DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley plays with son while sitting in a chair at park
Things That Suck

Breaking Point

Monday was a beautiful day here in Washington, and after a very frustrating session of trying to help Tommy read, I decided that we should spend a little time laying in the hammock. I got in and he sat in my lap. Then he laid his head on my stomach and we swung back and forth and I thought, “this is a bit of perfection.” Austin snapped a photo and when he showed it to me, I thought it was so cute that I sent it to a friend.

My friend texted me back something sweet, but then added, “did you see the stay-at-home order?”

I immediately went to my news feed. The entire DC region was shutting down and I had a little over 24 hours before I’d be (almost completely) confined to my house with the kids.

I wish I could say that I took this in stride, that I kept swinging in the hammock and enjoying my children and the beautiful day. But I didn’t. Instead, I broke.

I mean, I had a tears-streaming-down-my-face breaking point. It wasn’t like there was anything big that was really going to change in my day-to-day life – I already wasn’t really leaving my house much. But the order meant that the quarantine and the virus were going to last a lot, lot longer than I had previously planned.

I felt a bit silly, even as I was breaking. I knew I was lucky to have enough food in my house and three healthy kids. I knew I was lucky that my father was safely apart from us. I knew I was lucky to live in a city that was taking the virus seriously. I knew I was lucky to be healthy myself. I knew it could have been a lot worse.

But I still thought, “I cannot take this any longer.”

And in that moment, I was reminded of my breaking point almost two years ago.

Four months after Shawn died, I sat at the kitchen counter after my dad and the kids had gone to bed. I was writing, trying to process the day and my emotional state, which was not good. I wrote with tears streaming down my face, feeling more alone than I’d felt maybe ever in my life. It wrote and I wrote and I wrote. I ended up with something that never ended up on the blog, but remains one of my truest pieces of grief writing I’ve ever done.

“I cannot take this anymore,” I wrote. Because I couldn’t. I wrote about how I didn’t feel like I could get out of bed and how I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to go on. I wrote about a grief that was so deep and real that it had become all-consuming.

I’m not saying I was suicidal. I wasn’t. (And, because I am very aware that a reader could feel this way, I’m going to leave the The National Suicide Prevention Hotline number here: 1-800-273-8255.) But even if I wasn’t at that point, I did feel a level of desperation about my situation that seemed impossible to handle. It was just too much.

I’m not saying my current emotions about the coronavirus are the same as the ones I felt back in the initial months after Shawn died. They aren’t. But there’s an odd similarity to that time period that I’ve felt more than once over the past few weeks. My anxiety is heightened and my ability to handle basic setbacks is greatly reduced. I feel like I’m living moment-to-moment, on a tightrope that could snap at any second.

It all feels very precarious.

So when I got the news that we were about to head into a series of weeks (and potentially months) of quarantine, I felt like I simply couldn’t handle it. I cried a whole lot, and I couldn’t hide it. My kids immediately started worrying when they saw me crying. “Do you miss Daddy?” Claire asked.

“I do,” I said, though that wasn’t really why I was crying. I was crying, I think, because it was just recently that I had finally felt like things were changing. I had finally started to feel like I got my feet under me. I was finally feeling some real hope about the future. I was finally feeling like myself.

And then this.

So, yes, it can all feel pretty impossible sometimes, though now that we’ve really been in quarantine for a few days, I’m doing better than I expected. And I guess if there’s a bright spot, it’s that I know that things change. I got through the 4-month mark after Shawn died, and I will get through this. Things don’t always get better right away (I mean, things will arguably first get worse with the coronavirus) but they will change. I will play with Tommy at the park again and I will see the other adults I know and love. I will return to the classroom. I will swing on a hammock with someone I love without crying.

This is not forever. Nothing is. Even if it feels like it right now.

Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.


  • Melissa

    Yes, it is definitely at times like these that I miss my husband acutely. I’m over 70 so I’ve been staying away from people (family included, unfortunately) since the second week in March.

    Last week my daughter phoned me at 11:00 pm to tell me my 19 year-old grandson had had a seizure and fell while taking a shower. He had never had a seizure before now. They were at the hospital but only my son-in-law was able to go in with him due to the coronavirus restrictions they have in place now. She and my granddaughter had to wait outside in the car. It was so hard for them and for me to anxiously wait for word on his condition. Finally, around 2:30 am, she called and said the CT scan was normal and they were home again. My grandson was put on anti-seizure meds. and saw a neurologist this Wednesday. The consensus right now is, since he’s on the autism spectrum and his anxiety meds. were too low, the stress of doing online school work plus just the stress of everything going on may have been enough to trigger the seizure. There will be further tests like an MRI possibly next week.

    I feel frustrated because I can’t be with them or help them out in any meaningful way. The only positive thing I can do right now is to stay healthy so I’m not an additional worry for them on top of everything else they’ve got going on. My husband was always the pragmatic one (much like your dad) and it’s been really hard to deal with all of this without him.

    • Marjorie

      Oh, I’m so terribly sorry to hear about your grandson’s illness – what a horrible stress on your family. I think it’s so hard to know what to do for our families right now, besides what we’ve always done – listen and love.

  • Michael Zoosman

    Indeed, this, too, shall pass…or Passover, as my tribe might put it.

    May you and all readers of this blog and your families be safe and healthy!


    “Love is as strong as death.” (Song of Songs 8:6)

  • Sharon

    Grief is never linear, is it? Wishing you strength and warmth and sympathy.

    It’s hard to believe in the midst of all the destruction that spring is here, nonetheless. But there it is, blooming right outside my window.

    • Marjorie

      I think about this EVERY DAY. My flowering tree in my backyard is more gorgeous than it’s ever been. Hope is out there, for sure.

  • Kate

    I can relate to everything that you wrote. I, too, had my first ever complete breakdown last Monday. I started feeling that familiar chest pressure and nauseous feeling early in the afternoon and then it only got worse by the hour. I didn’t sleep the entire night and I just cried and cried. I felt overwhelmed with work, taking care of everyone at home, being far away from my family and desperately missing my husband. I better now, but it took some serious changes to my day and realizing that I simply cannot control my environment and the things happening all around me. This is a very difficult realization for a ‘planner’s like me. One day at the time, Marjorie. We will all get through this and we will pick ourselves up once again and rebuild life. One day at the time….

    • Marjorie

      I’m so sorry that you’ve had a hard week too – last week was HARD. I knew a lot of people who reached their breaking points! Hang in there. It’s all we can do at this point!