Grief still insurmountable, but widower gets by

Photos by Brittney Lohmiller/The Herald
Tom Schroering of Celestine visited his wife’s grave at Fairview Cemetery in Jasper the morning of July 10. Tom and Rita were married for 46 years. “I try to visit her grave every day if I can,” Tom said. “I still talk to her when I wake up in the morning before I realize she’s not there anymore.” 

Special to The Herald

On a Sunday morning in early April, Tom Schroering takes a circuitous route to St. Raphael Catholic Church in Dubois, where a Mass is being offered in remembrance of his wife, Rita, who died last October.

After he leaves his home off of State Road 164 west of Celestine, he drives to Fairview Cemetery in Jasper, as he does several days a week when he isn’t traveling. As he tells Rita that he loves and misses her, he starts to cry.

Tom started working at an area construction business at age 16. Within five years of graduating from high school in 1966, he had started his own company, Schroering Construction. In June of 1971, he married Rita Theising. She became the mother of his five children and the bookkeeper for the business.

The couple liked to travel, especially to visit casinos and amusement parks. They went to the annual conventions of the National Association of Home Builders, of which Tom has been a national director since 1992.

Over the years, Rita was by Tom’s side as he recovered from adverse repercussions of his work: a concussion, a broken back, broken ribs. At a time when he was regularly putting in 16- to 18-hour days on the job, he suffered a tear in his heart.

Tom, right, competed in the sheephead tournament during the Celestine 175 Celebration the afternoon of June 30.

As Tom got used to hearing medical personnel ask, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how is your pain?,” he started asking doctors, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how close was I to being dead?” He survived a “7 or 8” and a 9.

By the time Tom pulls into the church parking lot in Dubois for the 10 o’clock Mass, he has his emotions back in check. Upon walking into the church, where he and Rita were married nearly 47 years earlier, the sobs start again.

The lump in Rita’s left breast was detected in May of last year; biopsy results came in July. In October, she was hospitalized.

The drive to the hospital was made at 1 a.m. on a Wednesday. Despite the hour and how she was feeling, Rita walked into every room on the main floor before leaving the home her husband built for them, first as a basement and then adding a second story in time for their oldest child’s First Communion party. She knew, Tom says, that she would not be back.

Her 18 days in the hospital started with hope, but that changed after she had a stroke, followed by another a few days later. Tom was holding her hand when she died Oct. 28.

By the time the sermon ends on that Sunday after Easter, Tom has regained his composure again. A few minutes later he walks up the aisle to receive Communion. As he returns to his pew, he sees Rita’s sisters amid the congregation, and the tears resume.

“When,” he later asks a friend whose wife died some years ago, “do you stop crying every day?”

Mental health professionals at Memorial Hospital in Jasper would advise him not to put himself in a time frame. Everyone goes through grief differently, and it affects each person differently. Grief is a process, not an event.     

Nine months after Rita’s death, Tom continues to fill his schedule with trips, often with children or grandchildren but sometimes alone. He says he “learned to travel” with his wife and now feels very comfortable going by himself. In December, he went to Texas. In January, he was in both Florida and Las Vegas.

When not out of town, the 69-year-old retiree often surrounds himself with others. Talking about his grief helps, he says, but so does general socializing. He signed up to work at the Celestine 175 Celebration last month, and picked up additional shifts on the spot. He is part of several card-playing groups and has close friendships with many of his neighbors.

He is grateful, especially now, that he knows so many people through his 45-year career and large extended family. (More than 1,000 people came to the funeral home for Rita’s viewing. Visitation was scheduled for 2 to 8 p.m., but as callers gathered outside early, the doors were opened at 1:15; they didn’t close until nearly 10 o’clock.)

Also helpful are the “Journeying Through Grief” brochures and CareNotes within easy reach of his recliner. The CareNotes — pamphlets long published by St. Meinrad Archabbey, with titles such as “Finding Your Way After the Death of a Spouse” and “Taking Care of Yourself While Grieving” — helped him to realize that how he responded to Rita’s death was normal.

“I had every one of the symptoms of grief,” he recalls. “The biggest one I had was guilt. All my life I worked so that Rita would have something after I was gone. ... I felt so guilty that Rita was gone and everything we had came to me.”

Tucked in with the more serious reading material is “The Blue Day Book” by Bradley Trevor Greive, a gift that makes Tom laugh every time he looks through it.

He has found that he likes to tinker in the kitchen. When he made chili soup the first time, it didn’t turn out like Rita’s. The next time he omitted the onions from the written recipe and it tasted just like always. When he baked M&M cookies, maybe he took them out of the oven a little too soon, he surmises; Rita would have left them in another minute or two, to get them crispier. He has her recipe for fruit cobbler laid aside to try someday soon.

Not long ago he wrote out his medical history for his children. Having it in writing gives him some peace of mind now that Rita isn’t here to aid his recollections.

Finding sleep is still difficult sometimes — “I lay there at night and think about her a lot” — and now and then when he wakes up he starts talking aloud to Rita before remembering she is not there. When he struggled to sleep one night in early June, he took a pen in hand and wrote an anniversary note to her. “It was 47 years ago today that we promised to love, honor and obey,” he began.

When he finished the few verses, he liked what he had written. By the time the sun rose, he still liked it.

“And now almost eight months have passed since you died and broke my heart,” it reads.

The lifetime construction worker can hardly believe he wrote that. Or that he had it published in this newspaper on his wedding anniversary, June 19.

“Usually I’m not that sentimental,” he says.


When someone you love dies

Coping with the loss of a loved one is never easy, and it is important to go through the grieving process.

However, there are actions you can take to facilitate it.
• Focus on the good times spent with the loved one rather than dwelling on the death.
• Tell stories about the loved one; say her/his name.
• Continue traditions enjoyed with the loved one.
• Talk about your feelings with others.
• Give yourself opportunities to laugh.
• Allow yourself to cry.
• Make sure to eat a well-balanced diet and continue good sleep habits; stay physically healthy.
• Keep a journal. Writing things down allows you to better process through your grief.
• Don’t give your grief a time frame. With that being said, if you feel you should be coping better than you are at a certain point, seek professional counseling.


Mental Health First Aid

The Dubois County Public Health Partnership offers Mental Health First Aid training. One-day sessions are scheduled for 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 29, Nov. 14 and April 10. Two-day sessions are scheduled for 8 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Sept. 19 and 20 and Feb. 20 and 21; to receive credit for the course, one must attend both sessions.

The classes are held in the Memorial Hospital Medical Arts Conference Room, at 721 W. 13th St., Jasper.

The cost of the eight-hour training is $35 per person. The Dubois County Community Foundation pays registration for participants from nonprofit organizations.

To register, visit and follow the link to the registration box. For more information, email or call Dubois County Health Department Administrative Director Donna Oeding at 812-481-7050.


Martha Rasche is a member of the Dubois County Public Health Partnership Mental Health Committee and the local affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. With funding from the health partnership, she writes about topics related to mental health. Visit her blogs at Email her at

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