Groceries like that delivered to DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley
Family & Friends

A Genuine Offer, Freely Given, With Gladness

Okay, here’s a little secret about widowed parenting (or at least my version of widowed parenting): sometimes I leave my kids home alone.

I try not to. Claire is old enough to watch her brothers, yes, but Tommy is still little and I don’t want to put such a burden on her. That first summer after Shawn died, I actually looked up what the rules were about leaving kids home alone. My dad was gone and I wanted to be able to run around the block or pop out to get some milk without taking all three of them every single time. I was dismayed to learn that they needed to be older before that was allowed. So I (usually) took them everywhere with me that summer, and for a long time after that.

But as the kids got older, I realized I could actually leave them at home without me, as long as it wasn’t for too long. Sometimes I leave them home to do something like go to the pharmacy, and sometimes I just need to get out of the house without three kids in tow. My kids have gotten used to being at home without me for brief periods of time. They know the rules and they can call me if anything comes up.

Then the quarantine happened. I didn’t leave them at all for the first week. I was too worried about everything, and I honestly just wanted to be with them all the time. But eventually I had to go grocery shopping – and I wasn’t about ready to take my kids with me. (Let me just say this: 6-year-olds do not understand the concept of “do not touch your face.”) So I left everyone with a screen, went over the rules with Claire and Austin, and locked the house. “No matter who it is, you never answer the door,” I said as I left – a rule I knew the kids understood, but I like to always reiterate.

The grocery store was insane. I had to wait outside for almost 45 minutes just to get inside and Claire started calling me after I’d been gone for less than an hour. “When are you coming home?” she asked each time.

“Remember, this is going to take longer than usual,” I said, and encouraged her to keep watching tv.

She kept calling. She probably called me a half-dozen times while I was at the grocery store. Each call was a bit more nervous than the previous ones. She was used to being at home for short stints, but it was usually in the early morning hours (when I run) or after school, when lots of kids and families are around. “What am I supposed to do if something goes wrong and I can’t go to the neighbor’s house?” she asked at one point.

I did a pretty crappy job shopping that day. I just wanted to get home.

When I got back, I did some assessing. We could last at least two weeks, I figured, before I needed anything else. In the meantime, whenever a friend texted they were going to the store, I decided I could add on a thing or two to their order, and get by for another week after that.

It worked. I have some lovely friends, and by adding on a gallon of milk or a dozen eggs to their trips to the store, I was able to get through two full weeks. But things were starting to look thin at the end of last week, and I knew I was going to have to head out.

I also knew if I asked, my friends would help me, but it’s hard to ask for an entire grocery cart of food, especially with all the limits on the quantities you can buy of each item. And yes, we have grocery delivery, but I was having a hard time reserving a time slot to deliver the food (apparently it helps to stay up past midnight and get the first slots for the next day, which I hadn’t been doing.) So I resolved to go and get what I could from the store myself. I figured this was just going to be something the kids dealt with during the coronavirus. It could be worse, I reminded myself.

But then I got this email from a woman at my church.

I’ve been thinking of you today and wanted to reach out to see if there is anything I might be able to do to make this damn pandemic a little easier for you. I’ve organized a group of volunteers at church who make grocery runs for parishioners who are having a hard time getting out to the store. Would it ever be helpful to you if you gave me a list and I had a volunteer shop for you and leave items on your stoop?

I read it over twice. “No,” I thought, initially. “I don’t need this. I am not immunocompromised or elderly. I can go to the grocery store and deal with all of this on my own. I don’t need the help like other people might.”

But I didn’t fully believe my rationalization, so I didn’t reply right away. In the back of my mind, I struggled with what to do. I certainly wanted the help…but did I need it? I mean, it’s not like Shawn died last month. I’ve figured out how to do a lot of this on my own.

Throughout the day, I kept thinking about standing in line at the grocery store and answering Claire’s calls. No, I was not in physical danger at the grocery store. I wasn’t more likely to get sick than the average person. And yet – it was really hard on my family for me to leave them for that grocery trip. I thought about Claire’s voice on the calls that day, increasingly nervous and upset.

I sat down and thought it through and eventually reached this conclusion: I did need some help.

It’s hard to accept the fact that I just can’t do it all. That I need someone to come and help me. I could accept help right after Shawn died, mostly because I just didn’t have the capacity to do much of anything. But as the months went on, I took pride in my ability to do the things that were needed for my family.

Now it’s different. Yes, I can go to the grocery store for my family. But maybe I didn’t need to do something that I knew would be quite stressful for my kids. I tentatively wrote the woman from my church back. “What an amazing offer. Actually, I’d love a little help.”

We exchanged a series of emails, and I made sure to note that I didn’t want to take any resources from people who were elderly or had greater need. Through these texts, I hinted that I was a bit embarrassed to accept the help. She wrote back,

This is absolutely what people have signed up for when they offered to help. It is a genuine offer, freely given, with gladness.

I cried when I read the email. I knew I was so lucky to have such an amazing community around me. I knew not everyone in my position could get the help I was getting. I mean, can I be self-sufficient? Yes. But do I also need help right now? Yes. And does it take a little bit of swallowing my pride to admit that? Yes.

The next day, food arrived with a receipt so I could pay back the shopper. But I knew I couldn’t ever really pay anyone back.

And yet – I’m not sure that’s what this time period is all about. To be honest, I’m not sure that’s what life is all about either.

I’m glad I accepted the help. My kids were much calmer last weekend, and I didn’t have to worry about what was happening back home as I waited at the store. Moreover, this act of love connected me to my community even more. When I went to pay back the shopper, I realized I knew who it was. It was a friend, someone who had already texted me weeks ago with an offer to help. I had softly rejected her kindness then, but now here I was, accepting the help.

I texted her a thank you note. “I’m always happy to get extra of anything and drop it by,” she said, and then added, “people did that for me when my kids were really little and getting out was too hard.”

It wasn’t me that helped her back then. But someone did. And she accepted.

Now, it’s my turn.


  • Babette

    Thanks for posting this! My husband is high risk and I am fine. I was hesitant to ask for help but really want to.

    • Marjorie

      Yes, I think asking for help is really hard, but it is vital in life…and especially right now.

  • Sarah

    Marjorie — A few thoughts. It is important to remember — and this is hard for everyone — that one doesn’t have to be in an emergency situation to accept help. I had a friend who fell off a ladder and broke his arm. He was home alone. He felt as though because he wasn’t bleeding or on death’s door, it wasn’t a true emergency, and thus he walked several miles to the hospital (this was in a resort town in the days before Uber). It would have been entirely appropriate for him to call 911, but because he felt that he *could* get himself to the hospital on his own, he *should* get himself to the hospital on his own. I’m sure if there had been a massive fire in the town at the same time, the dispatcher for 911 would have put him as a lower priority. But he should have called 911 rather than suffering through a miserable walk with a severely broken bone. Second of all, I have a friend, who has a health compromised partner, and I call her every time I go to the store these days to ask what she needs . It’s in everybody’s best interest to have fewer people, rather than more people, go to the grocery store. So she is doing me and my family as much of a service by staying home as I am in grabbing her a few groceries. The fewer people that go out, the better, so this is a win-win arrangement. Lastly, one thought I had if you *do* need to go out, is that you could ask a friend to come to your house and read on your front stoop/in your yard while you go to the grocery store or CVS. That way, no one needs to come into your house, but if there is an emergency, your kids know there is a known, trusted adult outside who can help them immediately. Your neighbor/friend will welcome the respite from her/his own household these days, to sit in the sunshine and be by her/himself.

    • Marjorie

      These are really important points – thank you so much for writing them! And yes, I love that idea about someone coming over to sit on my stoop in the sunshine…thank goodness it is springtime!

  • Henry

    I think that, in the face of the coronavirus, most of us feel helpless in one way or another. The feeling of helplessness can take the form of being overwhelmed, but it can also be a sense of uselessness – of inability to do anything helpful. In the latter case, offering your need and accepting help that is freely given with gladness is, in its own way, a gift. This lesson was impressed on me in a rather odd way.

    Some weeks after the death of my wife, Sue, I was walking home from church after dark. I encountered a 13-year-old girl who was lost, bewildered, and a bit frightened (and had no cell phone). As I approached, she asked me which way to go to get to Bethesda. I couldn’t answer because it might have been anything from due West to due North. (As it turned out, she had wandered for over a mile and had no sense of direction.) As we were a block from my house, I suggested she come home with me to call her mother. When her (very relieved) mother arrived, she declared that I was like a guardian angel sent to rescue her daughter, Arabella. I told here that she had it backwards. Arabella was the guardian angel sent to me, because being able to help her had – for the time being – lifted me out of my grief and depression. Kindness works both ways.

    • Marjorie

      Henry, this is a beautiful story! I love it so much, and it shows the power of giving. I am lucky to have been able to do both in my lifetime….and to be able to accept the help now.

  • Nina

    I am 37. 2 kids (9 &6). Lost my husband suddenly at the start of this shutdown. He was with my daughter grabbing some last minute items to prep for the shutdown when the two of them stopped by the playground to sneak in a few minutes of play. He fell. Head trauma. I am a suddenly a widow after 10 years of marriage in the middle of the craziest time in our nation. I cry as I read your blog. Too many emotions. I am certain you understand. Going to groceries is risky. Yet I do it. In fear. I leave them alone and I do it. God forgive me. No income due to the Shutdown. A new business owner to boot with employees I am responsible for. This is by far the most challenging thing I have ever encountered. Will it get better? I cry myself to sleep each day and I wonder… Why? Why now? Why?

    • Marjorie

      I am so terribly sorry to read about the loss of your husband. It’s so awful, always, but even more so right now. You’re in the early days when things are impossible no matter what, and I think you have to go as easy as you can on yourself. As many of my readers will tell you, things do get easier. The grief is always there but the intensity of the pain somehow gets manageable. So maybe you can just hold on to that, for now. I’ll be holding you in my heart.