What’s the Worst Thing That Can Happen?

Daughter of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley runs in cross country race

I was driving to a cross-country meet with Claire a few weeks ago, and she was really nervous. “I have butterflies!” she said from the backseat.

I tried to calm her down. She’s still in elementary school and she was only going to be running a couple of miles. “It’s for fun, anyway,” I said.

“But what if it’s terrible?” she said. I could hear the worry in her voice.

“Okay,” I said, “what’s the worst thing that can happen today?”

“I could die!” Claire said.

“You’re not going to die,” I said. “You know that. So let’s think about what actually might happen.”

“I could have to walk,” she said. “Or I could be the last person to finish!”

“So, let’s imagine that worst-case scenario,” I said. “If you’re the last one to finish, then what happens?”

“I’d feel sad,” she said.

“That’s real,” I said. “But that’s the worst thing that can happen. That doesn’t seem so bad!”

She smiled at me and admitted that I was right. She was still nervous, but really, she knew it would be okay.

Later, I thought about how I could apply this question to a lot of areas of my life. Of course, I know the worst thing that can randomly happen at any point: someone I love might die. But there’s not a lot I can do about something like that.

In the rest of my life, this question is a useful one, especially right now. I’m still scared to do a lot of things that I once did with ease. I do not want to eat out alone. I do not want to head to a party, dressed to the nines, without someone at my side. I do not want to drive my kids by myself to another sporting event where I’ll encounter dozens of intact families. I do not want to strike up a conversation with a handsome stranger at the coffee shop.

I do not want to do a lot of things, actually.

But why? Maybe I should apply this same question to myself: what’s the worst thing that can happen?

I might feel lonely eating out alone. I might cry. Someone else might feel sorry for me.

I might really miss Shawn at a party. I might see other couples and feel jealous. I might walk home in thigh-high pleather boots and cry the entire way.

I might feel overwhelmed at a sporting event without Shawn. I might see the other fathers and worry obsessively about my children’s futures without their dad.

And I might get rejected if I try and talk to someone new. Maybe immediately, or maybe after some time has gone by. I might get my heart broken.

But you know what won’t happen? Just like Claire at the cross-country meet, I know one thing for sure: I’m not going to die if I do these things.

I’m not saying I can – or should – do everything. There’s a limit to this question, of course. But when I start to retreat into myself, I’ve found it helpful to remember what I asked Claire that day:

“What’s the worst thing that can happen?”

Really, the answer is sometimes not quite as bad as I imagine.

Image Credit: María Luz Bravo Photography.

4 Replies to “What’s the Worst Thing That Can Happen?”

  1. Love this! Once you’ve experienced our kind of heart break, anything outside of course another lose of our loved one, is a piece of cake. At least, that’s how I feel on my “good” days, anyways. What’s the worst that can happen when the worst has already happened? ❤

    1. Totally. It makes you simultaneously more scared to do things (because you know what could happen) but also more brave (because you can face a lot more than you thought.)

  2. I am double-learning this now, as my 18 year old son has developed a serious mental illness 2 1/2 years after losing his Dad, (and during his final school year assessments). My psychologist is helping me learn not to ‘catastrophise’ – instead to be in the moment, because that’s all we can work with. However I totally understand Marjorie the statement about the challenge of seeing ‘intact families’, and worrying about the kids futures having encountered this loss as just children- I just hope this means they start adulthood as compassionate and self-aware people who have a better sense of what’s important, and to find happiness in the everyday because they know the fragility of life and health. Thanks for all your posts, I rarely comment but do appreciate your sharing this strange life we now lead. Steph x

    1. Thanks so much for reading. I’m so sorry for all you are going through. I do love your psychologist’s advice – I tend to “catastrophise” as well…maybe because I get that things really can so south in an instant, and yet – what good is that? I’m going to think a lot about your comment. Thanks so much for sharing.

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