A Brutal Few Weeks

Shawn and Marjorie Brimley kissing before Shawn died and Marjorie became a widow

I’m not sure how to say this any other way, but it’s been a brutal few weeks for me.

Of course, healing from tragic loss is not linear. Every therapist loves to tell me that, and I believe it. Some days are terrible, some days are not, and there’s no specific progression.

In January, and for about six months afterwards, I felt really sad about my life. I felt like I might never be happy again, because how could I be?

But then, I started to see some hope. I had days when I felt good for much of the time, and I began to envision the future. I couldn’t imagine it exactly, but I started to think, “maybe I’ll get to that place where I will wake up happy.” I wanted to get there because I could still remember how that felt. It’s how I woke up for 38 years. Still, even though I was feeling better in the late summer, I wasn’t waking up happy. But I thought it was a possibility for my future.

By September, I was actually starting to feel much more like myself. My professional life (both at school and with writing) was going well. My kids seemed stable. I was finally managing to actually enjoy my life a bit.

And then it all came crashing down.

One day a few weeks ago, I woke up and I felt an overwhelming sense of dread. The emotions that flooded my brain were the same ones that I felt during Shawn’s cancer diagnosis and immediately after his death. The heartache, the pain, the anxiety about my future. I thought it was one bad day. But then that one bad day turned into another and then another and I found myself stuck. I realized that I was in a state of unhappiness more often than not.

I’m not totally sure why I’m hurting so much, but I do know that this season is the time that Shawn got sick last year. It was early October, and he complained a bit about some stomach issues. On October 10th he was so sick that we had a long text exchange about it, and from then on out, he was unable to do much at all.

So maybe it’s the change in the seasons, and the fact that I am now going to have to re-live his entire illness, diagnosis and death over the next three months. Or maybe it’s that I felt a glimmer of happiness for a few weeks and that messed up my previous ability to get through the days by keeping my head down and not thinking too much. Or maybe it’s that I’m starting to realize that this hellish year is going to come to a close….and Shawn will still be gone.

And I’ll still be here. Alone.

I’ve known this fact – that I’m facing the world alone – for a long time, and I’ve written about it before. But I think what I’ve come to internalize over the past few weeks is that I may feel this level of isolation forever.

Yes, I’m surrounded by the greatest friends. Yes, my kids love me so much that they seriously won’t give me a minute of free time. Yes, my dad is my constant rock and companion. Yes, my larger community still wraps their arms around my family every single day.

But there is nothing like having your person by your side.

Mine is gone.

And I am alone.

21 Replies to “A Brutal Few Weeks”

  1. I love you Marjorie. And I wish Shawn was here and healthy. It’s hard to believe that only a year ago we thought he was.

    1. I know. It’s just so unreal to re-live this time period without him.

  2. Sarah-Jane Greenway says: Reply

    I know there is nothing anyone can say or do to make you feel better, but I’m going to say it and do it anyway. We love you. You are amazing. You are doing great and Shawn would be so so proud of you. Can’t wait to give you a giant hug in person in a few weeks.

    1. Thanks my dear sister-in-law. You’ve been amazing through it all. And I know it’s hard for you too. xo

  3. I love you.

  4. Sending love to you and wishing there was something that could ease your pain. XO

    1. Thanks my friend.

  5. Sheila Kennett Johnson says: Reply

    This post resonated deeply with me. I think this is a totally normal path if that provides you with any comfort at all? It’s like you’re entering the unpleasant third trimester after just feeling pretty good again in the second! WTF?? Getting through that “year of firsts” is a very, very real thing. My late husband also died from cancer in January (of 2015) and oddly enough had also been diagnosed during the month of October. Your brain can’t help but relive the diagnosis and the subsequent appointments, hospital stays, conversations between the two of you, old fears and anxieties that you are now actually living out, good days/bad days y’all had…and the next three months are chock full of holidays that somehow serve as such vivid benchmarks and reminders of it all. It totally sucks, but unfortunately it’s part of the process. My grief therapist always advised me to not be afraid to visit these memories but to also not allow myself to wallow and dwell in them either—much easier said than done some days!

    You are navigating all of these emotional land mines during this year of firsts and learning which significant dates and seasons are the most difficult and which ones are actually ok and provide you with joy and comfort. You learn the triggery times for your kids, too, which don’t always correspond with yours. All of these things will serve as a roadmap for next year and the next, and you will continue to navigate them all with greater ease each time.

    I so vividly remember crashing this time of year and reliving each day of the previous year, but after I made it past the one year hump, I was able to look back and see it was a therapeutic and necessary process to experience it in that way. But in the meantime, sitting with discomfort and grief is so hard! I am cautious to say this as I don’t want it to be misunderstood, but there was such relief in making it to the one year anniversary, because I had survived. The kids and I had placed one foot in front of the other until we had made it, and I just know y’all will, too. Your life has been forever changed, but such sweet grace still abounds. You’ve already had a glimpse of those lighter days, and they will come again. This I know. They’re there, and I will continue holding you and your kids in my thoughts and prayers over these next couple of months. You’ve got this, Momma! I’m just sorry you have to. 😘

    1. Thank you thank you thank you for sharing so openly with me on this blog. I really appreciate the love and encouragement, especially from someone who has made it through a few more years than I have. And I think you’re right – getting to a year will be a bit step. Not an easy one, but one I know I will make it to. I wish I could just fast-forward, but I know that’s not how life – or grief – works. Thanks for sending such love.

  6. Things started going downhill for my husband about this same time too last year. I’m only three months out from his subsequent death, so still feeling my way through it all. Today as I picked up my mail at the post office, I was reading an invitation from a hospice support group and a guy who was also getting his mail told me in a soft voice that I looked pretty today. It brought me up short. My husband used to say “How did I get such a pretty wife?” even when he was very ill, but I would usually make light of it. But this time it was almost like hearing it from him again because it was so unexpected. I had been managing the day fairly well up to that point. It’s funny the things that can suddenly overcome the protective walls we build up.

    Marjorie, I have such admiration for you and all that you’ve done in the face of such loss at such a young age. You are an inspiration for us all.

    1. I love this. Shawn used to say things like this to me too. It’s been hard to not feel that type of love anymore, though I do appreciate when my kids tell me that I look pretty. I think when it’s unexpected – like it’s from a stranger as in your situation – it can really throw us. It’s like we have our routines to get through the days and then BAM! there goes the protective wall. Thanks for sharing.

  7. October 5 was the first birthday my son had to celebrate without his father. That was hard. Next week is the first anniversary of my husband’s death. Harder still, for the both of us. I will never get over having had to tell my child that his father had just died. We had no warning – he was there one day, and gone the next, and that day I had to wait until my son got home from school to shatter his world.

  8. Michelle McMurray says: Reply

    So sorry my dear. What you are feeling is completely normal. So sotry about this tough time and there nothing we can say or do to make it better. I know you have friends and family who are there for you. I am as well through we have never met. This first year is hard as you have to go through all the first and naturally since this was when he got sick those memories come to surface. It is OK and part of this awful grieving process. I am glad you have good friends and family to help you.
    Take care my dear. I really feel for you. You are suffering a terrible loss at such a young age.

    1. Thank you so much for the encouragement. The first year is brutal. I have to remind myself that just surviving it is an accomplishment in itself.

  9. I hope you are feeling better, Marjorie. I had a meltdown last night-I found a recording on my husband’s IPad. He used to love to sing songs from Indian movies and he recorded himself singing a month and a half before he passed away on July 22nd. It brought overwhelming joy and sadness to hear his voice. I have listened to the 2 minute recording so many times today that it just seems like a blessing now. The blessings are what will keep us moving forward.

    1. Oh, thank you so much for sharing such a tender moment. I wish I had more videos and audio recordings of Shawn. We have some, but not nearly enough, and I cherish those that I have, so I know exactly how you feel. Sending hugs.

  10. I’ve been thinking of you a lot lately. I can’t say anything to make the next few months easier or better, but I want you to know you are still surrounded by love from those near and far. I’m so sorry it’s hard. Keep writing – we are listening.

    1. I love this. Thank you so much for listening. It means a lot to me. xo

  11. Marjorie, I don’t know you and I had stumbled upon your blog through another site, but I find your posts poignant and heartbreaking yet beautiful. My husband died 4 years ago after fighting esophageal cancer for 18 months, so I too am in this hideous “club.” The first year is difficult because of the sharp adjustment you are forced to deal with as well as all of the first holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and other “milestones” which you are going through. I wish I could tell you my second year was better, but it wasn’t, and that was because the reality set even more and people started to return to their own lives and problems. However, the second year is when I really begin to adjust and find out who my true friends are and also begin to realize that I do have some inner strength although I don’t feel that way sometimes. I have four great friends who have stuck with me through thick and thin, and although I sometimes have to initiate outings or visits, they are always there for me. Two have also lost husbands; two have not. So, two “get it” while two are always there to listen. I also have a warm “family” of colleagues at my school. (Yes, I’m a teacher too but at the elementary level.) My daughter is grown and married, and I have a beautiful little grandson. Yet I know what you mean when you state that you’re alone in spite of so many friends. Our husbands were our teammates and no one.. simply no one…is as invested in our children, houses, lives, opinions, dreams and goals as they are. You will make it through these days and there will be happy days and sadder days, but you will get through it and it will get softer. I know it’s tough to deal with house issues and all, but on a lighter note, although I relied on my husband to take care of the practical things when they broke or malfunctioned, guess what I’ve found out? I’m doing a better job keeping on top of certain things than he did and I’ve conquered my phone phobia by being forced to make the calls myself!!!! Those innate survival instincts have helped me be more of a fighter than a “flighter”. You will be ok, Marjorie, you will.

    1. Oh, thank you for your kind and thoughtful note. These are the sorts of comments that keep me going as a writer, as they connect me with people who remind me that I am not alone. And yes – sometimes there are times that I find inner strength that I didn’t know I had. It’s such a long journey in front of me, but it’s so comforting to know that others have survived it as well. Thanks for your support.

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