DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley types fills out form
Things That Suck

Emergency Contact

So I’m in the middle of filling out camp forms for my kids.  Yes, I know that in the rest of the country, you all sign up for summer camp in April or May.  But this is DC, so our camps are all filled with the children of Type-A+ personalities, which means that camp registration for August begins in January.

My kids are going to one camp at a place that they’ve frequented for many years.  For that camp, my information is saved in their computer system.  As I got to the contact sheets, I noticed that Shawn’s name was still filled in under “Emergency contact sheet: Parent 2.”

I tried to erase it, but found it impossible.  I couldn’t delete his name or his phone number.  I mean, I guess he’s still their father, so that part wasn’t wrong exactly, but what if they tried to call him?  That number belongs to someone else now.

I’ve written a bit about forms in the past, but this camp form made me think about all the times I’ve put Shawn’s name on a form.  Spouse?  Parent 2?  Other adults at this address?  I’m constantly asked for another person’s information when I’m filling out almost any form. And there is one place where I’m asked to put a name that always gives me pause, more than any other: Emergency contact.

The “emergency contact” box was the hardest thing to start changing when Shawn died.  When I was a child and young adult, my father was always my emergency contact.  But once I met Shawn, it was his name that I put in that box, even before we were married.  During my 20s and 30s, I knew that if something happened, Shawn would get a call.

I had a few emergencies over two decades, but I don’t think there was ever one when I needed Shawn to be called by someone else.  Still, it was reassuring to know who to put in that box every time.  If there was an emergency, Shawn would be there.  Shawn would get called.  Shawn would have my back.

I know this is a big issue for a lot of widows.  It’s something you have to face almost immediately after being widowed, because let me tell you, if the funeral doesn’t emotionally destroy you, the paperwork will.  (Kidding. Sort of.)  Facing that initial form, the first one that asked for my emergency contact who was now totally unable to answer the phone, well, it caused me to totally break down.

What should I put?  I thought about this a lot.  My dad?  Was he too old for that?  My friends?  Which ones?  And did I need to memorize their phone numbers if I was going to be writing them on so many forms?  (Like many of you, I only know a few numbers by heart – Shawn’s, my dad’s, and about 25 home phone numbers belonging to my friends from high school.  I do not know any of my DC friends’ numbers.  Zero.)

But I digress.  The key to this post is to point out how difficult it can be to figure out who to put as your backup when your backup is dead.  Do you pick a parent or a friend?  Do you choose a sibling who lives far away?  At what point do you start putting one of your children on that form?

There’s no easy answer to this, of course.  But if you’ve got a good friend who might have a hard time figuring out what to put in the “emergency contact” part of a form, it may be nice to let him or her know that you are happy to have your name there.

For now, I just hope that no one tries to call Shawn if Austin gets homesick at camp.


  • Melissa

    This happened to me for the first time during a routine doctor visit. They had just started to get my blood pressure when the nurse asked if my husband was still my emergency contact. My blood pressure shot way up and I felt nauseated. It took me a while to explain my reaction. Thanks for writing about this topic.

  • Susan Lynch

    I too recall the first time listing someone other than my deceased husband as an emergency contact. It was so emotional.

    • Marjorie

      I didn’t quite know how to capture it, but it’s not just the big things that are terrible. It’s also the seemingly little things.

  • Carmelita

    Yes- who to pick as your backup when you’re backup is dead . That pretty much says it all, you know? Because there is no back up now, for anything, for everything. I mean you do find people to help with this and that, for particular situations. But basically, it’s on you.
    You don’t realize how much your spouse did for you until they aren’t there. Wow. Thanks, guys. Wherever you are. Thanks for what you did.

  • Colin Lamb

    Thanks for this post Marjorie. Timely for me.
    I just filled out my daughter’s kindergarten registration form. In there I had to fill out the parent names and emergency contacts. I live in a small town so I imagine word of mouth will inform the kindergarten teacher about our recent loss before I have to. Even so, I was impressed that the questionnaire in the packet had a question inquiring about any recent losses the child has experienced. I’m sure pets and elderly relatives are the common responses. Reading about a new kindergartener’s recently deceased mother will be hard for the teacher. Writing it down on the form was HARD for me too.