Who Has a Better Life Than Us?

DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley's husband Shawn walks with daughter with wife and boys in distance

A few months ago, I remember thinking something like, “I think I’m in such a different place, because I’m not walking around the neighborhood crying anymore.”

Well, strike that. Because that’s exactly what I did last weekend.

There wasn’t a specific reason why I started walking about the neighborhood. I was overwhelmed by my kids and one of my friends kindly volunteered to take all three of them and I thought, “I gotta get out of my house.” The sun was shining and I decided to take a walk.

As I started walking, I thought about my life. I thought about all of the walks I’d taken in my neighborhood and I thought about all the times that Shawn and I had gone down this exact street where I was walking. I thought about watching him carry Tommy on his shoulders because that kid was never a good walker, at least not while Shawn was alive. I thought about how Austin would often walk hand-in-hand with his dad, both of them content to walk in happy silence. I thought about when Claire first learned to ride her bike and Shawn would hover near her, careful to watch and make sure she didn’t crash into the road.

The tears came quickly. Sometimes I know when I’m going to start crying. In fact, these days I usually know when I’m going to start crying. But not this time.

I was so sad.

I was sad about the life that I used to have. That life – the one that’s already starting to fade around the edges of my memory – sometimes I miss it with a level of desperation that feels out-of-whack with the daily life that surrounds me. The beautiful house and the happy kids and the fulfilling career….all of these things are still part of my life. And yet, when I think back to my old life and what it was like, I feel like my new life is just a shell left over after the real life – the good life – crawled away.

I can see Shawn, clearly, in many of these memories of my past, but others are hazy. What I do remember clearly in all of these memories is being with my family, just the 5 of us, and feeling like there was nowhere I’d rather be.

Shawn felt the same way. I know because in these moments, he’d turn to me and say, “who has a better life than us?”

Sometimes he said this line to me when I was stressed out about money or logistics or by the mere fact that we had 3 little kids. But other times he’d say this to me when we were walking home after getting the kids ice cream and the big kids were on their bikes and he was carrying Tommy. We’d be on the sidewalk by our house, tired from a day with kids and the sun would be fading and rather than try and hurry up the day, he’d make me slow down.

I love that he did that.

I never do that now.

Because when I do it – when I step back and look at my life and think about it as a whole – I just start crying.

And that’s what happened on my walk the other day. I thought about how lucky I was to have three perfect kids who bring me so much joy. I thought about how blessed I was to have a father (and extended family) who are so devoted to me. I thought about how wonderful it is that I am surrounded by friends who will pick up my kids when they hear the slightest waver in my voice.

But I also thought about what I don’t have anymore – Shawn and my intact family of 5.

I know I am luckier than most widows. I know I am blessed to have so many wonderful people in my life.

But I don’t have him. So no matter what I do have, it always feels to me like I got cheated out of the life I was supposed to have. The life where my husband would turn to me on the most perfect of early spring days and say, “who has a better life than us?”

I knew the answer to that one.

“No one. We have the best life.”

Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.

12 Replies to “Who Has a Better Life Than Us?”

  1. This post speaks to me, deeply, immensely. I’m going to print it, fold it up, and carry it in my purse to show other people on days when I just don’t have the words to explain what’s happening.

    My husband died almost a year ago. I have been reading your blog for only a few weeks. Thank you for doing this, for sharing your journey with others who, like me, are trying to rebuild a good life without the one who made it the best.

    1. And these kinds of comments are why I continue to write my blog. Thank you so much for writing them.

  2. The second year is harder. The first year you are Numb taken care of whatever
    everyone thinks that once you get past that first year anniversary it’s all good. But the second year it’s hard to miss the every day what you took for granted. The priest wanted to know something personal he could share with the congregation at my wife’s funeral
    I told him we had us And now that’s gone. And you have to forge a new life, new memories. That’s how you heal

    1. Yes – the numb is now gone and it’s makes the horror more real in a way. This week has felt a bit like the weeks felt at this time last year, just with less shock. I’m genuinely surprised by that.

  3. Dawn Tischbein says: Reply

    Dear Marjorie,
    I’ve been reading your blog for some time, as I became a widow about the same time you did. In fact, my husband Walt’s funeral was on the same day as your Shawn’s, and he also died a short time after his cancer diagnosis. Although I am a bit older than you, and my four children are in their twenties, you seem to write as if you know the thoughts that swirl daily in my brain. You write so beautifully, and each time I read your words, with tears streaming down my face, I feel understood. Thank you

    1. Thanks so much for writing this to me. It means so much to know that my words – the ones I’m putting down often just as a form of therapy for myself – have reached so many others.

  4. I felt exactly this the other morning- literally out of nowhere, I was just slammed with the realization that the entire future I thought I’d have was stolen from me. It was like having a ton of bricks dropped on me, even though it’s certainly nothing new. And thinking ahead to a new future means knowing my husband will not be there, which is also horrifying. Living in the moment seems to be the best I can do right now.

    1. Yes, I agree – I have to live in the moment. But sometimes that can feel impossible to do because the moment feels so….empty (or something like that?)

  5. That visual of the shell left behind by the life you had crawling away is profound; how exquisitely painful and accurate that is.

    I don’t know if you will believe me or not, but this all does get, well, I won’t say “better”, but I will say “softer”. I found year 2 the hardest because of the clearer view we have of the life we are living now. I think I cried more in year 2 than year 1 because of this. I remember people saying this in my grief group the first year and I thought there was no way that could be true. Their words stayed with me for months and when year 1 slid into year 2, I found they were right. We mourn “harder” once that numbness wears off. As we heal we sort of begin to form a scab over the laceration in our hearts, but certain memories pull on that scab, lift it up a little, and make it bleed again. And then the tears come because it hurts. But, you know, even when that scab does lift up it isn’t pulled off completely and a little more forms. It just takes So. Much. Time.

    Like you, I have the beautiful home, a wonderful daughter and gorgeous grandson, and a great career, but there is that emptiness. For me, it comes back to that feeling of my husband being my home. And that’s what I think we miss the most. My heart goes out to you, Marjorie.

    1. In some ways, I feel like the numbness wore off in stages. First was at about 4 months, when it all became real. Then again at 6 months, when I started to see a bit of the future. But year 2 it’s really gone, and the reality of my life can be pretty overwhelming.

  6. I think I have come to realize that there are many different ways to have a best life. All the thoughts and feelings you have expressed so well, I can remember intensely from when I was widowed almost ten years ago. I question sometimes why I am drawn to reading your blog when I have supposedly “moved on” and am living my “second best life”. First, your writing is beautiful and truthful. And second, I did not know any widows or of any online connections back then and felt I just muddled my way through alone. Maybe it’s just being able to say, yes, that was my experience too.

    I am as happy now as I was 10 years ago but it’s different things that make me happy. Just know that it can happen for you even though it might take awhile to get there:)

    1. I love this so much: “I think I have come to realize that there are many different ways to have a best life.” So, so true.

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