Dawn over a field like that referenced by DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley
Things That Suck

3 am

I woke up at 3 am last night. I was confused for a moment, as it wasn’t yet light and I hadn’t been awoken by my children. I sat in the confusion for a moment, and then I felt a warm body next to mine. I felt calm as I laid my head back down to sleep.

This does not seem like the start of a dramatic story, but when I reflected on it in the morning, I realized how far I’ve come.

Like many people, I’ve woken up at 3 am throughout my life. As a college kid, on the couch that had enveloped me in sleep. As a 20-something, living across the world and confused by the time change. As a young mother, jump-started by the tiny screams of a baby. As a cancer wife, running to get cool washcloths and other types of salve.

But what I remember most is how often I woke at 3 am in the months after Shawn died. Those were the worst 3 am moments I had in my life.

Once, about a year after Shawn died, I woke up and couldn’t fall back asleep. I cried, tossed and turned and then cried again. Finally, I started to write.

It was a blog entry, I thought at the time. But when I went to read it the next morning, I decided it was too bleak. My friends and family would worry about me if they read something like what I had written. Instead, I hid it in my drafts folder, marked “3 am: private and not for publication.”

But since it has been more than a year since I wrote it, I feel okay about putting it out in the universe now. Here is what it said:

It’s 3 am.

I’ve been crying for an hour.

Maybe I should just give up on sleep?

The other side of the bed is empty, as it’s been for 14 months.

My heart is physically hurting again. When this first happened, right after you died, I thought I was going to die. But it’s just something that happens sometimes. There’s a medical name for it, but everyone in my widow groups refers to it as “broken heart syndrome.”

I am so lonely. I thought I was getting better. I thought I was able to be alone in this world. But I am not.

I am not okay.

You left me. You got to live only 40 years in this world but they were 40 good years. You had parents and sisters who loved you and you had a wife who adored you. You had 3 great kids and an enviable career. You had only 40 years but you had everything anyone can ever as for in a life.

And I had it too. I had it for a while.

Why couldn’t it have been me? I would have been content to live just the first four decades of my life and die in the arms of my beloved.

But that won’t happen for me. I have to survive for my kids. I will not die. Or at least not anytime soon.

Instead, I’ll live in this purgatory.

It is 3 am. The loneliest time in the world.

I’ve re-read this draft many times over the past year and a half. I’ve thought about how far I’ve come and how much I’ve changed. I’ve felt relief that I am no longer in that emotional space. But I think it’s also important to tell you that it was a process. No, I didn’t feel better right away. My grief was not linear, and in some ways month 10 was easier than month 14.

But I think it’s also important to say this: It gets better. No, it doesn’t go away completely. And sure, at least a part of my grief is easier because I have someone who is lying next to me at night. But it wasn’t his arrival that made my grief ease.

It was time that helped me, as well as the general process of grieving over a period of months and then years. It was the natural healing that often happens with loss, even if there wasn’t any way that I could fully heal.

So if you’re reading this and thinking “I feel a lot more like that bleak 3 am Marjorie of 2019 than the newly-in-love Marjorie of 2020,” just know that I’ve been there.

It gets better, even if the healing isn’t perfectly even. There is a time – and it’s different for every person – when you can feel an easing of the intense grief. When you can start to see the beauty in this world. When you don’t write things like I once wrote in my diary during my dark days of early 2019.

It gets better. 3 am starts to look a little more like 3 am should look. Dark, of course, but not bleak.

3 am is just a few hours from dawn.

25 Comments

  • Michael Zoosman

    Your courage in sharing this is incredibly, Marjorie. Thank you for offering this for all of our healing. Sincerely, Mike

      • Judy S.

        I’m so glad to know I’m not the only one who awakens at 3 am, alone and sad, depressed really. I didn’t know a person could cry so much! My husband was so sick with symptoms that meant he could only sleep in a recliner. My bed has been empty for so long, but I thought at some point he would be back beside me. Now that will never happen. I wonder now if I’ll find a man who loves me so much that he will be okay waking at 3 am to comfort me if needed without getting something for himself. My husband was that kind of guy. Of course I had to be the strong and selfless and loving woman who was there for him 24/7. I’m proud of that and would do it again without question.
        Now I have needs that need to be met, ones neglected for so long. So far I haven’t met that guy and wonder if he even exists. . . I know the 3 am pain will ease someday. Thanks for sharing your 3 am story as that was exactly my night last night, just one of many . Hopefully tonight won’t be one of those. There’s always hope!

        • M Brimley

          The 3 am pain does ease….that I can tell you for sure. It’s never perfect, but when I wake up now, I don’t feel at all like I did a year or two ago. Hang in there. It’s really tough the first year!

  • Bastiaan

    Wow, so many 3:00 AMs! All alone feeling there is no escape, no one to help and abandoned. An then one day I took a hike that Shaila and I often took when she was ill and something happened. I opened my eyes and admire the trees, the water and sunset. I appreciated that I was able to be there to appreciate my kids, my family, my friends and LIFE! And how sweet life can be! I live in the present and try to squeeze as much happiness out of each day I can. And guess what… I can and will be happy!

    • Marjorie

      You know, this is the thing about grief – it comes and goes in waves, but when the tide is out and you can look up and see the beauty – that part can be truly amazing. I love hearing about your hike!

  • Michelle

    Thank you for this voice. My husband passed away suddenly four months ago, and well, it’s much like that 3am post. I know I’ll get to the other side if this but managing five little kids and being so very lonely is harder than I could have ever imagined

  • Natalie Brock

    Three am… I can relate to this! My husband died after a battle with CJD. He was beautiful, fit, vibrant and healthy one day, and six weeks later he was gone at 54 years old. I awaken multiple times each night and count the hours until it is a reasonable time to get up. It’s coming up on six months since Hutch died, but I am finding more happiness in each day as they pass. I refuse to let CJD win another battle so I will not lay down and curl up. When I finish packing (I sold my house – we had planned to before he became sick) and get settled in my new, light happy home, I plan to sit with a glass of wine and read all of your blogs. So glad I saw the link on an Option B comment. 😊

    • M Brimley

      I’m so sorry about the loss of your husband – my heart goes out to you. My husband also died very quickly, and I think the shock of it made the first few months oddly more bearable before I really struggled. But yes, around six months, I was able to feel like I could start really living again, though it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t linear. I’m sorry that you are here, but I’m also glad that my writing can be helpful. Sending hugs.

  • Jim

    Agreed. 3am is the worst. In the beginning waking up and not remembering she is gone. Reliving the loss with a tired mind. Muscle memory must affect the brain. 3am traditionally the witching hour makes it a bit worse. After 3am the loneliness is worse then when I went to sleep.

    • M Brimley

      Yes – the middle-of-the-night hour is always terrible. I have found I suffered through it less if I got up and distracted myself – at least in the beginning. Hang in there!

  • Rebecca

    Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s a huge relief to hear others feel the same way, and that what I feel at times is not strange. I am 28 and lost my partner to an aggressive form of cancer 16 months ago when our little boy was 14 weeks old. Like you say, this process is not linear and somedays it does feel like an uphill battle, with little light at the end of the tunnel but others are much easier where there’s real hope for the future. Thank you for your sharing your experiences, it makes this process slightly less lonely.

    • M Brimley

      I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your partner. It’s so difficult but can be especially difficult with young kids. Hang in there. I’m glad the blog can provide you with a bit of solace.

  • Judy S.

    I guess a lot of us are in a club nobody wants to belong to. I feel some relief knowing that I am not the only one who lost a spouse or partner during the pandemic, not to COVID, but during a time of isolation and uncertainty coupled with the grief. 3 am is a dark and scary time but now it’s 6:30, a brighter and calmer one. I hope to stop crying soon!😀

  • diana

    My husband passed away . He was 30 years old i miss him a lot this pain stays forever . We have 4 kids together . he passed away at 3 in the morning

    • M Brimley

      Oh, I’m so terribly sorry to hear about this. Please know that we’re all thinking of you. Those 3 am times are always bad, but especially if that’s an extra reminder of your husband’s death. Hang in there.

  • Nancy

    My husband of 30 years died suddenly, 7 months ago, from cardiac arrest. He was in the hospital with some broken ribs after a car accident that had happened the day before. He wasn’t expected to die. But it happened.

    My bad hour is 4 AM, but it is just what you all are describing. I didn’t know, until I found this blog, that it is a thing other widow/ers experience. It is a little comforting to know that.

    Unlike the comments I have been reading, my husband was not young. He was 79 when he died. And I am 69. But I am feeling all of the same things that I am reading here. People tell me that everyone (or at least one half of every relationship) will eventually go through this and that now is my turn. But that doesn’t change the misery of this feeling of loss. And I feel like it is worse because I am running out of time. I am not as likely to find another love at this age as I would be at a younger age. But I believe that I still have 20 or so years to live (my mother lived to be 97) and I don’t want to be alone for such a long time. I feel like the end of my life has begun.

    I keep hearing that it gets better. I suppose that I have to believe it because everybody says it. But in my heart I don’t feel like I believe it. I picture that it just means that I will get used to feeling lonely, so it won’t hurt as much. But that doesn’t really sound like something to look forward to.

    • M Brimley

      First, I’m so sorry for the loss of your husband. And yes, I think the death of a spouse so painful no matter when it happens in life, especially if you are still likely to live for many years! I do think that no matter what the widow’s age, it can feel like love again is impossible. And I don’t think we can know the future, but I do think happiness can come after some time, whether you find a new partner or not. Hang in there. I’m pulling for you.

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