had written so I didn’t mess up the explanation of her father’s plane crash. I knew emotions would take hold, so I carefully crafted my words to do her as little harm as possible. She was dealing with enough.
I put my kids to bed that night after a bath and book, and I saw myself hovering over our lives, completely unattached to the reality of our circumstance. The shock was so powerful I didn’t even feel any true pain at the time.
I wrote his eulogy and read it at his service to our friends and family.
I visited his crash site and smelled the fresh burn of materials that laid all around.
I spread his ashes in his favorite places.
I held his mother as she cried for her baby boy.
I was told not to go see his body or say a proper goodbye because the smell alone would traumatize me for life. It’s hard not to say goodbye in person to your person. The one you love more than anything or anyone else.
I read the police reports, the NTSB report, and I stared for hours at the envelope that held his autopsy report. I have never, to this day, read the report for fear of what it would do to my heart.
I lay in bed for nearly six months with the lights on—never truly sleeping, feeling an empty ache that no other person on the face of the earth could ever fill.
I continued to raise our kids, be mom and dad, and try to give them enough love to compensate for the immediate and forever, lasting impact death has on children.
I was judged harshly by those I loved and no longer fit into social circles we had once enjoyed.
I could go on and on with things I lived through as a widow for pages and pages. Perhaps that is a chapter in my upcoming book. Each experience more painful than the last. Each experience sown deeply into my emotional tapestry for life.
Unequivocally—I am a widow.
One thing I also learned is that those who are card carrying members of our crappy club are some of the best people in this entire world. These people have lived through pain and anguish, and so many have come out the other side more beautiful than ever before.
Grief teaches us many things.
Grief teaches perspective, patience, love like never before, kindness, tolerance, acceptance, appreciation for the present moment, and so much more. Grief is perhaps the greatest teacher known to man, but it comes at a very steep price. I always say that I would not wish my pain on my worst enemy but I’d wish my perspective on the world.
Grief is that powerful.
Through the years I learned to embrace my membership to the world’s crappiest club. Widowhood has never defined who I am but it has greatly shaped who I have become. I’ve made priceless friendships with people who see the world through my lenses. I’ve changed my life according to new philosophies and adjusted my goals.
I’ve wept. I’ve smiled. I’ve learned. I’ve grown. I’ve evolved as a person and as a widow.
I’ve also remarried.
Wait! What? You remarried? Give us your widow membership card back. You are not a widow!
Forget all that stuff you lived through. Forget your ongoing grief, your children’s ongoing grief, your memories, your lessons and your history. You are your relationship status and you can no longer identify yourself with as a widow.
After all, loving one man completely erases your love for another. People are 100% replaceable, and because you decided to move forward with your remaining days, your choice to share your life with another voids past history, experience, and identification with your loss.
Let’s hold the boat right here folks. Let’s be 100% logically correct.
Nope, I’m not a widow in my current life. I’m married. My husband’s name is Keith and I hyphenate my last name to Steinke-Baumgard. I made a choice to find happiness with my remaining days. I made the choice to share my lessons, my life and my love. My choice is not always an easy one but it’s mine to make.
I am Keith’s wife.
I am Mitchel’s widow.
One does not cancel out the other. I can be both a wife to a man on this earth whom I love, and the widow to a man I fulfilled my vows to—a man I will always love.
I often have people ask me if I ever stop missing him or thinking about him—especially since I’m remarried now. The answer is simple. No. I don’t ever stop missing him or thinking about him.
People are not replaceable. One person does not replace another. One love is not like another love. They are different. Love is unique. I truly believe that great love enhances your capacity for more great love in your life. Love expands the heart—even if a hole remains.
So I won’t revoke my widow card.
I won’t bow to the angry people who yell at me and tell me I MUST stop calling myself a widow.
I won’t cave to people’s shallow perception of life and love.
I won’t fit in a box.
I won’t be black or white.
I will embrace the gray that is my life.
Life is messy.
Love is messy.
Death is really messy.
I’ve not been placed on this earth to fit your mold or conform to what makes you feel more comfortable with my existence.
I am a wife.
I am a widow.
I am my own messy person who has loved and lost, grieved and grown, survived and thrived.
I’ve paid the ultimate price to know who I am.