Railroad tracks like that discussed by DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley


Tomorrow, I turn 41.

I should be celebrating. I love my birthday – it’s one of my favorite days of the year. I love how everyone is super nice and wishes me “happy birthday” all day and how I hear from new and old friends alike. I love how my kids are on their best behavior and I love the cards they make me every year.

But I can’t quite get excited about it because I’m turning 41. It’s the birthday Shawn never got to celebrate.

It’s not just that I’m going to be older than him, for the first time ever. It’s not just that I’m now “in my 40s” – a decade he only briefly got to experience. It’s not just that starting tomorrow, every single birthday of mine will be one that Shawn never got to experience.

It also means that I’m turning towards the next part of my time here on the planet. I’m looking at 41, but I’m also looking at the rest of my life.

And I feel a bit stuck. Not about my current life. It might not be perfect, but I feel okay about the day-to-day, mostly. No, I feel stuck when I try to imagine the future. I don’t mean next week. I mean the far-away, rest-of-my-life future. What is it going to be?

I was at Shawn’s grave the other day, and I saw an old woman across the cemetery. I couldn’t tell her exact age, but she had white hair and moved slowly. She stood next to a grave and then left. I have no idea if she was visiting her parents or her husband or her friend.

But regardless, it made me think. I mean, I will forever visit Shawn’s grave, even if someday I get remarried to some fabulously wealthy guy who flies me all over the globe in his private jet. (Don’t knock it. Crazier things have happened to me. My husband died when I was thirty-eight, remember? But I digress.) God-willing, I will someday be that white-haired lady, stooping down to put flowers on a grave of a man who was half my age when he died.

It’s hard to grasp it – that imagined future where I am an old lady – and yet I know it is likely to someday be true. But who is that woman? What does she think about her 41-year-old self who still can’t quite believe she’s here on this planet without the man who was supposed to go gray with her?

I try to imagine what my 80-year-old self would say to my 41-year-old self, but I keep drawing a blank. I cannot really imagine what 40 more years will look like without Shawn next to me. Yes, I’ll have my kids and I’ll raise them and maybe get some grandkids. But I don’t have any real visions for my future. I guess this is because I don’t imagine my life past the current moment much anymore.

I have gotten a lot better about enjoying the good parts of life, but I haven’t let myself dream like I once did with Shawn. I don’t lay in my backyard hammock and think about taking the Trans-Siberian Railroad in an early retirement. I don’t look out the window on road trips and laugh thinking about getting an RV and seeing every national park once the kids are out of the house. I don’t have an internal debate about someday buying a cheap rental property in the woods, once I can save a bit of money.

I don’t think about any of these far-off parts of my life anymore. It’s so strange, because it was one of the things I discussed most frequently with Shawn. He loved thinking about our lives in 10 or 20 or even 40 years. He loved to dream about the future.

And without him I really don’t do it much anymore.

Maybe that’s why 41 is so daunting. Not just because I’m turning an age he never got to turn. But also because I’m trying to forge a life that he never got to live. I’m getting to be on this planet in my 40s, and I should be grateful.

Instead, I feel confused by it.

Maybe it’s because I don’t dream enough anymore. Maybe that needs to be a goal of mine this year. But it’s just so hard to fathom it: a whole life, without Shawn, stretching out before me.

For now, I think I just need to figure out how to move through this year on my own. But maybe in a few months when the frost clears, I’ll go out to the hammock, put on some headphones and listen to the Tragically Hip as I stare at the blue sky.

And maybe I’ll dream about something that isn’t yet. Something that will be, sometime, in some other place.



  • Melissa

    First of all, happy birthday tomorrow!

    Reading your post, I thought about this quote attributed to John Lennon: “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” It’s nice to have dreams about the future, but we can’t ever be truly certain where life is going to take us. Even couples who seem to “have it all.”

    Case in point is my friend who is a successful businesswoman, married to an equally successful lawyer. She is about 10 years younger than he is and their life together was following its planned trajectory, like yours, until it didn’t. Four or so years ago he suffered a debilitating stroke. My friend was certain her husband would be up and walking and on the road to a complete recovery in a month, two months tops. That didn’t happen. This last week I heard from mutual friends that she had to put him in a care home where he will remain permanently. They were fortunate to have the funds to afford at home care for the first few years, but he recently had some more small strokes and has become angry and combative, even trying to overturn a table at a restaurant. Sadly, he is no longer the man she married. She will stick by him and see that he gets the best care available to them, but this is not how she imagined her life at this point.

    • Marjorie

      Oh, that’s so tough – and it’s also an important reminder that life can have some real twists and turns that we can never expect.

  • Lynn Hughes

    You are not alone. Grieving the future you had planned with your soul mate I am not sure will ever fade. My husband past on February 16, 2018 from an 18 month battle with brain cancer. He was 53 and had been married for 31 years. We have two beautiful daughters. My daughters are in their 20’s but neither have married yet. They won’t have their dad to walk them down the aisle or to hold and spoil their children.

    Like you and your precious husband we talked about our future once we retired. My mind and heart can’t see that future yet. I ask God each day to show me his plan for me.

    Your blog brings me comfort. Thank you for sharing.

    God bless you and your sweet children.

    • Marjorie

      I’m so terribly sorry to hear about the passing of your husband, and yes, I think we all just do the best we can, day by day. Thank you so much for reading.

  • Bethany

    I am a 55 year old widow, 21 months in. I am struggling today and your post helped me to not feel completely misunderstood, even by myself! This hellish roller coaster is not for weaklings! You are right, I do not dream any more, my only dream right now cannot come true. I have more better days than I did but the slips can be surprising; sneaking up for some seemingly benign reason and are shockingly painful. I want to be better, I want to laugh and feel joy! Thank you again, it is wonderful to not feel alone.

    • Marjorie

      Here is all I know: WE ARE NOT ALONE. Even when we feel like it. There are so many people around us (or on the internet, or on this blog!) that can understand pain and want to help. So please keep reading and keep sharing.

      • Melissa

        Yes! Yesterday a woman stopped to admire my dog when I was at the park (he’s a great conversation starter.) She is a widow of 11 months and her story just poured out after I told her I was a recent widow also. Two weeks ago she had to have her 14 year old Labrador put to sleep, so there was an extra connection there. We chatted for quite some time, and when she turned to leave she said it was so nice meeting me because she’d been having a bad day. That made me feel good. So, yes, we are not alone.

  • Madison

    I feel this so hard. My fiancé passed away at 27 years old, and my 28th birthday was definitely one of my hardest, most painful ones. I was unfortunate in losing my soulmate when I was 24 years old. 6 years later, I still haven’t dated or been able to celebrate a birthday without spending a portion of the day crying.

    • Marjorie

      It’s so tough – especially when it comes to anniversaries and birthdays. I am not sure it ever really gets easier on those days. Hang in there.

  • Leigh Ann

    I randomly came upon one of your posts this evening and have now read quite a few of them. I can really relate to your posts. My husband passed away 2 1/2 years ago at 44, I was 42. Next month I will be turning 45 the age he never got to be.

    • Marjorie

      That’s so hard. And I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your husband. Thanks for reading, and I’m glad that my blog can provide a little solace.