We All Hurt

Marjorie Brimley hugging Claire after becoming a widow

“You’re awfully young to be a widow,” the jeweler said to me with a shocked expression on his face.

I was at a jewelry shop looking at new ring settings. I’ve been thinking about getting my wedding ring re-made into something that I could wear on my right hand. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it, but I figured talking to a jeweler could help me figure that out.

Obviously, I had to tell my life story to the jeweler, and I found out quickly that he was one of those people who said exactly what was in his head. I mean, I’m sure a lot of people think about my age when they hear I’m a widow, but damn if he didn’t say it out loud.

“Tell me about it,” I said back to him. And then just to add to the shock value, I said, “I’ve got three kids under ten that I’m now raising on my own.”

He almost fell over. He tried to recover, and he showed me some of their custom jewelry, but he could barely make small talk and I couldn’t help him through his awkwardness.

Instead, I went outside and sobbed at a bus stop on Connecticut Avenue.

This moment wasn’t something that usually happens to me. In fact, I’ve gotten really good at helping other people manage their emotions when I’m talking to them about my life. When people ask how I am, I almost always respond with something like, “it’s been really hard, but we are doing okay. I’m so lucky to have the kids.” That’s true, of course, but it’s not the entire story.

Really, it sucks. Being a young widow is the worst. Being a single parent is also awful. Together, the combination is almost breaking me.

Here’s an example. A few hours before I went down to the jewelry shop, I’d gotten home from a trip with the kids. I was upstairs unpacking and I heard Tommy yelling downstairs. Claire came up. “He’s yelling for Daddy,” she said.

I went downstairs. “Where’s Daddy?” Tommy asked.

“Oh baby,” I said, “Daddy isn’t here because he died.”

“Okay,” he said, and went back to playing with his toys. I felt like I’d been hit by a truck.

Claire saw my face. “Are you okay, mom?” she asked.

“I’m okay,” I said. And yet again, it wasn’t really the entire story.

“Mom,” she said, sitting down, “I want to tell you something, but you can’t put it on your blog.”

“I promise,” I said, and she told me what was on her mind.

I won’t write it here, but what she said broke my heart.

Somehow, the combination of my kids’ feelings and the jewelry shop made something click in me. I was angry and sad about my life and so I just sat there at the Connecticut Avenue bus stop with tears streaming down my face. No one stopped to say anything to me, though what could they have said? Still, I wished someone would have. I didn’t want solitude in that moment. I wanted to share my grief.

Later that day (yes, this all happened in a 24 hour period!) I went to the grocery store and ran into an old acquaintance. She’s a kind woman, and I hadn’t seen her in about a year. “I just want to say that I’m so sorry,” she said.

I said thank you and then she asked, “so, how’s it been going?”

That question again. I guess if it had been another day, I might have said something thoughtful and balanced. But I couldn’t.

“It’s terrible, actually,” I said, “Single parenting is the worst and I had a really hard summer.”

I don’t think that was what she thought I’d say. She was kind about it, but how do you respond to that, especially if you’re just an acquaintance of mine? We parted soon thereafter.

Here’s what I discovered that day: I can’t keep saying that things are going “relatively well” on those days when they aren’t. When someone reminds me of how much I’ve lost at such a young age, I might just cry openly on the streets of DC. When my baby can’t remember that his dad is gone, I might just tell the next adult I see that I’m having an awful day. And when my daughter needs to confide in me, I might confide in her too. She needs to see her mama be strong, but she also needs to know that I hurt with her too.

Because we all hurt. We just don’t tell each other in the grocery store.

15 Replies to “We All Hurt”

  1. I lost my husband very suddenly last October – he left to go on a business trip and never returned, having had a massive blood clot on the way to his destination. I have a sixth grade son to bring up. And yeah, it sucks. Some days only a little, and some days a lot. The rare moment when I am having a good time and not frantically trying to balance full time work, chores and parenting – then I realize my husband is not there to enjoy it and that sucks even more. I look at friends who are single parents – single from day one – and it’s clearly hard but somehow they seem more prepared. I am just not; we were a team. We divided the work and shared everything. I feel resentful that I might have to cut out things we enjoy just to make things simpler.

    I would not take off my ring, though. I’m certain it prevents a lot of unwanted attention, and really, I’d feel very odd without it.

    1. Suzanne Carpenter says: Reply

      Single parenting IS awful. I have two daughters that were 12 and 11 when their dad died with no warning. He used to say, “They can date when they’re 20, marry when they’re 30 and have sex when I’m dead.” They’re 16 and 14 now, and he’s dead. I could use his support right now on their homecoming dress choices, not to mention the sexual guidance of their father. With you.

      1. Oh, God, I can’t even imagine how much harder it is going to be when my kids are teenagers! Yikes. I guess at least we all have each other to lean on. But it’s so so tough.

  2. I lost my husband very suddenly last October – he left to go on a business trip and never returned, having had a massive blood clot on the way to his destination. I have an eleven year old son to bring up. So your blog strikes quite a chord for me. And yeah, it sucks. Some days only a little, and some days a lot, but pretty much unremittingly.

    The rare moment when I am having a good time and not frantically trying to balance full time work, chores and parenting – then I realize my husband is not there to enjoy it and I am just flattened by sorrow. I look at friends who are single parents – single from day one – and it’s clearly hard but somehow they seem more prepared. I am just not; we were a team. We divided the work and shared everything. I feel resentful that I might have to cut out things my son and I enjoy just to make things simpler.

    I would not take off my ring, though. I’m certain it prevents a lot of unwanted attention, and really, I’d feel very odd without it.

    1. Yes – I think you said it exactly right. Suddenly single parenting is something that is somehow different from single parenting from day 1. Both are hard, of course, but they are different. And I think there is compromise that we aren’t prepared for, that’s for sure. Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. I feel you on this one. I too usually just respond with “I’m ok, we’re ok” when I’m asked how we’re doing, because I know people mean well when they ask, but it’s a question I really can’t stand anymore. Sometimes I feel like if you don’t want the real answer of “My kids only have one parent now and I woke up today so I guess I’m still here” then just don’t ask. I don’t have a prettier or better answer most days.

    1. I know. My filter is so low these days that when people ask how things are, there are times when I can’t manage to say anything other than, “it’s terrible.” I appreciate Nora McInerny’s podcast “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” for introducing me to the idea that I can say this!

  4. It sounds as if life in all its weight is standing right on your head now. I’m sorry. I’m afraid I have no advice to offer; I know only what you know already, that telling yourself not to feel grief, or how you should feel it, would be like telling a broken arm not to hurt. I will say your writing conveys a great deal more strength than you probably feel. If I can see this, those who know you must be able to see it as well. We are all of us, always, more than what we feel.

    Will you forgive an additional observation? Your daughter has already figured out that it is wise for her to share with the online world less than you are able to. She sounds like an exceptionally clever person.

    All best wishes to you.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful words. And I love your observation about my kid – she is learning what she wants public and I love that. I do always read her anything I write about her (and get her permission to put it out there) and that’s why, I think, she has learned to preface some things with “don’t put this on your blog.”

      1. That sounds right.

        I was glad to see your last entry after reading this one.

  5. I think Shawn knows that Claire will grow up to be a strong young woman. I can see her being strong and compassionate. No one wishes for such tough life circumstances. But I think Shawn wants to reassure you, because I’ve had this impression about your wonderful daughter repeatedly.

    1. Oh thank you for such kind and thoughtful words! I love that you see her strength and compassion.

  6. That was bone chilling and I am openly crying as I walked Daisy past your house and around the block for the night. Marjorie you continue to make me feel and all of your strength and honesty. We love you all. Julie, Mark, Mac, Molly, Liza, Quinn, Daisy

    1. And we are so blessed to have you as neighbors! xo

  7. Sending you a huge hug, Marjorie! I don’t think for a second you should worry about shielding others from your pain. We all need more practice in talking about hard things. You are teaching life lessons (a job you definitely didn’t seek) and I’m sure many appreciate the reminder not to take their loved ones for granted.

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