DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley hugs her three children
New Perspectives

I Am Doing Today

Last week was brutal.

And there was no warning.

In fact, I thought that with my birthday, things would be great. I LOVE my birthday. But it somehow set off something in me that sent me on a downward spiral. Maybe it was the realization that I was entering a new decade, and I was doing it without Shawn. Maybe it was being overwhelmed with the many demands of childcare and work that somehow really piled up at that moment. Maybe it was the fact that late at night, I started to feel really, really lonely.

Regardless, I hit a bottom like I haven’t hit in a number of months. I guess that’s to be expected sometimes, but it’s never easy. Here’s an excerpt from a text I sent a couple of friends from deep in that moment:

I’m not doing well. Low point here. Nothing to be done, really, but I wanted someone to know. It’s turning 40, I guess, but it’s also knowing that no matter how much I am trying to make my situation palatable, it still sucks. I may write something really good and raise these three awesome kids, but no one will ever adore me like Shawn. I hate my life. I love my kids and I have happy moments but everything else sucks. I’d trade with any of you in a heartbeat.

Of course, my friends worried about me after that text. Every reply was a hopeful and encouraging one….but they helped very little, to be honest.

Because, really, they don’t get it. Thank GOD they don’t get it. But they don’t.

My friend Kelly (who’s a therapist) may have had the best response. In addition to reminding me that nothing is permanent (which I’m still having a hard time believing) she also reminded me of this: “We can’t predict the future. It’s one thing to live your life day to day and it’s entirely another (and harder) enterprise to live your life AND ALL THE REST OF YOUR LIFE in one day believing you will live THIS sucky (to use your word) life forever.”

She wrote more ideas about how I might try and reframe my mindset. And then, at the end, she wrote this:

There’s one more thing I want you to think about:

Who do you want to be?

I stopped and stared at that text for a long time.

She continued:

Who do you want to be without Shawn? I know you don’t want to be without Shawn and yet….you are without Shawn. So from that place: who do you want to be?

She reiterated that she was talking about values – being kind, honest, or funny. But that question was really hard for me to look at for a few days.

Who do you want to be?

Initially, I just cried whenever I’d look at the text. “I don’t know!” I actually said out loud, and then texted her the same thing. Of course, she said I didn’t need to know at that moment. But she told me that it was a good thing to start pondering.

(This is why it’s really helpful to have a best friend who is also a therapist. Especially because my own therapist does not take my new health insurance, so as of January I am therapist-less. Yes, I’m trying to find a new one, but that’s easier said than done. I run instead. It’s not the same as therapy, but I do always feel more centered afterwards. The worse I feel, the more I run. I’m in great shape right now. I could probably run a half marathon. Read into that what you will.)

Anyway, I thought about what Kelly said for a few terrible days. I was so down that I couldn’t even really pull it together at work and I was crawling into bed in the early evening in order to shut out the world with some Netflix and my noise-cancelling headphones.

But I couldn’t avoid everyone, and Wednesday I had to attend an event for Shawn. I wrote a little about this on my Facebook page, but to summarize, there was a ceremony at the congressional office of Elissa Slotkin and I took all three of my kids down there for it. She’s an old friend of mine who recently won a house seat in Michigan, and she told me a few weeks ago that she wanted to set up a fellowship in Shawn’s name. The award went to one of my former students who now works for Elissa, and it was a huge honor.

It was also exhausting. Toting three kids down and back on the metro, standing in 3-inch heels all night, chatting with lots of people I don’t know well and listening to amazing stories of Shawn is all wonderful but wow, it was a lot. At one point, I told a few friends there how down I’d felt over the past few days. “Can you take a day off?” one of them asked.

I wasn’t sure I could. I thought about it that night as I collapsed into bed.

The next morning started way too early, but I knew that I needed to run or else I was going to feel terrible. Still, it felt really early to be in my basement garage running faster than my legs could really handle at 5 am.

Then I did what parents do everywhere and got my kids ready for school, while reading about the current politics of the day so I could be ready for my classes. I ran out the door after I kissed my kids goodbye and I got myself to school almost an hour before my classes started. I knew there was so much work to be done.

But I took a few minutes in the parking garage of my school, turned up the music really loud, and sat with my eyes closed in my car. “You can do this,” I said out loud.

God, I thought, I had actually done a lot in the past 24 hours. For a second – really just a passing second – I felt proud of the daily victories of my life. I thought about Kelly’s question: Who do you want to be?

And for once, I had an answer: A survivor.

So I sent this text to my friends from the parking lot:

Well, I know one thing I am lately: a fucking lesson in perseverance. Took the metro down and back to Capitol Hill at rush hour yesterday, spoke to untold numbers of people at the event for Shawn, got my kids home at 10:30 at night and managed to not only get them all in bed for the latest bedtime ever but I also got them up this morning and dressed and ready to go after I finished an early morning run. And now I’m going to go and teach all my classes about Russian politics. I’m so close to breaking. But I’m still fucking DOING today and that gives me some measure of faith in myself.

I read the text to my friend Julie at work. “I’m still fucking doing today!” she said, smiling. “We should get that etched on a plaque and pass it around the department to whomever needs it on a particular day.”

I laughed. But I think this might be my new mantra. And maybe my new vantage point.

I’m not 100% sure who I am in every aspect of my life, but I know this: I am a survivor.

I know this for a few reasons, but mostly for this one:

I’m fucking DOING today.


  • Jess

    I can so relate to this and so many of your posts. I lost my husband this past August. He was 38 years old. We have 2 boys, 7 & 10 years old who are also into many, many activities. Our community has been amazing. But, I would give anything to have our old life back. You are doing such a great job.

    • Marjorie

      I mean, it’s a DAILY struggle just to make it through the day, but certainly some days are easier than others. I do love my community. I am lucky like that. But I’d give back all the gained community just to have Shawn back, just as you would too.

  • Melanie

    I get what you are saying and feeling. I get it all. As for the question, “Who do you want to be?”, one thing is sure for me. I am sick of that word “widow.” It does not define me and no one will label me as such anymore because I’m sick of it. I am me, and I am gradually getting myself back and starting to pursue the interests I had before 2014 and thinking about the goals I had for my future before he died. I’ve integrated this loss into my sense of self and it’s responsible for the strength I’ve gained over these years, but it cannot, does not and will not dictate the whole sum of my being. It might be part of *what* I am, but it is not *who* I am. Survivor….so much better than “widow”. But “Marjorie”, a new, a different Marjorie, is who you will be.

    • Marjorie

      I get that. I do also want to think about reframing the word “widow” to mean not just a poor, lost woman, but rather a survivor. Because isn’t that what widows usually are? I’m sure there are widows out there who aren’t really survivors, but I have yet to meet one. I am constantly amazed at what widows put up with each day and how we all survive.

  • Tammy Silverthorne

    Me too, girl. Widowed mom of 3 here, major responsibilities at a nonprofit, every situation feels dire. But I’ve also learned to manage myself since my husband passed in Feb 2018 (and was incapacitated for 11 years beforehand). Tonight, that means listening with a new pair of airpods. If I don’t take care of me, no one else will

    • Marjorie

      Exactly. It took a while to know what “taking care of myself” really meant, and to be honest, I’m still figuring it out. But yes – we have to figure out how to manage ourselves because, well, there’s no one else to do it.

  • Kate

    I relate to everything you said and I’m glad that you posted this. I sort of hit bottom this weekend as well, but here I am standing up again. I’m fucking DOING today as well and I try to DO it every day as best as I can. I’m glad that you have support and people to reach out to. I don’t have any of this except strangers on the internet. But, at least it is something, right? I thought about who I want to be without my husband. I was part of him, part of us for almost 30 years. And now? Who am I? What am I supposed to do and where am I supposed to go? There is little time to think about all that right now while still raising children and balancing a career. The thought overwhelms me and when it pops up, I try to think of something else. Not right now. I’m not ready for these thoughts because I’m fucking DOING today.

    I’m a survivor, too.

    • Marjorie

      Seriously, this is why I continue to write this blog – for comments like this. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking and everything I feel….I’m so glad you are reading my stuff. Thank you. And thanks for sharing.

  • Jane

    This is exactly how I have felt for the last day or so. My 46yr old husband died of cancer at Xmas. Like you I run through the motions of the day, get the kids to school, go to work, make tea, do the kids clubs but it the nights that are so long. I’m so cross about making a new future because we had a perfectly good future already and all this is just shit!!!

    • Marjorie

      This week in particular feels like I’m just going through the motions. I thought it would be better in year 2 but sometimes it’s still the same as it was a year ago. It’s tough!

  • Jen

    I needed to read this post today, I truly did. Next month is the one year anniversary of my husbands death and the last couple of days Ive been feeling this; I want to say I feel “something” looming, sliding back in to my days I’ve been dealing with lately. Because about the last month I’ve been able to get through a day with sanity intact, productive, kids happy, not a roller coaster of 100 different feelings and emotions. Not feeling like I’m being skinned alive 24/7 . When March 1st hit it triggered something in my brain “next month is one year next month is a year”. It’s like a mantra that’s constantly on a loop in my mind. So lately I’ve been on the 5 minute plan. Just get through the next 5 minutes, like I did the majority of last year. I know we’ll be ok, we will.Right now it just really sucks. That’s ok too. As long as we get through we are ok. We have been through worse, though different, though grieving has no rules and does not play fair.
    I am so grateful for this blog, though very sorry for why it’s in being. I tried bereavement groups and a couple therapy sessions. Even though we were all there because of the loss of the loved one I still couldn’t relate. I read your words and many of them are the exact same things I’ve thought or said and I don’t feel quite so alone. Truly, thank you.

    • Marjorie

      Oh, thank you so much for writing this. It makes me feel like there’s a point to all of my suffering and to the sharing that I do here. I’m glad it means something to read my stuff. I get a lot of therapy out of writing it, oddly, so I’m lucky to have people who read it. I like the 5 minute plan. I’m going to start thinking about utilizing it.

  • Amy

    My husband passed away August 13th of last year.
    He had a stroke at the age of 46. The stroke itself isn’t what took him from me and our kids. It was when they removed the drain from his head. Either the doctor hit a blood vessel or a blood vessel had attached itself to the drain. I have relived that moment in my mind countless times.
    I woke up to his monitor going off and looked over at him. He looked so peaceful. Another monitor went off. His room was flooded with nurses and doctors. They said that he would go to surgery be he had a brain bleed. Then the doctor returned only to tell me there was nothing that could be done because the neurosurgeon was already in a case. I got two more days with him because we donated his organs. The first few months seemed to be shock because come December, I started to spiral out of control. Grief hit so incredibly hard bringing with it depression and anxiety. I’ve lost myself along the way. But I am fighting like I’ve never fought before to make it another day. Between seeing a therapist and doing EMDR therapy I’m also on my second week of TMS therapy. I’m turning 36 in a few weeks and the thought of not sharing it with him…not being able to share anything with him ever again.. it’s just too much to comprehend at times, but like you and everyone else, I’m fucking doing today. It might not be pretty, but I keep fighting.

    Thank you for sharing your life with us.

    • Marjorie

      I got a lot out of EMDR. It’s SO strange, but it helped me a lot (and I wrote a blog post about it: https://dcwidow.com/emdr/). And anxiety! That’s my number one problem still. It can all feel so impossible, but yes, keep fighting. That’s all we can do!!

  • LL

    My boyfriend killed himself almost 4 months ago. I was doing better, but my 38th birthday is in two days and what would have been his 37th birthday is 8 days after that. We always took this week off to visit our friends and family. I know it’s not my fault, but I’ve been going through old emails and pictures and it’s just hard to look back and realize how alone he must have felt to have pulled the trigger. Depression, anxiety and alcoholism are a lethal combo. I miss him terribly. Thank you for this blog, so I know that one can cope and take each day as it comes.

    • Marjorie

      IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. I know (really I know) the guilt that comes with suicide is real (I’ve written just a little about my mom’s suicide.) And yes, it is terrible to go through old photos and think about the mental state that your boyfriend must have been in. 4 months out was my lowest time, so be gentle with yourself. Sending hugs.