image of woman typing her blog on computer just like DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley
What Not to Say

How Did You Cope?

Three times a week, I pour out my emotions on this blog and I tell the world exactly what’s on my mind. Last year, I got a lot of texts/calls/emails from friends and family after certain blog posts. But lately, I’ve started to hear more from people I don’t know. I get messages from people who’ve read my articles and found my blog and want to connect. Sometimes I write back, and sometimes I don’t. (If you want to know who I don’t write back to, let me say this: my blog is not a dating site. Please do not write me and ask me to go on a date or….do anything else that I won’t reprint on this blog. That’s just bad manners.)

The most common strangers who write me are new widows. They are struggling, usually, and are just glad to know that there is someone else out there on the internet who is also struggling. I love hearing from those widows. I mean, I hate that there are so many other young widows but it’s oddly reassuring to know that there are other people out there dealing with just as much emotional shit.

A while back, I heard from one of these young widows. She wrote to tell me that her husband had died just a month prior. “I am devastated,” she wrote, and then continued with her story. At the end of her message, she asked me this: “How did you cope initially?”

I almost wrote her back and referenced my earliest blog posts. But then I realized that those first blog posts didn’t have a lot of solutions in them. They were about missing Shawn, not about how I was actively making it through each day. Instead, here is what I wrote to her:

I’m so sorry. You are in those first few weeks when it’s just impossible to imagine how you’ll survive. Here’s what I can say right now that is definitely true: You will survive. That I promise.

But the first few weeks and months are so shocking, even if you know that it’s coming. I don’t know how your husband died, but even if he was sick for years, it’s not something you can ever really plan for. The initial stage was so hard for me because somehow every night I seemed to forget that Shawn was gone and then for a split second every morning I’d be confused about where he was…..and then I’d remember. And that moment was crushing EVERY TIME.

I mean, there’s no real advice to give here, except to say that you should accept every single offer of help. You should take every kindness anyone offers you. You should ask for help whenever you need it. No one expects to be repaid. No one expects thank you notes – no one even wants them. This time is for YOU to grieve.

Surround yourself with people if that helps, or surround yourself with no one if that makes it better.

The one thing that helped me was finding a grief group. There’s a great place here in DC called the Wendt Center that runs grief groups and was so helpful for me. I don’t know where you are but a quick Google search for your area might turn things up.

I’m so sorry. It does get better. It’s not linear (I still have bad days) but there’s a day that comes when you will think, “I feel happy again, at least for a few hours.” It’s a strange day when that happens. But hold the thought in your heart that you’ll get there eventually.

You’ll survive. You will.

Sending hugs. Marjorie

I’m not sure it was the best response. I am not a trained therapist, and maybe offering advice to strangers on the internet is misguided. But here’s what I do know – I’ve been there. I’ve stood in this woman’s shoes and I’ve thought, “how can I possibly cope with this?”

And all I wanted was for someone who has been there to tell me that I was going to survive.

I did. I survived. Or at least I am surviving.

And so will she.


  • Lindley Worley

    This is so funny because I am a young widow who has already just emailed you a few minutes ago and then just read this not realizing so many like me email you saying they’re so glad to know you’re also out there in similar shoes. Your advice was beautiful and all very true. After 6 months, a grief group helped me so much to even become educated on grief even though I was the youngest in the group and everyone else was over 55-60. It still helped. And having a few friends in my life that are the kind that would do anything for you- like get out of her car in the road by her house as she and her family are heading somewhere- as I’m driving up to her house because I could not drive to work in my complete utter sadness. I needed her to just hold me and I cried the body shaking heart jumping kind of tears where your body cries and not even your eyes. After that hug I literally felt better unexplainably!

    • Marjorie

      That’s what good friends can really do for us – remind us that we are NOT alone and we have people who will be there for us….even in our darkest moments. I’m so glad you have someone like that.

  • Gabe

    I think this sounds like a perfect response, real but not hopeless. This is why so many seek out your blog. I’m laughing over the emails you don’t respond to— we need to chat about those over wine next time I see you— hopefully soon! 😘😘

    • Marjorie

      Yes – hopefully soon! I’ve been thinking about you so much on my trip – it’s amazing, and every step reminds me of being here with you two decades ago!

  • Tami D.

    I too was one of those widows that reached out. I just started following your blog. It inspired me to try and write my thoughts out. The more I read your blog the more alike our feelings on this new journey we face in the world seem to be. I am beyond grateful that you have opened yourself up and shared your journey. It is nice to know you’re not alone. We are all living in a crappy situation we never planned to be in and trying to survive while making the most of what we have. Its been 10 months since my husband passed. Your response to how you coped is perfect. Those first few months are such a blur. I packed and moved my son and I 1000 miles within 30 days of my husbands passing. My friends arrived at the airport we loaded a huge truck and started the drive. They made me sit out on the driving. Ive never been one to sleep in a car but as soon as I got in the passenger seat that exhaustion of everything I had been through hit me. I slept for most of the 2 day drive. My friends caught me when I fell. I survived. Im still here. Again thank you for sharing your story.

    • Marjorie

      I’m so glad that you have such dear friends around you – they sound absolutely wonderful. It’s terrible to lose a spouse, but friends can make it so much more bearable.