Alone

DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley hugs her son Tommy in the woods

I may need to give up social media for the next few months.

I’m serious. I mean, I’m getting a lot of great information from the journalists I follow and I am able to connect with many people that I can’t see face-to-face anymore. It’s important to my writing that I remain on social media. And really, I find out things happening in my local community a lot easier through social media than I do through any other means.

But dear GOD, I’m starting to really hate all the “happy coronavirus” photos.

Listen, I’m a contributor as well. I post the photos of my kids playing outside and dutifully finishing their projects in our makeshift home school. I am also trying to make the best of this situation. As a note, one of the things I’ve appreciated the most about this time period is the amount of real, uninterrupted time I get with my kids, even if they drive me crazy by the end of the day. I want to tell the world about it. I want show my friends and family that here in DC, we are okay. So I post photos of us, smiling from ear-to-ear. But do you know what I don’t have in any of my photos?

A partner.

And it seems like everyone else does. “Hunkering down with the family!” reads a caption with mom, dad and two smiling kids in the kitchen. “We are staying in!” reads another image of a couple snuggled on the couch. I mean, I get it. I do. I’m positive that if Shawn were alive I’d be doing the same thing.

But every time I go on social media, I get a brutal reminder that I’m alone. And I’m not just alone without a partner in this world. I’m alone without a partner in this world during a global pandemic.

Sometime last fall, I finally got to the place where I was okay – happy, even – with being alone. I wanted to find a man (because I like men!) but I didn’t need to find a man. I was able to weather the parties alone and the weekends alone and the neighborhood gatherings alone. It took a long, long time to get there, but a few months ago, I was able to say, “hey, I think I’m okay alone.”

And now this.

It changes everything for me. I wake up with a start every morning. I feel a sense of panic for much of the day. I can’t focus. All of these emotions are ones I haven’t felt regularly since the first year after Shawn died.

My stress response is totally out-of-whack.

I’ve worked so hard to get to a place that felt “normal.” I mean, I knew I’d never feel the same as I once did, before Shawn was sick. When people would tell me to find a “new normal” I wanted to punch them. Still, I tried to figure out how to live in this world and still experience joy.

And I got there. At least for a while.

Now, I feel like I’m back at square one. Most of it is the innate fear I feel that I am the only one protecting and providing for my children. I think they feel this too, as all three of them are demanding more of my minute-to-minute attention. They asking for more hugs throughout the day. They just need so much from me, and too many of our interactions are tinged with anxiety.

Claire and Austin are old enough to not say every single thing that comes into their heads, but Tommy isn’t. “Mama, I love you!” he said last night as he wrapped his arms around me. I hugged him back. “I love you, too!” I said.

Then he looked right at me and said, “Don’t die, okay?”

“I’m not going to die!” I said, emphatically, and he smiled sheepishly.

Repeating this type of interaction over and over again is pretty emotionally exhausting. And it adds to the unease that I feel.

So when I see those images on social media, the ones of the intact families doing art projects together or the couples walking hand-in-hand on a hike, I don’t just feel annoyed. I’m not just jealous that they have each other.

I also feel an overwhelming sense of something else. It’s not exactly panic, but more like a deep-seated anxiety that I thought I had overcome. It’s an anxiety that says, “there is something really bad out there in the world, and you don’t have anyone by your side. You are totally alone.”

This year, I made a conscious effort to try and stop saying, “I am alone.” I wanted to recognize that though I am without a partner, I have lots of other people around me – my friends, my family, my students, my kids.

But this coronavirus crisis reminds me that I am actually alone. I am actually on my own, even if a lot of other people outside my home care deeply about me.

Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.

40 Replies to “Alone”

  1. I can’t explain how much this has just put all of my feelings into words. My husband passed suddenly in the summer of 2018. I am also a teacher who was left to raise two little ones on my own. This idea of finding a new normal was exactly what I had been doing as well, and now this. Everything has been turned upside down. I now wake with the same sense of anxiety I had during that first year after my husbands passing. We get to a good place and the world throws us another obstacle we didn’t see coming. Widows get it. Thanks for writing and showing me that their is another young widow out there who understands exactly what I’m feeling.

    1. Thanks so much for writing. I’m so glad – but also SO SORRY – that my words really resonate with you. The morning anxiety is the worst, isn’t it? I think all we can do is take it one step at a time, even if that is a cliche.

  2. Thanks for this! I have been widowed for two years and have two teenagers. I am a pretty positive person and have been going along ok lately until this happened. To have a crisis happen without our partner is a reminder again of what we don’t have. It is a time where we need that person to reassure us and the kids or to just make us laugh and forget about what is happening around us. Like you I feel the love from my friends and family but it is not the same. It just sucks!

    1. Yes, you’ve really nailed it here – it’s not just about what our person would do for us, it’s also about the reassurance. Without it, I am constantly second-guessing my choices. So tough.

  3. This! I’m so glad you shared. I know if I were to write how alone I was so many would say they are here for me. And yes, it’s true most of the time. But the hard decisions we are facing during this time, even the day to day right now, reminds me that I’m in this alone.
    I am thankful for the new perspective this has given me for single parents, and I’m now learning to speak up for them, for us, as others are quick to speak.
    Thank you, through this as alone as I am, knowing I’m not alone in my situation brings comfort.

    1. I’m glad there is some comfort in this post, even if it isn’t exactly uplifting. Maybe it’s that understanding that other people feel like us that can make us feel less alone. I hope so. Hang in there.

  4. Yes, totally, yes. I also hate the phrase “new normal.” I don’t want a new one, I liked the one I had. And, this is a lot.

    I find I’m sleeping a lot; fortunately my kids are 16 and 11, so I can, but I keep wondering what my husband would have thought of all this and I get that suffocating can’t breathe feeling of aloneness all over again. The lack of expectations and schedule are so similar to the first few days after his death.

    1. This last line: “The lack of expectations and schedule are so similar to the first few days after his death.” YES. Me too. Maybe this is why it’s so reminiscent of that time period, and brings on similar anxiety?

  5. Everything you wrote is exactly what I have been feeling. I feel alone, completely alone. I don’t even have any extended family. Just me and my child. It has been 18 months since my husband’s death and, just like you, I thought I was at a point of acceptance and moving forward with plans and ideas for my future. Everything has come to a screeching halt. I am right back to the place that I was 18 months ago. I try to keep my anxiety at bay by exercising, drinking tea and eating healthful foods, but I know that some things (just like the sudden death of my husband) are simply beyond my control. I feel the anxiety of being the only parent for my child. The only one who can care and provide for him. But, Marjorie, we have been there before and we clawed our way of it the hole and I know that we can do it again. We do it for our children and for us. We will get through this. Perhaps battered and bruised, but life will go on, just like it did after our spouses died. You can do this and so can I!

    1. You are right. We can do this. That is a truism and something I must remind myself daily. We. Can. Do. This.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this post. I am alone too. I know that does not help either of us but just wanted to let you know there are others out here. My husband, Evan, died this past New Year’s Eve and on most mornings I am still at the point that I wake up and hope that this is all just an awful nightmare.

    Sending hope and hugs. xo

    1. I get that. It’s so terrible, especially in the early days. I am really feeling for you – please know that there are a lot of widows out there who totally get it.

  7. Thank you for your post and I didn’t even cry this time. My husband died just before Christmas so we are still very much grieving and trying to put our lives back together when this pandemic happened. The feeling of panic is starting to rise because of possible medical problems (found out today I am ok) and still sorting out all of the paperwork with the government offices and courts closing in our state. Add to this the counselor we just started going to is not available to see us (can contact by phone), two anxious teenagers who have had their “normal” school life taken away and I fear we are on the edge. We have family in town right now and that is helping. Trying to look on the bright side but it can be tough. I am missing my husband who always knew what to say or do in these situations and was the rock that I need now.

    1. Oh, I do not think you should force yourself to “look on the bright side”! You lost your husband and we are all living through this pandemic. I think what you can do is breathe, try and focus on the small things you can control, and be as kind to yourself every day as you can be. Hang in there.

  8. Marjorie, you have an incredible way with words! It has been much longer for me since my husband died. Still, when you said that you wanted to punch people who talk about finding the “new normal,” it SO hit home! I can totally identify with that! I think that is why your blog is so important. You are able to honestly express how it feels to be a widow with young children and the challenges faced.
    Here is a thought that has gone through my mind during this time. Right now most people are feeling like the world as they knew it has been taken away. Many are having trouble adjusting. I see a parallel here to when our world as we knew it was taken away when our spouses died! The difference is that there is hope for returning to the old “normal” for most people. We weren’t able to return to our old “normal.”
    Maybe this experience will help people be more empathetic to each other’s challenges. Hard to say. But I bet if one of us told someone right now that they need to adjust to this “new normal,” they’d want to punch us right now!! And rightfully so!!!!
    Taking a break from Facebook and all the pictures of couples and families might be a good idea right now. But I hope you don’t stop writing your blog. You are helping so many people.

    1. Oh, don’t worry – the blog will continue! I’m just cutting back a bit on social media, but really, I am heartened by how many people really connected with this post. “New normal” is such a crazy loaded term….and yet, I use it too! Thanks for your sweet comment.

  9. I can relate to this so much! My way of coping with reality has been to keep busy doing fun things with friends, and now even this has been taken away.

    1. Exactly! My friends are my LIFELINE and though my kids are great, it’s so hard without the in-person support of my community.

  10. Jessica Mascari says: Reply

    I can totally relate to this. Being a young widow and now having to telework and homeschool two young kids on top of the anxiety of worrying about the coronavirus and how long we will be social distancing is beyond anxiety producing. And, now, worrying that my parents are staying home and getting the food etc that they need is just too much. I keep telling myself that “I can do hard things”. And, to stay in the moment.

    1. YES. I love this. You CAN do hard things – we all can – and though it’s so hard, it is DO-able. And we can also voice our fears through it!

  11. To preserve whatever peace I can find, no watching CNBC, no reading websites expousing opinions or “analysis.” I was keeping up with the statistics of the virus, and now no longer. It is what it is. The portfolio I’m living on is in disarray, so no more net worth totals in Quicken. They are hidden because there is nothing I can do about the reactions of real or robo traders. Mostly I feel an achey gap where my husband used to live. He would make matter-of-fact comments on the state of the world grounded in reality with the down-to-earth experience of a successful engineer. I used to start to flip out, and one comment of his would bring me back home. Now I am alone in the world. I consider myself lucky in the midst of this chaos when I can recall one of his favorite sayings, because that is all I have of him now. Memories.

    1. I think those memories can be really comforting. I find myself remembering how Shawn centered me during times of great stress: 9-11, the financial crash of 2008, Tommy’s birth. Thinking of his face, always reassuring, is very comforting to me now.

  12. Thanks Marjorie. The past 5 days have been very challenging. Saturday marked the six-month anniversary of my wife’s passing. With the pandemic setting in and social distancing and lock downs starting up here in Maine, it seemed as though everyone else had forgotten. The most isolated and lonely feelings I have had since Amanda passed away came to me in a hurry on Sunday. Left and right the supports that I had been depending on to help take care of me and my five-year-old daughter were actively socially distancing themselves. What came with that was also unintentional emotional distancing. As a physician, I’ve been expected to go into work each day this week. Of course this puts me at a higher risk of getting the virus and spreading it to those around me, including my daughter and anyone taking care of her. People that ordinarily would step in for something like a “snow day” were suddenly silent or apologetically retracting previous offers to assist given the true reality of this pandemic setting in. Eventually a family came through and they have been able to provide childcare for my sweet girl each day I head off to the hospital. They’ve also been able to tolerate the anxiety and uncertainty around my direct exposure to persons under investigation for coronavirus. I will forever be thankful to them but I know that this arrangement will not last forever, especially if I end up getting sick. Not knowing who will be able to take care of my daughter or me for that matter is a scary and also a super sad and lonely place to be. This pandemic has fast forwarded lots of emotions for me that I didn’t know I would need to process at this early sage. I’m very grateful for your blog posts as they continue to help me understand my own feelings at what ever pace they come.

    1. That is such a super scary place to be. I’m in daily contact with my sister (an ER nurse) and she is also worried about bringing the virus home. But it’s doubly bad for you, because if something happens to one of us, who cares for our children? It’s a terrible thing to think. I guess we can only take it one day at a time. But your post has inspired me to write about people on the front lines. Stay tuned. And hang in there.

  13. I am feeling really anxious tonight too and was hoping that there was a new post from you Marjorie. You always describe to me exactly what I am feeling! This time last year was two weeks before my husband died from glioblastoma and he was very sick. I was not looking forward to this first anniversary but was pretty sure I could count on friends and family to help me through it. But now with social distancing etc. people have their own problems and anxieties to deal with and I don’t think they have the capacity to deal with mine as well. I keep telling myself that even with this virus threat things are still better than they were last year at this time. But it isn’t really working. I am worried about my 90 year old mom and my 85 year old dad. They are in good health, but at their age I know the virus could be deadly. I am worried about my gradually disappearing investments that I had planned to live on for the rest of my life. I have not worked in 20 years and will not be able to support myself and my two teenagers even if I was able to get a job.

    Before the virus hit I felt like I was getting over my husband’s death and starting to feel a bit better including getting used to being alone. Now, between the above worries, my 14 year old daughter’s health challenges and a lawsuit that I was forced to bring forward by circumstances, I feel like I am going over the edge again. I wish that my husband could just come back for a little while to help us cope with all the uncertainty!

    1. The uncertainty is so terribly difficult for everyone, but especially (I think) for widows. The thing I wrote about our stress response being totally out-of-whack is something I’ve said a lot over the past few weeks. I’m so sorry you’re going through such anxiety – I wish I could say it’s easier for me. But at least we can lean on each other, even if not in the physical sense. Thanks for sharing.

  14. I was told early about this virus by my GP-sis. Never one to mince words, she just blurted out—200 ventilators in Toronto, when they run out, doctors will have to decide who lives/who dies. I then went through the same panicky feelings and setback in grief. My friends thought I was crazy so I talked to a piece of my husband’s handwriting and said, “Can you believe this John, you’re dead and there’s a pandemic on and your parents might really die from it!”

    And now, the panic has passed. Just like every other panic attack does. The serenity prayer helps. Thinking of Africa really helps me feel grateful for the imperfect healthcare system we have here. When the virus hits there, the people really are alone in the most devastating way. Will everyone there be vaccinated once it’s developed? Hasn’t happened yet. They still die of tetanus.

    In Canada and the US, the virus will escalate for 2 months now and then will go into rapid decline, if the Chinese experience holds true for us. Italy is about to peak. We can do this. Oh and imagine being quarantined in your house with your spouse in a torturous unhappy marriage. Lots of those around!!

    1. You’re right – we have to just wait for the panic to pass. It will be okay, we can hunker down and focus inward. The panic does pass, even if it doesn’t seem so right now.

  15. Thanks so much for posting this. My wife passed away in November after a year-long battle with a brain tumor (Glioblastoma). She was 51. We met when she was 18 and I was 20. She was the only person I ever loved romantically and we clung to each other during difficult times – the death of both of her parents from cancer, our son’s kidney disease, 9/11, stress at work, anxiety disorder/depression, breast cancer in 2016. Through it all, we had each other. I was just starting to come out of the fog of grief when Covid-19 and social isolation kicked in. I still have my two sons who live at home and my mother who also lives with us and I love them with all of my heart and we are figuring out ways to stay safe and keep ourselves occupied, but not having the person who knew all of my fears and deepest secrets and that I could hold hands with is just devastating. Again thank you for sharing…

    1. I’m so terribly sorry for your loss. Of course, global pandemic is terrible at any time, but for those who are newly grieving, I think it’s particularly difficult to deal with daily life right now. We will get through this. It’s a cliche, but I think we just take it one day at a time.

  16. Bastiaan de Leede says: Reply

    Alone I feel besides some of those friends on the Wast Coast that text me at 4 in the morning inquiring why I’m still up. Perhaps it’s that sore throat and persistent cough which I have convinced myself of is only due to stress. Perhaps it the fear that i will not be able to find work after being laid off 4 weeks ago. But hope will get me and my boys through this just like hope helped my wife through her terrible fight with multiple myeloma. I hope that the exotic meals I attempt to make will one day fill the gap of Shaila’s cooking. I hope that regular exercise will make me feel strong and energetic enough to take on the world. I hope to find love that is right and feel no guilt for trying! I hope the same for you and all your readers

    1. Thank you! And yes, I think we can only do our best and hope for better days to come. But it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with this time period, and you have had your share of hardship. Hang in there.

  17. I came across this today after my adult daughter flew out to stay with her grandparents in Florida. It has been just the two of us since my wife and her mother (she is technically my stepdaughter) passed away four months ago. So I am really alone. I will be teleworking from a now empty house. It is a level of surreal I expect to take a while to process and accept. Family and friends will check on me, I’m sure. But I am and will be alone. Your post helped me put that in perspective and think about how I will approach it in the days to come. Thank you.

    1. I’m so sorry you’re alone. I’m so sorry so many of the widows who read this blog are alone. I know it’s no real consolation, but I do feel a sense of support from everyone out there who has read this post and noted they feel the same way. We have to do this – so we will – but I think it’s also important to remember that there is a community out there, holding each other up.

  18. Kristen Desmond LeFevre says: Reply

    My husband of 19 years (partner of 24 years), husband to our kids (6, 10, and 13) died on Saturday. People want to help, visit, bring us food and I’m terrified to have contact with anyone—even though I crave the support so much. My inlaws are flying my SIL and her kids I for the private burial and I’m terrified of them spreading something to my kids and mom and me. His family thinks this whole thing is “silly” and only took the virus seriously when my husband was alive (they took it seriously then bc they felt he was immunocompronised and he was their only focus).

    I feel so alone and terrified. I’m usually such a strong, can-do boss babe but I feel like I’ve been transformed into this scare little lump of a person who is worried at every turn whether she’s doing the right thing or not. How do I move forward?

    Ps, Marjorie: we are KKG sisters!

    Love,
    Kristen

    1. Oh, I’m so terribly sorry. What a horrible, horrible time for you and for your entire family, especially given the circumstances in the world. Please know I’m holding you in my heart. This is the time to go easy on yourself, if you can. But I get the fear. It’s amplified for you. Hang in there. xo

  19. Sarananda Ruiz says: Reply

    I am always happy to see pics of my friends with their families, what I can’t stand is the jokes of insinuating murder of their spouse, or insinuating they can’t stand all that time with their spouse.

    1. Oh, yes, that is TERRIBLE. I mean, I should do a whole blog post on this concept!

  20. I ran across this blog this morning after doing a search for “It has been 6 months since my husband died”. On Monday it will be 6 months since my husband, at age 52, passed away from a very short 2-1/2 month battle with a very rare form of cancer. Everything went so very fast and every day I still say to myself, “I can’t believe he is gone”. On Tuesday it would have been our 20 year anniversary. We were the couple that did everything together. Kind of a bittersweet thing as neither of us had a lot of close friends, so now I don’t have a lot of people to do things with, but on the other hand, I learned so much from spending all of my time with him that I can function on my own and pretty much figure most things out. Yes, this new phase of having to stay confined to our own homes, is very difficult. I spend a lot of time thinking about how much fun it would have been to go through this with Tom. We would have played a lot of games, watched a lot of movies, enjoyed the outdoors and made the best of the seclusion. Yes, he probably would have driven me a little nuts, but we would have laughed about it and made the best of it. What I wouldn’t do to be quarantined to the house with him right now. I now appreciate more than ever, every moment that we had together and I hope others learn through this to appreciate what they have. I am not sure how I will make it through the next four weeks of quarantine, but I do know that I have to take one day at a time.

    1. Oh, I think about this ALL THE TIME. I’m sure it would have been hard to be quarantined with my husband, but my GOD, it’s way harder without him.

      As a note, I wrote a blog post about the 6 month marker. I have no idea if it would be helpful, but here it is: http://dcwidow.com/6-months/

Leave a Reply