DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimely writes by fire


Today is my birthday. It’s also the 3-year anniversary of my first blog post, “My 39th birthday…” Over the past few months, I’ve started to re-read many of these old blog posts, and sometimes I am downright shocked at the degree of openness I put out there, right in the beginning. So as I thought about my birthday this year, I decided to re-read this part of that post from three years ago:

Here’s the thing – it’s not that I feel insecure in the same way I did at age 21, worried about how my hair looked or whether I was wearing the right jeans or drinking the right beer. Those sorts of silly issues faded just by mere fact of growing older. It’s that when I was with him, I felt so secure in who I was.  I felt so secure that he loved me. I felt so secure that we were a thing – Shawn and Marjorie, Marjorie and Shawn. I felt so secure in who I was as a person, as a partner.

Now, I don’t feel that. Instead, I feel quite insecure, which is honestly a feeling I can’t say I’ve had often in my adult life.

I’ve heard that people who lose an arm or a leg are often left feeling phantom limbs where none remains. In many ways, that’s how I feel now. It’s like this part of me is gone. I don’t mean it’s like a part of Shawn is gone – I know he’s not here. What I mean is that part of what made me who I am – happy-go-lucky and confident – that part has been replaced by something else that makes me more nervous and less sure about myself. And a lot more anxious.

I know things will get better, or at least that’s what I’ve been told a thousand times. I know part of the reason they will get better is because I have wonderful friends around me, many of whom cried alongside me at that dinner table. I know my kids will get older and write me cards on my birthday that I don’t have to ask them to write. I know I will regain some of that security as I find my footing in this new world of mine. But we will not be Shawn and Marjorie, Marjorie and Shawn. That person is forever frozen at age 38, singing karaoke with her head thrown back and her husband holding her hand.

God, I remember writing that. It was painful. I couldn’t even really think about the future or anything other than losing Shawn.

But what I really see in that post is how much my identity and my sense of self worth was tied up in my marriage. I didn’t feel like myself in those early days of grief, and moreover, I didn’t feel like I knew who I was without Shawn by my side.

Let me be clear here – we did not have a co-dependent relationship. I did plenty of things on my own, and I had my own life, separate from him. But I still felt so lost without him.

I mean, of course I did! He had just died. I had just become a widow. I felt like I was constantly underwater, and really, I was still at least partially in shock.

I could see that things would get better someday. I could understand, at least intellectually, that my kids would get bigger and that some of the daily parts of my life would get easier. I just couldn’t imagine that I’d ever find the kind of security in my identity again, without Shawn.

For a long time, there was a big part of me that thought I’d find that security in another man. (I know! I’m an empowered woman living in the 21st century, and yet I felt that way. I’m not proud of it, but since I am honest on this blog, there it is.) I thought if I found a new love story, it could give me the same security I once had.

But slowly – very, very slowly – I began to realize that I was going to have to find my footing and my sense of self without relying on anyone else. I’m sure there are plenty of women who do this without losing a partner, but for me, it took Shawn’s death to force me to figure out who I was going to be in this world. I don’t mean that my core personality changed. I’m still pretty happy-go-lucky and decently confident. I mean that I was forced to find some peace with who I was, separate from anyone else.

I’m not saying this was smooth or that I am now a fully confident woman independent from all other humans in this world. That’s just not true. I am proud of the relationships I kept and those that I built, and damn I’m so in love with Chris.

But I am different than I was three years ago. Yes, I’ve got a lot less anxiety and I feel a sense of security about who I am. And yes, I feel secure with Chris, but I don’t feel secure because of Chris. I had to get to a point where I didn’t need anyone to rescue me before I could embark on a truly deep relationship like the one I have with Chris. Also, to be clear, I certainly have moments of insecurity in many areas of my life (parenting, teaching, writing, etc.) so I’m not immune to feeling insecure. It’s just not often the way I feel anymore.

I am grateful that I’m celebrating my 42nd birthday, and I’ll feel grateful every year that I get to live on this planet. Maybe that’s where the security comes from now: from the understanding that life can be unpredictable, but that even thrown a horrible circumstance, I will be able to get back up, and stand on two feet.


  • Brandi

    Beautifully said! Happy Birthday!❤ I feel like I am finally at this place too, 2 years in, and although the struggle of missing my husband is still there, I am confident in myself and my decisions to move forward in life with my daughters, however that may look! Thank you for your vulnerability! It truly has been an inspiration to me! ❤

    • M Brimley

      I’m so glad to hear this. I hate the phrase “it’s a journey” but….it kinda is. Thanks for your sweet note.

  • Alissa

    I just love your blog so much. The timing and how of our losses and ages is similar (you are a little over a year ahead of me, but my husband died fairly quickly after an out of the blue GI cancer diagnosis). I remember finding your blog when my husband was in hospice and reading it from the beginning. I’ve kept up with it since. It’s just been a helpful experience reading it these past 2+ years as we have hit some Widow Milestones (is that a thing, because it should be ) at a similar time and your older kids are similar to mine in age. Seeing (reading) you move through some of this grief ahead of me and going through some things before I do has given me hope and perseverance.

    Your writing has meant a lot to me these past years. I’m glad you did it, I’m glad you put it all out there. There are people like me who needed to read it too.

    Thank you.

  • Cantor/Chaplain Michael J Zoosman

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful post, Marjorie. A happy belated birthday to you. May this journey around the sun be a better one for you and for all of us in this world.


    P.S. Just signed up to do my part for the 5K for colorectal cancer once again this year, in honor of Shawn!


    Thank you for all of your posts. I just reached the one year anniversary and have found myself suddenly hitting a wall of anxiety and sadness. It’s as you put it in your one year post: this is my life now. And so reading your recent posts, like this one, give me hope. I met my husband young as well, and while there is nothing I would change about that, suddenly “missing a limb” you have to change how you live. It’s thrust upon you whether you want it or not, whether you like it or not; and to top it off, the external evidence (to the rest of the world) is nil. They can’t see the gaping wound that is still trying to heal. Nor do we always have what my friend wisely called the “luxury of time to process in the moment,” particularly as I also have three young children.

    I’m praying that I can come out of this funk and know how to be strong on my own two feet, and function on my own. I agree that it is tempting to want to find someone else to help provide that sense of security again – and one day, I hope to have another beautiful, loving relationship. But, as you said, to really find that means that first, we must find ourselves. That is the harder part – the part I now struggle with – but I’m grateful for your example and that of others around me to help me see it can be done!

    • M Brimley

      It’s so hard. Living in the in-between space, when you’re trying to get your footing all alone….well, that’s HARD. I think acknowledging that it’s hard can help in getting through it. Hang in there!