Sea by Eastport for blog by DC widow writer Marjorie Brimley Hale
New Perspectives

Along the Coastline

The music was loud and the wind whipped through the car as we drove north. Chris and I had dropped our kids at overnight camp in Maine and had a weekend to ourselves. The scenery, especially as we neared the border, was spectacular. We were in Eastport (“Easternmost city in the United States!“) and it seemed that all that was ahead of us was the sea and the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

“Shawn always said Nova Scotia was the most beautiful place in the world,” I said to Chris. “He wanted to take me there. But I can’t imagine it being more beautiful than this.”

“Well, the coastline isn’t really any different,” he replied. “There’s a political border, but it’s the same land.”

I kept staring out the window, thinking of how happy I was there with Chris in such a beautiful place, but also feeling strange that Shawn had come into my thoughts when I was on a romantic getaway. I guess it was because I was finally seeing this coastline that Shawn had talked about all those years ago. I looked at the sea and the fishing boats. This was the beauty he had tried to describe to me. Now I got it.

“Maybe I should write a blog post about this,” I said to Chris. “I don’t know really what about, but something about how I’m seeing the Canadian coastline that Shawn wanted me to see. Maybe something about how I’m seeing it with you, and on the this side of the border, but that there’s still so much that’s the same.”

Chris laughed. “So, is the punchline that basically Shawn and I are two versions of the same person?”

I laughed too. Widows – and especially their new partners – have to have a sense of humor.

Of course, this wasn’t what I meant, and Chris knew that. But as we got out of our car and walked along the jagged shore, I couldn’t help but think again about how different my life was than I had once imagined.

I think this whole “sliding doors” situation is one that plays out in the minds of many widows. I have certainly imagined what my life might have been like if Shawn had lived. In fact, for more than a year, I spent a lot of time thinking about what would have happened if Shawn were still alive – so much so, in fact, that I could picture actual scenes in my head: the parties we would have thrown and the trips we would have taken and the evenings in the backyard with him. I could truly see this other life, the one I’d never live.

Back then, I felt deep sadness when I imagined our life together. As sometimes happens when someone dies, I imagined a life that would have been close-to-perfect.

I imagined that we’d get more free time to spend going out to dinner, and that I’d grow to love going to hockey games with him. I imagined that we’d parent our teenage kids in a very specific ways, always holding the line on the rules we believed in (ha!) And I imagined that one day, we’d go to the coastline of Nova Scotia.

But I couldn’t really know, could I?

Maybe my imagined reality of Shawn would have come true, had he lived. Maybe I would have found a new equilibrium with him once our kids were older, one where we had more time just the two of us. Maybe that would have meant our relationship was different in a way I can imagine or even, in some way, that I can’t fathom. Maybe we would have been the same or maybe we would have been different as a couple, as a family, or in our community.

Maybe we would have been walking along the same coastline that I walked with Chris, just on the other side of the border.

Or maybe not.

It’s something I think about sometimes – albeit a lot less these days, and when I do, it’s more out of curiosity than any other emotion. I don’t want to go back to that life, and I don’t want to live an alternative life to the one I have now. I am happy, as this blog certainly documents. But sometimes, these thoughts pop in my head and I think, “what would my life have been like?”

The answer, of course, is that I don’t know. I can’t know.

The morning we left Eastport, the ocean was breathtaking. I made Chris drive down to the main dock and we stood there and looked out at the foggy view. Afterwards, we walked along the shore and stopped to eat, and the air began to clear. We could see the fishing boats from both countries, each flying their own flags. And eventually, we could see Canada.

“It’s so beautiful,” I said, for the hundredth time. This time, I wasn’t thinking about anything, not really. I just sat there and sipped my coffee and listened to the sounds of the port. The sun felt warm on my skin, and Chris reached out and squeezed my hand.

It was so beautiful.


  • Marie

    I have been following your blog lately as much of it reminds me of my own less than pleasant reality.
    My husband passed on January 25th of this year after an extended illness that began in 2018.
    I was diagnosed with cancer on the same day our daughter was born back in 2012 and after chemo, radiation, and multiple surgeries with some going right and others going horribly wrong by 2017 I was for the most part all glued back together.
    What should’ve been cause for joy was so very short lived as my husband fell ill so soon after.
    For the next few years I watched my husband handle all that life was throwing at him with a very chin up chest out mentality which I admired but I also saw a sadness he carried in his eyes, his struggles with day to day tasks, and eventually his last moments.
    Now, six months after his death, here I am a 42 year old cancer survivor and widowed single mother of two. I have no family left and friends have tired of my ongoing trauma.
    Thank you for this blog… it is the first thing I’ve read that hasn’t made me feel so incredibly alone.

    • M Brimley

      I’m so terribly sorry for your loss, and also for everything that you’ve been through with your own health and your family. It’s just so hard, no matter what, but especially if life circumstances are tough. If it’s helpful at all, I found that I didn’t feel a lot better 6 months after Shawn’s death. I wanted to feel better, but that time period was really rough for me. Things started looking up after a bit more time had passed, as I hope it does for you, too. Hang in there. I’m pulling for you.