There’s Only One Option, and This Is It
My life before Shawn got sick was charmed in so many ways. Like many other people who live privileged lives, I had only a vague sense of how perfect everything was. Many times since Shawn has died, I’ve thought, “what was life even like before he was sick?” So I went back to my Google calendar and tried to figure it out. The first week in October, right before before he first started having stomach pain, my calendar was filled with things like, “Shawn on field trip with Austin,” “elementary school fall picnic,” “Claire guitar lesson,” and “dinner with friends.”
God, it was so normal.
Looking at my calendar led me down a rabbit hole, searching for clues about his illness. I spent a good 10 minutes trying to remember a specific birthday party that one of the kids went to, and whether or not Shawn was in bed that day or not. I started texting friends about backyard parties, wondering if they knew about Shawn’s illness by a certain point in time. When did it become really bad? When did my life change?
It’s easy to say that my life was altered forever on January 9th, 2018, and that would be true. But to be honest, it was probably more like November 29th when I knew things were really bad. Shawn had come home from the hospital with a scan that indicated he might have cancer, and we had consulted with my father, who is a retired doctor. My dad was fairly calm on the phone, but told us it could definitely be stage 4 cancer. And yet, we felt hopeful – we thought this couldn’t possibly be as bad as it looked.
After the call, I left Shawn at home and went over to my friend Becky’s house, as she had picked up my kids that afternoon. On the way, I called my sister Lindsay, because it was her birthday. I left a message and didn’t say anything about Shawn. I didn’t want to ruin her birthday.
About an hour later, she called me back. She was crying. Obviously my dad had called her.
My sister doesn’t cry. Or at least, she doesn’t cry over silly things like I do. It was then that my heart sank. Lindsay is an ER nurse who has seen it all, and has always spoken the truth about illness and death. Though she didn’t say it then, her tears spoke for her, and I knew we were facing something very, very bad. I can remember standing in Becky’s daughter’s room, looking at her stuffed animals and thinking, “oh my God. This is real.”
I didn’t say as much to Shawn. He was already nervous, and we just needed to get through the night. We fell asleep holding hands, or at least he fell asleep that way. I had to get up and drug myself in order to get any sleep at all.
And so began the horror of the next six weeks, and then the two months after that. Which, when you put it all together is just a little more than three months. Was it just over three months ago that my life was normal? Or do I need to go back further, before Shawn started feeling bad, before the heavy doses of antibiotics and the pain that doubled him over? If so, I would need to go back to late September when we went camping with friends and he and I sat on the grass and watched the kids ride their scooters in the perfect fall weather. Try as I might, I can’t totally remember the last time I felt like things were normal. But I remember camping, and I remember feeling such joy that weekend.
Maybe that was the last time I felt blissfully happy. Or maybe it was another time curled up next to Shawn watching a movie, or watching him leave with our kids in the morning as they skipped down the street. I wish I could remember, but I can’t. Because when life is good – when life is truly, wonderfully, happy – the days just aren’t as memorable. Sure, I enjoyed fun trips and great parties, but the day-to-day happiness wasn’t something that made me stand back and say, “wow, this is just such an amazing morning filled with Cheerios and lost socks and kitchen dance parties and logistics discussions.” It wasn’t something I really appreciated. It was just my life.
And it was perfect.
And now it’s not.
So, how do I face this new normal? How do I get through each day without breaking down when Facebook reminds me of what I was doing last year with Shawn, or when the ceiling lightbulb burns out and I don’t know how to replace it, or when one of my kids does something impossibly cute and there’s no one who thinks quite it’s as cute as I do?
I don’t know. I have no idea how to do this. After Claire was born, I remember coming home from the hospital, standing in my living room and saying to Shawn, “I have no idea what I’m doing! Who let me leave the hospital with this baby?” Well, I feel like that now, except so much sadder. At least with new parenthood, I had Shawn and I had a mom’s group and we all stumbled through it together.
This blog is an effort to help me figure out what’s next. I’ve found that once I write things out I can often connect the dots between different events in my life, both before and after Shawn died, and make some sense of where I am now. It’s also my way of communicating with all the people who want to know how I am, how my children are, and how the hell I am doing it.
I actually don’t know how I’m doing it. I guess it’s because there’s only one option, and this is it.
Marjorie – I’m so in awe of you and how you handle everything with such grace. Xo
We’ve never met but I’m a fellow Janney Mom and have some mutual friends. Not really sure o know what to say or even what to say now except I feel compelled to just let you know I’m thinking of you and how wonderful it has been to sort of get to know you through these concentric circles and learn about Shawn. Kathleen
Thanks Kathleen. It means a lot to me how much my children are supported and loved.
Love you Marjorie. I’m so glad you are creating this outlet for yourself. And thank you for sharing it — it’s such a gift for those of us who love you and your family to have this connection to you. And, it breaks and warms my heart to know that other widows will find this blog, when they unexpectedly find themselves searching for others who have had to figure out how to do this.
Thanks so much. I hope that I can use this blog to connect to family, friends and people who may find themselves in a place like I am now.
Beautifully written. Heartbreaking to read. I think about you and pray for you often. Oddly, I’ve had two other friends lose their husbands in the last year, and they’re all our age. They are all a part of this group on Facebook and Instagram called HYWC ( Hot young widows club). A woman named Nora Borealis started it. She lost her husband to cancer as well. I know you have a tribe of women and other friends and family who love you, but I hope that you can find support in a group like this as well. I’m just so damn sorry Marjorie!
Thanks so much. Yes – I do know this Facebook group and some others like it. They are hard for me to post on myself, but just reading them helps me know I’m not alone.
Shawn commands me to say this with some profanity. But I’ll clean it up for the sake of the blog. The gist is, “I’m here for you.”
And now you’re laughing, or at least smiling, because you know the non sequitur was his favored entree.
Only a moron would show up as Darth, right? And who ELSE always self-denigrated? Hmmmm? Kate and I are here. Lean on us. We’ll be your friends. We’ll help you carry on.
And now the Abn Rgr is crying, because he knows that tune/lyrics is what Shawn would’ve said if Kate was the widow instead of you.
So my blog moderator who is helping me told me she edited this comment to keep it clean, but I am smiling because I know what it said. I appreciate the levity, and your kind words.
I am SO proud of you! I wake up every morning and think about you and the kids. I wish I could give you all a big hug and take away some of your pain. I often wonder what I would do if the roles were reversed and I’m not sure if I could be as strong as you. You are one of the most incredible people I have had the privilege of knowing and I know your words are going to help so many people dealing with life after such unimaginable loss. We love you so much!❤️
Oh, my dear cousin, I miss you and I love these words. xo
Without ever having experienced this kind of loss, I can only guess there’s no handbook because there’s no right way to navigate it. So whatever you’re doing, take heart that you’re doing it right! It’s not hard to imagine that most people in your position feel like they’re stumbling through a fog and don’t know how the hell they’re doing it either… so you’re paving the way for someone through your words, your courage, and your grace and that’s no small feat. I think of you and your beloveds often… be well.
Thank you Paula. And yes…it does feel exactly like stumbling through a fog. We so appreciate all the love.
You write so beautifully and capture the experience with observations that are universal. Thank you for writing. Sharing your experience will no doubt help others and in so doing help you too.
Thanks so much Carol. I looked you up online and really appreciate the work you are doing.
This is beautifully written, Marjorie.
Thanks so much. I’m so glad to connect with people from Shawn’s world, as you help me keep his memory alive for me and my children.
One foot in front of the other- and when you can’t do it, we are here to lift you up ❤️
Karin van der Cammen
I find it absolutely awe inspiring that you are writing this blog and by doing so helping others as well. You are a true gem. You married an amazing man who was taken much too soon. And yet here you are, showing all of us a way how to deal with an unimaginable loss. I can only hope that you feel the love all of us are sending your way. Your kids have the best mom they could wish for. Many hugs, Karin
Karin, thank you for your kind words. We all miss him so much.
One foot in front of the other – and when you can’t manage it, we will be there to lift you up xxx
So glad that you’re finding this outlet for your thoughts and experiences! I don’t know how you’re doing any of this either, but I do know that you’re doing it all with grace and strength. Love you.
I’m doing it with a lot of support from friends like you. xo
Thank you for sharing this blog and it is beautifully written. I wish I had the strength that you have shown throughout all this. I am so happy that I had the privilege to share some of my best memories with both you and Shawn in Japan (where it all started) 🙂 Please stay strong and keep doing what you are doing as it will not just help you but help others in this world by sharing your experience. Love you.
Will definitely reach out when I am in DC.
Sumi, I’d love that. Thanks so much for writing. I love reconnecting with people who knew us way back when.
Go mama! You rock ❤️!
Thank you so much for sharing your blog. It is beautifully written and insightful. It helps me remember Shawn, the awesome person, husband and father that he was, and it also reminds me to notice and appreciate the daily moments of joy in my life, because you never know when things may change. Tragedy has touched your life more so than many others, and certainly more than you deserve, but you manage to forge a path through it and create something beautiful in its wake.
Oh, thank you so much for this. You knew us way back when, and I love that we are still in touch. I love this note.
I don’t know you, I read this as it was posted on a friend’s Facebook page. I wanted to tell you about Refuge in Grief. Check out her website and Facebook page. She has been so helpful to so many . Nothing in grief is normal, everyone has their own path, and I wish you the best in figuring out yours. I am so sorry.
I’ve read this three times. Its beautiful. Thank you for sharing it.
Beautifully written, friend. I’m happy you’ve found this outlet and I hope it proves cathartic for you. Missing you and thinking of you often. Xo
Thank you so much for your calls and all the love. Miss you.
Your blog is wonderful – touching and funny and full of amazing insights. I’m reading all the entries. Thank you for writing them.
Of them all, this particular one is so wise. In taking us through just a bit of your experience and thinking, you are showing the rest of us how to live. Just like Shawn did every day.
Thank you so much for reading it! I want to do right by Shawn – and thus I know I need to engage and connect rather than withdraw. I really appreciate your thoughtful words.
Marjorie, I came across your blog through the wonders of Facebook. I am so sorry to read of your tremendous loss. Watching you grow up as a parent volunteer in your classrooms, I was always impressed by your creativity, tenacity, intelligence, and sense of humor. I know you will need to draw on all of those traits in the days ahead. I wish the best for you and your family.
Oh thanks so much for your kind comment – I feel the love from all the way across the country!