State of Exception

Mountain and valley for blog by DC widow writer Marjorie Brimley

I was talking to a friend the other day about our lives, and the changes that have come with the start of the school year. We both admitted that the past few weeks have seemed harder than expected. We recognized that things could be far worse – we both had our health and our kids and our jobs. But something seems to have shifted as the autumn approaches. It’s hard to put my finger on, exactly, but I think it’s this realization:

This is just my life now, isn’t it?

Sure, maybe we will get it together as a country and manage to combat the coronavirus in the next few months and then we’ll all be able to go back to normal life. But really, in all likelihood, we’re facing this life – the one where everyone feels stretched to the brink – for a long time.

It’s hard to face that reality. It’s the one that says, this is the life I’m going to be leading for a long time.

In many ways, it’s a lesson I’ve already learned in widowhood. The early days were horrible of course, but they had a simplicity about them. Just get through each day, and then face the next one. Don’t think about the future. Manage this hour, and then the next hour, and then the rest of the day, and then repeat. I honestly never thought much about anything other than the immediate future for months. In many ways, early widowhood was a state of exception.

But there came a day when I woke up and thought, “my God, this is just my life now, isn’t it?” I am just going to keep living these painful days over and over again. Shawn isn’t coming back. I’m a single mom. Everything in my children’s lives depends on me. No one else is going to fix the clogged toilet. I have to pay all the bills. I cannot lose my job. I will be alone for a long time, and maybe forever.

I realized, in essence, that those days – the ones I was just barely getting through – they were starting to comprise my life. The future wasn’t something else. It was this.

It was a hard realization.

What I was figuring out was that my life wasn’t ever going to be like it once had been. The state of exception of early widowhood was over and I was looking at a future that was forever altered. Over and over in my head I repeated the same words:

This is hard.

This is painful.

This is real.

I guess what I didn’t appreciate was that life would eventually change. The kids would get bigger and easier. The grief would ease, at least somewhat. I would date again and I would find a way to make new meaning out of my life.

But in those early days, I couldn’t see how life would be years from then. I could only see the immediate future, and it looked almost impossible. I had to accept that the hard parts weren’t going to go away anytime soon.

That’s tough to do. Obviously.

So right now, I think it’s okay to admit that life feels difficult. It’s not that things are that much harder than they were a month or two ago. It’s that this “state of exception” of the early days of the pandemic is over, and much of the hardship of life remains. The pain we’re all feeling is just life now. And it seems like it’s never-ending.

It will be different, someday. Whether you’re a widow or not, time passes and life changes.  It’s the one thing I could say was true back then, and it remains true now. Someday, things will be different.

But damn it’s not easy right now.

5 Replies to “State of Exception”

  1. Wow this really resonates with me. I’ve been widowed almost as long as you. I was just starting to feel like I could do this all alone. I spent so much time and effort connecting with people and doing things to “fill my cup”. And then it was all taken away with the pandemic. I too am realizing that this is how life is going to be for a long while. I admire you for being able to see that it will be different, and better someday. I’m now at 4 years of awfulness (it started before he died) and the hope is fading as I force myself to accept reality – it isn’t getting better.

    1. I think the pandemic has reopened a lot of wounds for everyone, but especially for widows. It’s made us confront the isolation and the fear of death yet again, and I know that I’ve had a hard time with how to adjust to this “new normal” (even though I hate that phrase, it’s what it is, I guess!) Hang in there. My heart goes out to you.

  2. During this pandemic and the two years since my husband died, I have to keep reminding myself what my parents’ generation, commonly called The Greatest Generation, went through. I was born two years after WWII ended. When we look back on those war years, we know from this vantage point how it all turned out and the “good guys” won. But at the time, the opposite was a very real possibility. My dad joined the Coast Guard and was a signal man in the South Pacific. My mother, pregnant with my older brother, had no idea where he was located and it was a stressful time. My brother was two years old when the war ended and Dad came home and saw his son for the first time.

    Folks back then had to put up with food and gas rationing, among other things, but they did it because it was the patriotic thing to do, (much like mask wearing is today. Or should be.) We used to kid my mother and call her “Depression Bessie” (not her real name) when she chided us if we turned our noses up at something she’d prepared for dinner. Those hard years of the Depression and WWII remained with her and many people like her all their lives, but they kept going. Our difficulties with the pandemic will get better eventually (trust the science!) but I think it helps to look back at history and the long view to gain some perspective. I struggle with it too, since I’m closer to the end game and have less time to make up what’s been lost. Sorry this is so long. Just my thoughts on a day marked by the passing of RBG and how we need to keep fighting. *sigh*

    1. It’s a hard time, and yes, I think the comparison to other very difficult times in our history is one that I also can’t help but make.

      Also, as you’ll see, I have a post out about Justice Ginsburg today.

  3. […] haven’t been inside a grocery store or an airplane or a school building since March – and there’s no end in sight. And since I’m on the topic of 2020, let me say this: it’s been a year unlike any […]

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