Trigger warning. Boys, don’t read.
After Roger passed, I had many dark, chaotic thoughts swirling around in my head, some sensible, some not. They would hit me out of nowhere like in the cereal aisle at Food Lion or while sitting in the sun, watching the boys splash around in the pool. Most of them I didn’t want to share with the masses. Thankfully, I had people close to me who wouldn’t criticize me for declaring my anxieties about the plethora of decisions I had to make, like whether or not I should to see his body.
It was “strongly recommended” and “highly suggested” that I should not view my husband’s body.
“You don’t want to do that.”
“Trust me, it’s him.”
“It’s up to you, but, due to the injuries he sustained . . .”
“It is your decision whether or not to look at his body, but I don’t think you should.”
“You are in full control of what happens in this process, but we don’t think you should view his body.”
“Trust me, you don’t want to see his body.”
From early on, it was evident that they did not want me to see him before he was turned into ashes and put into a wooden box for me to hoard, and although I agreed it was a site I would never unsee, I did not feel completely free to make that decision for myself. It makes me wonder about everything.
I took people’s word that Roger had passed. Generals, enlisted members in all ranks and branches, chaplains, Roger’s command, and a corporal who was traveling in the convoy behind him when the IED exploded all promised me he was gone.
“I saw it happen,” the young soldier told me. I’ll never forget his eyes, his face, the fear and confusion. Many other widows, soldiers from their unit, and I were all dancing at a local club about two years after Roger passed.
I remember my legs feeling numb when he said that to me, pictures I’ve never seen but had always imagined began flooding my brain. I went to the bar for another Jack-and-Coke and forgave the young soldier. He was in pain and wanted to be free from it.
Where did I find this trust I suddenly had for all the strangers who told me Roger died? I am not convinced of conspiracies and tricks, and I know they’re probably all being honest with me. I mean over a thousand people showed up for his services.
There was brass in droves who all stood for us and handed me and the boys heavy shiny coins, some that even filled my palm. “I’m sorry for your loss” floated around the room and our lives until this day. The government had me fill out paperwork, and I haven’t heard from Roger, so they must be telling the truth, right?
In a move complemented by masochism, I occasionally fantasize that he’s lost or on a secret mission with the United States Army. It’s make-believe I can’t simmer in, though, because the emotion of it chews on my tattered heart. Also, I will become angry with him for at least not trusting me enough to send me a secret letter or call me to say, “Don’t be mad but I needed to go into hiding for a couple years. I will be home soon.” Anger is my favorite stage of grief after all.
Frankly, I don’t actually believe he’s alive, well not completely. It’s not even a whole percent and my mood determines whether or not I wonder, but I do think sometimes about if I should have viewed his body. Would it change the way I live today? If so, in what ways? Would I be more open to living and “moving on,” or would I dig a giant hole with a tiny, rusted spoon until I could completely immerse myself in it to avoid the mental picture?
The more time that passes, the more I forgive myself for not thoroughly considering my option to say goodbye to him properly. Who would I be today if I had looked? It’ll never be known, I guess, but I do know one thing for sure, I would have no questions. Reality cannot be any worse than my own imaginary answers which I will never share with anyone, and being angry about it does no good, but I will always wonder if I made the right decision for me, for my family, and for Roger, by not seeing for myself.