Image of woman like DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley sitting on table
Things That Suck

Happiness Is For Other People

“I need space,” he said.

“I need to see you,” you replied.

“I need time,” he said.

“I need to see you,” you replied again.

He pulled. You pushed. It became clear that it was ending and yet you held on to the hope that it was not.

“Please don’t let this fall apart,” you thought. Maybe you even said it out loud.

But it was over. That brief affair, the one that had helped you through the darkest days of winter, was fading as the spring approached.

And you were heartbroken.

Your friends tried to console you. “You will find love again,” they said.

But they didn’t know. They didn’t know what it felt like to try again after tragic loss. They didn’t know the bravery it took to look into someone else’s eyes and say, “I will let you in, at least a little.” They didn’t know what it feels like to be so terribly alone and then to get a tiny reprieve from that horror….only to have it taken away.

“This man will not hurt me,” you had thought. He had kind eyes and a great laugh and steady hands. He would not play games with you.

And he didn’t. He was honest and he was good. But that was part of the problem.

You thought, maybe, that he was falling for you and that, maybe, you were falling for him. It didn’t feel like love – not yet – but you could imagine that possibility someday. The hope existed, anyway.

But it only existed for you.

And because of that, he hurt you.

The heartbreak was not like losing the love of your life. You’d done that before and you knew it was not at all the same. But it had been a risk – a big one – to open up your heart again. The crush that you felt after it was over was much, much worse than you had expected.

How could you let yourself be vulnerable again? How could you let your heart – the one that’s still so wounded – be available like that? What were you thinking?

You were thinking that you could be happy again.

You weren’t thinking about getting remarried or having a whole other life. You weren’t getting caught up in fairy-tale dreams. But you were thinking that happiness might be in your life again, in some other form than it once had been, in some other way than you had imagined years ago.

But you don’t get happiness, at least not right now.

Because happiness is for other people.


    • Marjorie

      I know. It’s not exactly uplifting. But, if it’s any consolation, I feel better today. More whole.

  • Cathy

    Thanks, as always, for your honest writing.
    Sending love, hugs, and chocolate….
    Your fellow widow of the Northwest Indiana kind.

  • Pam

    I certainly can relate to this. I’m not sure which is worse the fear of being alone or of letting someone else close to you again. I think love is possible again, but I do think it will be different than the one you shared with the father of your children and that in itself seems a little bit lonely.

    • Marjorie

      Oh, yes, that is so true. It’s one of the reasons I can’t really imagine getting re-married. But maybe, maybe, I can do this dating thing.

  • Marlene Manto

    You are very brave. At this stage on my grieving journey I can’t imagine being with another man because every one I meet is always compared with the husband I lost. I think that means I’m not ready. And if that time comes….well….I’d be terrified of going through what you have described so well. Not ready for that pain.

    • Marjorie

      If it’s any consolation, I don’t think it will always be like this. But I think I had to go through this kind of heartbreak for my first relationship after Shawn – it was just likely to turn out this way. I was sad it ended like it did, but I think (now, in retrospect) it made me stronger.

  • Jeff Tayloe MS Ed. NBCT, NC LPC (retired)

    I had a patient tell me one time that she knew she was not ready for an intimate relationship if she woke up the next day thinking about her deceased husband. I think she wanted me to give her direction in a passive aggressive sort of way. I said, “ tell me more about when you wake up,”

    She talked about how her children ( teens) reminded her of her late husband. How she could still smell her husband in her home ( in a good way!), how she accepted his death but had not accepted life without him. In time, she found love again, we met monthly for check ups for a few years to move towards accepting life without him.

    One experience but not necessarily your reality. Keep moving forward.

    • Marjorie

      This is beautiful. Kelly (my friend who’s a therapist) often uses the phrase “tell me more” and it’s been so helpful to get this type of re-frame on an issue.

      • Amy

        I just happened upon your site today and just also “broke up” with the first relationship I had after my husband’s passing..he’s been gone almost three years. The waves of grief last week were if I was channeling all the grief from my husband’s passing into this break up too…to make myself so vulnerable and end up with someone who was so needy who needed me to prop him up! I’ve retreated and decided that there are lessons here and time by myself yet again and just with my kids will help me gain clarity

        • Marjorie

          Yes – as I said many times to my dear friends Kelly and Paige after this breakup: I know I’m not actually this sad about the breakup. I’m sad about losing Shawn and the breakup REMINDS me of all that I lost. It’s like the breakup re-triggered all of those emotions from the previous year. Hang in there. It’s such a hard time.

  • Marci

    It’s a terrifying tug of war to meet someone new. Who are you loyal to? Is it too soon? Do you deserve to be happy when he can never have that again because he’s dead? Then there are the comparisons, the expectations that you never realized you had of a partner, the emotional highs and devastating lows. But the reality is, you are still alive and YOU aren’t dead. You deserve to be happy, hopeful, satisfied… really, you do. So this one wasn’t the forever kind of guy. Thank you, next! You are alive and you DO deserve to live that life as more than a grieving widow and mother. Don’t be scared, just keep going out there….

    • Marjorie

      That’s the plan! I think, at least, I’m blessed to have been loved so completely by Shawn that I know what real love can look like and feel like. And I know Shawn would want that for me again.

  • JustDad

    As I look back on my unsuccessful first attempt at dating from the widowsphere, I’m actually sort of glad (now) that it threw me some curves along the way. I may still not be able to hit them as they hurtle toward me, but at least I can recognize them when I see them. I’m not scared of trying again, and I’m smarter. You sure don’t seem scared, so you’re undoubtedly smarter. Live, learn, repeat. What else is there?

    • Marjorie

      Love this – “live, learn, repeat. What else is there?”

      That’s the best we all can do. I’m not ready to stop trying.

  • Henry

    It takes courage even to contemplate how to move forward, much less to take the risk of actually trying to do so. You are indeed very brave.

  • ABP

    Who’s interested in an a 60 something widower? I am not ready for happiness. I feel like there is a lot more grief to go. She passed last Nov after eight difficult years fighting the cancer. After being married for 35 years I am a complete stranger to the idea of someone else. After the cancer, happiness is episodic, certainly something ephemeral, very elusive…life seems to have a dusky hue, not bright like it used to be…perhaps, at best the thin golden light of late fall…beautiful but waning. Godspeed.

    • Marjorie

      I get that. I think everyone needs to get through a certain amount of the grief before even entertaining the idea of dating. It’s daunting! And somedays I don’t feel ready….so I don’t engage with men. Other days, I’m ready. I am trying to think of it not as a linear path, but more as something I can try at the moments when it feels right.

  • Carmelita

    I finally had to realize that this was not like the last time I was single and in my twenties. This is a whole new phase. In my case, I have gone through thirty years of marriage, I have a disabled daughter, and I am in my almost seventy years.
    It can’t ever be exactly the same as that first falling in love. I’m different There is as ABP put it: a lot more grief to go”. And it can actually be at moments better or even amazing. No choice here: I gotta embrace it or stagger through it! And find out what’s here for me now.

    • Marjorie

      Oh, for REAL. I met Shawn when I was 22. At 40, everyone I might date has some sort of story, usually one tinged with regret or pain (or both.) But that is the reality of the world, I guess. Good luck to you.

  • ABP

    working through her closets…new clothes for her and our daughter…outdoor things…scads of brand new healthcare stuff…and enough pills for an apothecary…all to hold on to life…she’s here, her scent …I so love her…what we were…where did it go? Why did it go? Why did she have to suffer so greatly?

    • Marjorie

      There is never an answer for this. It is only the answer that my dad gives: life is unfair. But sometimes it seems so desperately unfair.

  • ABP

    …second closet today…loaded it in the back seat…her nice things…like it’s just a bunch of stuff for the goodwill. I trust someone can use her things. It’s hard to let go. My cousin offered to do it for me but I said no, I felt I needed to do it myself. Had her Memorial last week. I talked to her in the presence of 70 or so family and friends. I told her that I love her, that she was the greatest blessing of my life and that I will always love her….her pictures, so young and beautiful. Life on the outside seems normal but life inside is a gauzy unreality…I try to reconcile everything to the loss of her and face the jarring reality that the world goes on…and I want her back…blessed with so many years that I took for granted, not ever considering that they would end..just one step, just one task, just one day at a time. Music helps, reading helps, writing helps. I hope I can help others at some point.

  • ABP

    Life so full
    Slowly atrophies
    To age without you.
    Soft love return – life, roundness.
    Jagged elbows of youth
    Hurt those we love along the way.
    Into wisdom without those we long to bring?

  • ABP

    Self Portrait…

    Vain to write
    Shallow man.
    Gravity pulls earthen.
    Words – soil?

    Van Gogh on cardboard?

    Sanity and life,
    Futilely hold on or
    Gracefully let go?
    Quiet despair.

  • R L Carmella

    I really connect with this experience you had. I lost my husband to cancer on May 4, 2018. He was 45 and I was 46. We had been together since we were 22 and have two children (12 and 16 at the time). We were in inseparable couple who loved each other to the point where people admired are relationship. He passed away 6 weeks from his diagnosis and the decline was very fast. He was in immense amounts of pain because when he was diagnosed, the cancer was already stage 4. It was in both lungs and both kidneys then it traveled into the bones: the sternum, both femurs and right hip. It all happened very fast and the shock from it was immense for me and my family. My husband was a police detective and my fear had always been losing him to a work-related incident, never did I think a disease would take him from us. My sadness still continues as I learn to become an adult without him and a single mom. I did meet someone unexpectedly in Jan. 2019. It went on for a few months and was great at first but I wasn’t ready and kept the relationship a secret because of that the relationship failed. He also had great difficulty with the fact that I was still so in love with my husband and missed him so much because again I wasn’t ready and my heart and mind were still consumed with what had happened and cried a lot. He also struggled because of what I had and lost and he never had had that. I was hurt when it ended because I know if my circumstances were different, it would have been longer. However, the relationship served a purpose and it got me through a time when I felt like I couldn’t make it. It also showed me I still have room in my heart to care for others and the immense amount of love I have for my husband I may share with someone when the time and person are right. Everyday I remind myself that my husband was a blessing to me and that there are people who never in a lifetime experience the love we had for each other. I remind myself this every morning…I know he is still watching over us and protecting us…

    • Marjorie

      I love this story. It’s full of pain, of course, but also full of LIFE. I bet your late husband would love that you are able to still try things, like dating, even if they are hard and even if they don’t work out. Take care. It’s such a hard road, but I think you are right: they are watching over us.

  • Lori

    Marjorie, thank you so much for your honest blog. I really appreciate it. I lost my husband days apart from your husband and I think you are very brave. My mind keeps telling me that no one can love my children the same way, I don’t want to let anyone in, on and on. I’ve had guys try and I guess I’m just not ready. I absolutely appreciate you posting about this experience. I totally “feel” how tough this was for you and I want to say that you are a brave, brave soul. I love your heart, thanks for sharing it so boldly and honestly. It makes me feel not so alone. I KNOW there will be the right person for you for sure! Blessings to you.

    • Marjorie

      Thanks so much for your kind words. And if you’re interested in my discussions on dating, there are going to be a lot more in the future. It’s a topic that many, many widows struggle with, including me. Thanks so much for reading.