My life as a young widow has included a lot of failure, especially in (though not limited to!) the first year. There were so many things I did wrong, so many choices I regretted and so many ways in which I made my already difficult circumstances worse. And yet, my years of widowhood have not all been about failure. In fact – even that first year – I’ve had some successes. So, here they are!
Ways I’ve succeeded as a widow:
Logistics: One of the very first failures I experienced was my broken washing machine, which happened less than a week after Shawn died. It was just the start of many, many home/car/logistics failures I knew were coming, even before they happened. “Who’s Saving Our Basement?” was one of my very first blog posts where I worried about all the things I couldn’t do and what would happen if our basement flooded. AND THEN IT DID. Because of course it did. It was about six months after Shawn died and I had a houseful of people inside and the kids came screaming upstairs from the basement as water gushed into it. I bailed water for hours with friends, all of whom were soaked to the core once we got the leak fixed. At one point, Becky’s daughter stood in my doorway crying. She screamed “what is going on?” to her mom, who replied, “well, we are watching Ms. Marjorie solve this problem.” It was a little thing, of course, but I felt oddly proud in that moment. This blog post entitled, Who’s Saving Our Basement, Part 2 is that whole story.
Parenting: Oh, the stories of parenting failure are numerous! But the biggest issue I faced was not whether my kids had ill-fitting clothes or a snack packed for school, but rather the way in which I saw my family with a deficit mindset. As I wrote in the post Team Brimley, “For the past year and a half, I was spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to “fix” my family in a way that would make us complete again. In many ways, I couldn’t imagine that my family could ever be whole if we were always missing Shawn. I thought that we would forever be broken.” It was a mindset that persisted throughout much of the first 18 months after Shawn died. But then I took a big trip with my kids, and slowly over the time we were away, I started to feel more whole. There are a series of blog posts from that trip (you can see them under my June/July 2019 posts) but I like what I wrote at the end of Team Brimley the best: “I’m starting to think about my family as a team of four. Our team looks different than a lot of the other families we know, but lately, it’s felt complete in its own way.”
Emotional successes: Like the “failures” blog post, I also need sub-categories here. That makes me feel good, because while I have failed in multiple emotional ways, I’ve also had my share of successes.
Happiness: Year of Yes is one of my most favorite blog posts, a piece I wrote a year after Shawn died. I had gone to visit my friend Paige who challenged us both to live a year that would be full and happy, and I struggled a bit with how to do that. And yet, I was starting to see it. I can remember the scene at the end of this blog post so clearly, because it was such an important moment for me. I was at the beach, alone, and I put on my headphones and danced in the waves and felt young and free and….really happy.
Peace: I think one of the hardest things to come to terms with is reaching a state of calm after loss, maybe because there’s just so much anxiety that comes with tragedy. For me, this meant often sleeping poorly, and the middle-of-the-night wake-ups were brutal. But there came a time about a year ago when I realized that I wasn’t waking up in a panic anymore. I wrote about it in the post 3 am, which is a piece of writing I love not just because it’s reflective, but also because it’s one of my most honest pieces of writing.
Clarity: Yes, I felt intense guilt over Shawn’s death, even though there’s likely nothing I could have done to stop the cancer or even make his suffering much easier. And yet, it remained. I also felt guilty about many aspects of moving forward, including dating. I figured it would just be a part of every aspect of my life, forever. However, when I met Chris, I didn’t feel any guilt at all. Why? You can read about it in this post, Guilt, Part 2.
Dating: One of the things that’s super helpful about writing a blog that I post three times a week is that I have a record of exactly how I felt at exact times in my life. It forces me to be honest. And one of the most interesting parts of this honesty is that I can see how my views about dating changed when I really got to know Chris. In fact, I wrote the blog post I referenced in Part 1 of this post (the “failure” post) just a few weeks before I began falling for Chris. Want that whole story? It’s here in the post How We Met A Valentine’s Day Story.
Love: Yes, I have written extensively about meeting my second love, Chris. But the post A Life That Sparkles, about how Chris loves me and yet still makes space for Shawn in a deliberate way, is maybe my favorite. Here’s an excerpt from the very end: “Sometimes it feels strange to have such pain and happiness together. But mostly, I feel grateful. For Shawn’s ability to see the future and wish me happiness without him in it. And for Chris’s ability to include my past in our life together now. It is a life that can be messy and sometimes a bit rough-around-the-edges. But it is a life that sparkles, too.” (And yes, if you’d like our engagement story, you can read that here!)
Widowhood is not just about failure. It is also about tiny joys and major successes. It is about realizing that you’ve gotten to the place where you sing as you walk down the street and feel the breeze blow against your skin and realize that there is good in this life you’re living.