DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley with kids
Things That Suck

Failures (Part 1 of 2)

Today’s blog post is about failure and all the ways that I’ve failed in widowhood and wow, it’s been a humbling one to write!

As I began to write this post, I thought, “I bet the internet has something to say about widow failures” and boy I was right. Seems that there’s a lot our there about how we can fail. But, really, I didn’t need to read anything online. I’ve already lived plenty of failure over the past three-and-a-half years.

Yes, if you’ve just started reading my blog, you may read some of my stories about my kids’ positive life experiences or my new partner Chris and think, “she seems to be doing great!” And overall, I think that’s true. I’m an optimist by nature, a teacher who tries to see the best in my life experiences, a person who is trying to move forward as much as I can. But let me tell you this – I have failed. A lot. Not just immediately after being widowed, but for many years. In fact, some days when I’m trying to figure out how to celebrate Shawn while also loving Chris, or parent a pre-teen, or make sure that the kids remember Shawn…well, those days there’s often still a lot of failure.

And with almost 500 blog posts under my belt, I have many options for this piece today! For every blog post I picked, there were at least a half-dozen options that I didn’t pick. That’s how much failure there has been. And yes, I learned from some of it, but some of it was just terrible with no other positive outcome. So here it is, a list of some of my failures during widowhood. Take from it what you will.

Ways I’ve failed as a widow, Part 1:

Logistics. Oh, God, this category had at least a dozen contenders of blog posts where I failed. I had no idea how to do basic home repairs, finances or anything with the car (oh, the CAR – it’s still a problem) and as much as I watched a lot of YouTube, the house was literally falling down at points. The summer of 2019, I opened up the back garage and almost every surface was covered with black mold, with some of the walls collapsing because I hadn’t been out there in a year and a half and….that was not cheap to fix. I knew it was going to be bad, even in those early days, and in fact one of my first blog posts was called Who’s Saving Our Basement? It’s not funny, though it could have been, because I was not funny at that point in my life. (Okay, it is actually kinda funny to read it now because I spent 5 paragraphs talking about windshield wiper fluid, which may or may not make you want to read it.) But, in any case, I knew what was coming. And, wow, physical things in my house definitely got worse before they got better.

Parenting. Guess what? Solo parenting is hard! Oh, I thought I understood what it meant to be a solo parent, but really, I didn’t know anything. I had experienced time-limited weeks of single parenting, but that was not even remotely the same as what it was like to do it totally alone, every day, for forever (or so I thought.) That first summer of widowhood, my kids were 4, 7 and 9 and they watched so much television that they had days when they complained about getting too much screen time. In the accurately-titled blog post I Want to Die Right Now Because at Least Then I Wouldn’t Have to Carry Anyone Home After They Throw Up from Eating Too Much Ice Cream, I wrote this: “There were moments with my kids where I felt pure joy – sliding down a waterslide with them or watching them laugh with their friends. Everything was not terrible. But, if I’m being real, those moments were few and far between. Most days I had a breakdown, sometimes in front of my kids. Basically every day by mid-afternoon, I had some sort of anxiety attack about parenting or just missing Shawn. And don’t even ask me how I dealt with dinner or bedtime. It wasn’t pretty. There was a lot more yelling than last summer.” As with many moments that first year, my kids survived but that was often about it.

Emotional failures. This is long, because I had to have sub-categories because there was just too much material to work with.

Anger. It took a little while before the blinding emotion of grief was overtaken by anger. But it came. And when it did, it was not pretty. This blog post, where I describe getting angry at an innocent elementary school parent, is pretty embarrassing to read years later. But it’s how I felt all the time at that point – just angry at the world. As I wrote in that post, “I know it’s completely irrational, but lately I’ve felt angry at Shawn for dying. For leaving me alone in this world. I have had moments when I felt like he left me on purpose.”

Loneliness. Ugh. This was was awful, and really peaked for me just after the year mark. I’m not sure why it took that long to feel so lonely, but it did. In fact, one of my lowest points was about 14 months after Shawn died, when I tried to convince myself that the best thing to do was to fully accept the awful parts of my life in order to keep moving forward. I took out a post-it note one morning and on it I wrote 3 lines: “You are alone. Accept that. Carry on.” It was pretty bleak, and became the title of that blog post.

Guilt. Oh, the guilt! I mean, even as I type this blog post, I can still feel bits of it. I think an excerpt from my post Guilt may help summarize those emotions: “Why didn’t I go with him to the hospital that first time? Why didn’t I call a neighbor and show up, so he’d know I’d always be there for him? Why did I stay home with the kids and let him get sent home without any painkillers? He didn’t need that extra week of terrible pain he endured before his diagnosis. I would never let one of my kids be in the hospital by themselves. Shawn never let me be in the hospital by myself, even if it meant leaving our kids so he could be there. But I didn’t go to the ER with him the first three times he went. I took care of the kids. I went to work. I didn’t grill the doctors and I wasn’t there when he got the first scan, the one that suggested he had cancer. I wasn’t there, and he was alone.”

Dating. Of course there’s a dating category! It’s the one that’s the most fun (irony is hard to convey in writing, but that’s what I’m trying to do in that previous sentence.) I had a number of blog posts that might have worked for this category, but I personally loved this one, What’s So Hard With Online Dating? In it, I tried to answer that question, writing, “If you are a widow who is trying to date online after a long hiatus from dating, or really if you are anyone who is trying out dating for the first time in the internet age, I’m sure you know exactly what I mean when I say this: online dating is the WORST.” The post is one long rant about online dating, which you can read or not read but you should definitely skip down for the comments from other widows. I won’t spoil it, but I will say this: those comments validate the entire blog post.

Love. I had it once, and I wanted it again. But when I got a taste of it – not actual love, but the promise of it, someday – I was almost crushed by it. The post, Happiness Is For Other People, is one I wrote with tears streaming down my face. It took me a full three months to put it on the blog, and I did it when I was on another continent, so no one I knew could ask me about it. And re-reading it today, I can feel like pain again. “Your friends tried to console you. “You will find love again,” they said. But they didn’t know. They didn’t know what it felt like to try again after tragic loss. They didn’t know the bravery it took to look into someone else’s eyes and say, “I will let you in, at least a little.” They didn’t know what it feels like to be so terribly alone and then to get a tiny reprieve from that horror….only to have it taken away.”

There were many, many more failures, including ones I left out on work and friendship and all sorts of other topics. But I think that’s enough of a walk down the memory lane of failure. I hope, if you’re feeling down, you can know I felt that way, too. And if you need to know that it gets better….there’s a part 2 to the blog post. Stay tuned!

Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.

2 Comments

  • Aree

    Wow – 4 years into widowhood and yours is the first blog I have ever read on the topic. And I can’t believe it has taken me this long to think to look for blogs on the topic. How amazing that you have written so persistently about your widowed life for several years – I can only say thank-you! Thank-you as I read even just this one blog post of yours at my dining table in Australia – the first part of two that you are writing about the “failures”……because I really relate! I too have got to see sides to me that have surprised me – and not in a good way – since being widowed.
    For example, my guilt is convinced I didn’t do enough through his medical journey.
    And who knew I would go on to feel so much anger at nothing and everything, or that I could get so frustrated with my preteen and become a yelling parent?
    Who knew the ache of the loneliness and the layers of the loss – losing precious him himself as well as the presumed long future into old age together.
    I had expected that time would heal – isn’t that what how the saying goes? Maybe that will happen soon, but so far I have been shocked each year to discover that each anniversary has had some aspect that has been more painful than the one before – even when I try to manage my expectations to avoid this happening. Anniversaries just seem to have a sinister role in underlining the permanence of the loss, and seemingly turn up to shake a flag in my face – in my heart space actually – reminding me of the bigger and bigger interval since my darling was here to laugh with and talk to and to hold.
    And the workbench and tools he handled are still in the shed reminding me of his hands every time I see them – as I fling open the doors to reach for the right tool myself. Now the weeds don’t get pulled until they are knee high, as I grapple to make a dent in the list that is much too long for one parent/homeowner on her own. And when I decide to outsource some of the workload, even now I still feel somewhat disloyal. Seeing another human working outside where he worked, or fixing pipes and leaking washers that he could do blindfolded, is like having an imposter where he should be.
    So thank-you for writing about your life as a widow – I can see much in common… it is a really long journey and it is really helpful to know I am not the only one to find it so.

    • M Brimley

      Thanks so much for this note, and for sharing a bit about your life. I am glad you’ve gotten something out of my blog…it’s really just something I started in the beginning to process my life and also let others know how I was doing. But now, I’ve found a whole community of other young widows out there. It’s such a process of healing and of just coping with daily life in the aftermath of widowhood. I guess there’s a small consolation that we can all reach out to each other. You’re certainly not the only widow who has struggled!

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