DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley after engagement
Love and Chris

Someday, I’ll Watch Him Die (500th Blog Post)

“I’m so sorry,” the clerk said, handing the papers back to me, “but this won’t work. It’s a copy, and we need the original death certificate in order to issue you a marriage license.” She nodded sympathetically as I sighed.

My heart sank. I knew it wasn’t a big deal, really, because we still had time to get all the paperwork together. I knew that part of marriage is just getting the contract in order, and that had nothing to do with love. I knew we could eventually get everything sorted.

I was still totally overwhelmed in that moment.

We’d come to the town hall in Chris’s hometown in Maine, since we’re getting married there in October and we needed to get our a marriage license beforehand. I’d forgotten to pack Shawn’s death certificate when we left for Maine, but remembered when we were 5 hours into our drive that I kept a copy of one in the glove box of the car. “I’m always prepared!” I joked with Chris.

The two older kids were at camp, so we just brought Tommy who was super excited. He wanted to take a picture in front of the building, but couldn’t quite figure it out, so a passerby took one for us. We told her that we were going to get our marriage license. “Congratulations!” she said joyfully, and Chris squeezed my hand while Tommy danced around in his orange “save the goslings!” hat that he got from Chris’s parents, Nana and Pop.

The local town hall was simple and small, and each office served a variety of purposes. The Town Clerk’s Office, where we were headed, was where you went for everything from absentee voting to birth certificates to hunting and fishing licenses. (You can also get your shellfish license there, which I suppose is a special category in Maine!) As we entered, we joked about how maybe we could also apply to be clammers while we were there. The moment wasn’t a big one, but we were ebullient.

And then, we couldn’t get the license.

I mean, who cares, right? We’d already been dealing with all sorts of changing rules and regulations around Covid and we’d already had a number of minor setbacks in the planning process. We’d already been planning for a wedding that could get cancelled, at least the “big party” part of it. This was just the contractual part that had been delayed, not the actual wedding. When I’d feel stress, Chris would focus me, reminding me that – no matter what – the two of us would get married in October, and that’s what mattered. I knew he was right.

And yet. Something was bugging me.

I guess a lot of people might imagine that I was feeling conflicted about my love for Chris. But I knew that wasn’t it. I loved Shawn so much, but one thing I know for sure is that I’m not torn over some sort of “love for two men” that sometimes widows feel. I love Chris.

Still, the nagging sensation remained.

That night, my body shut down and I laid listlessly on the couch. Chris didn’t quite know how to help me, but when the sun went down he pulled me outside and we stood on the porch and looked at the bright orange sky. I laid my head on his chest and I felt good, but still overwhelmed. I knew it wasn’t because of the marriage certificate, per say. It was a deeper emotion, one that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

“Someday you’re going to die,” I said to him.

He didn’t laugh, because although sometimes I say this sort of thing to him in jest, I wasn’t in that mood and we both knew it.

“I’m not going to die,” he said. “Not soon, anyway,” he amended, before I could correct him.

We stood there for a long time, until the bright orange in the sky faded to a hazy pink.

I’ve thought back to that moment a lot over the past few days. I’ve been trying to understand my own emotions, figure out why the marriage license/death certificate drama was such a big deal to me. It’s something I’ve processed a lot throughout the years with my widow group, the Cabal. What does it mean to find love again after loss? Many of us are dating again, and a few of us have even found someone. Once, when we were all talking about it, one of my friends – someone who had found her second love – said this:

Falling in love again means that someday, I’ll watch him die.

Yes, I get that there’s all sorts of caveats to this (the likelihood of Chris dying now is low, I could die first, etc.) but that’s not really the point.

Falling in love again means taking that risk. I mean, really, getting married is a fundamentally irrational act. In what other world would you enter into a contract where you don’t really know the final terms? Chris might die soon or I might die soon or we might live to old age together. Any number of things could happen to us in the interim. Yes, loss is something that I’ve grappled with for the entirety of my relationship to Chris, but right now – and in that moment at the town hall – I was so aware of what it means to love again.

It means I could lose again. It means I could watch him die.

It’s a morbid thing to think about, especially when you’re planning a wedding. To be clear, it’s not like I’m obsessed with this idea all the time. It’s just that there are moments when it hits me. Moments when I think about those words my widow friend said.

A few days before all of this, Chris and I had been at the laundromat waiting for our clothes to dry. It was a hot day, and the inside of the laundromat was well into the 90s, but the breeze blew through the open doors and we both had a break from work and I felt relaxed as I watched the clothes go around inside the dryer. Chris was reading the local paper. At one point, he looked up and said, “this is really beautiful” and then started reading the obituary of an elderly local woman. The end went like this:

Judi’s children wish to acknowledge the tremendous care given by their father at the end of her life. It was not the stuff of romance novels, but it was the ultimate love story.

Bits of lint swirled in the air above the dryers and my sweaty shirt stuck to my back. It was not a beautiful moment there in the laundromat, at least not to outsiders. But hearing Chris read the obituary brought that feeling to my chest, the one that’s hard to identify as good or bad. I felt both overwhelmingly happy and also quite sad, thinking about this woman and her husband who cared for her as she died.

Falling in love means you commit to that. You commit to watching someone die. Or at least to that potential. It’s something I understand now much more than I did at age 25.

A few days after the initial rejection at town hall, we tried to get the marriage license again. We got a friend to send the original death certificate from our house in Washington, and the moment it arrived in Maine, we headed straight for town hall. We’d spent the morning out on the water with Tommy and Chris’s parents and our niece and nephew, and were hot and sunburned and still in our bathing suits. My hair was in knots and I was really tired from an early morning wakeup, and both of us just threw on clothes over our suits and drove to the town hall before it closed.

We did not take photos as we entered.

“You guys again!” the clerk said when she saw us. We laughed. Us again!

It took a few extra steps, but we got the license. We had 90 days to get married, according to the contract.

“If you want to back out, there’s still time!” Chris joked with me as we walked to the car. I laughed.

But he wasn’t wrong. There was still time. Time to save me from the heartache, someday. Time to protect myself from loss. Time to make sure I don’t have to watch Chris die, someday.

I started to cry in the car, which I think surprised Chris a little bit. He comforted me, brushing the hair out of my face and stroking my cheek. “I’m so excited to marry you,” he said.

“I can’t wait to marry you, too,” I said, which was the goddamn, totally irrational truth.

Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.

13 Comments

  • Amy E Phillips

    My very best wishes for what I know will be a lovely October day. I celebrate your commitment to marriage and life.

    My husband died June 8th, the anniversary of the dsy we met.

    It’s my joy to know you found love one more time.

    Best
    Amy

    • M Brimley

      Oh, I’m so sorry about your loss – and I hate that your most perfect day is also your worst day. That’s so unfair, as is widowhood in general. Sending you a hug! (And thank you for your good wishes!)

  • Julie G.

    So happy for you both. Thank you, Marjorie for all your writings. They are so inspirational. It has really helped me as a close friend of a widow as well as just in my regular life! My friend once told me about all the judgements thrust upon her when she felt ready to move forward. Finally she said one day, “What on earth is so hard to understand…the love I had, doesn’t diminish the one I have, and the love I have, doesn’t diminish the one I had.” Seems simple, right? I know it isn’t but please know that you have so many strangers rooting for you and your future with Chris!!

    • M Brimley

      Oh, thank you for this sweet note! I really appreciate that it’s been helpful for you. And yes, we JUST had this conversation with Claire last night, too – having more than one love (or more than one child or – in her case – more than one dad) doesn’t mean you have less love in your life. It means you have MORE. Thanks for your sweet note.

  • Michael Zoosman

    Dear Marjorie,

    Thank you once again for your dedicated posting. Every word of these now 500 posts helps so many, I have no doubt. I thank you for your openness and sharing here, and I send every blessing I can muster to all your family.

    May Shawn’s beloved memory and his spirit forever be a loving guide to you all.

    Sincerely,
    Mike

    • M Brimley

      Thanks Mike! I love that you read this blog, all this time later. You’re such a good friend. Thank you for your kind wishes.

  • Randy Read

    Hi Marjorie:

    Powerful stuff. Anne, my wife of 40 years was widowed twice, at age 27 (from cancer), left with a 2 month old baby boy and a 3 year old boy, and at 31 (27 y/o husband killed by a drunk driver), then I came along and at age 33, married again (me). I was 24, and we had a nice party when I turned 28. Initially, I was jealous of you and Chris, and now I’m happy for you both, and for your children, too.

    I’m certain that love is worth all the pain and aggravation. I might actually go on a date next month (possible fix-up with a widow friend of a friend).

    It’s been 4 years since Anne left me to fend for myself, and tomorrow I’m going to a White Sox game with my oldest son (who was that 3 year old, and named his son – my grandson – after me), and I will strive to be grateful for what has happened for me (instead of sad for what has happened to me).
    The ambivilance of being happy and sad at the same time is occassionally shocking, but I think it’s the nature of things. Love and happiness to you and yours.
    Randy

    • M Brimley

      Randy, this is beautiful. Thank you for sharing. I love that you can see the happy and sad together, even if it is (as you note) sometimes quite shocking. Have fun at that White Sox game!

  • Jennifer

    Thank you for sharing.
    My husband of 15 years passed from liver/colon cancer that we had only learned about 6mo this prior.
    April 9th was the day he passed and it is also our youngest daughter birthday. She turned 7 and he will forever be 41.
    I’m so glad I found your blog. I’m not ready for dating by no means but I know eventually I will try. I’m still learning to navigate life as a single parent of 3 kids.

    • M Brimley

      I’m so sorry. Shawn’s death was also very fast, and it’s terribly difficult to face. Hang in there. Navigating life while grieving and parenting three kids is really, really hard. But I promise – it does get easier.

  • Patrick

    Congratulations on your upcoming wedding. My wife of 21 years died in 2016. I eventually found my Chapter 2 and we married. I have read many of your posts and in so many ways my experiences mirror yours. I loved how you ended this post…the totally irrational truth because that is how our lives are…totally irrational and that is the truth!

    • M Brimley

      Oh, thank you so much for sharing. I’m so glad you liked the post and I’m so glad to hear that you found happiness once more!

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