Image of car tires to represent the flat time of DC widow Marjorie Brimley
Things That Suck

I Might As Well Get Cheaper Tires If My Husband Has to Be Dead

I heard the hissing immediately. What the hell was happening? I hopped out of the car, and looked down. A woman walking her dog stopped. “It’s your tire,” she said. “It’s not good.”

She wasn’t kidding. There was a 2-inch slit in my tire and it was completely flat. “Shit, shit, shit!” I said, staring at the tire.

Austin’s baseball game was starting in 5 minutes. I wasn’t exactly looking forward to a 2-hour second grade baseball game with a 4-year-old in tow, but at least it gave me time. I walked up to the game. “My tire is flat,” I told the parents who had assembled for the game. Immediately, everyone was on their phones, looking up the closest tow truck and seeing if AAA would answer their phones. My friend Katy settled her kids and then came over. “Reynolds can change it,” she said, gesturing towards her husband.

“Really?” I said. I’m sure there was desperation in my voice. “Sure,” she said, and he walked over.

“Do you have a jack?” he asked.

“Um, I don’t know,” I said. “Shawn changed the tire a few times, but I don’t know if there’s a jack in the car.”

Shouldn’t I know if there’s a jack in the car?

He walked over to the car, and together we assessed the damage. There was a jack in a hidden compartment in the back. He took out the manual, and went to work. “Go back and watch the game,” he told me after a few minutes. When I paused, he said, “really. I’ll finish this in just a few minutes and be right over.”

It took a while, and he ended up missing a big chunk of the game. By the end, he was drenched in sweat and had more dirt on him than our baseball-playing boys. “God, thank you so much,” I said to him as he returned to the game.

I wanted to stay after the game and take my friends up on their offers to drive me to a tire place. But I had an appraiser coming, and I had to return to my house. For a number of reasons, I have to file an estate tax return. Okay, no biggie, I thought. But no. It involves getting account statements from January for everything with Shawn’s name on it – including accounts that are now closed. My entire Friday afternoon had already been taken up by the logistics and I was nowhere near done. In addition to all of this, my house had to be retroactively appraised as of January, and thus the appointment.

The appraiser arrived. He knew that my husband had died, but the look on his face when he saw me was one of total shock. (Bet you didn’t think the widow answering the door would be me!) He recovered quickly, however, and went about his job looking at the house. Claire and I retreated upstairs.

At the end of the inspection, we stood in the hallway. “Do you have a separate HVAC system in the attic?” he asked.

“Um, maybe?” I said. “I think we might, because there are two different systems. But I’m not totally sure where it’s located.”

“We don’t!” Claire shouted from the other room. “Dad told me that there were only chickens in the attic.”

The inspector and I both laughed. The things kids say! But you know what else I was thinking?

I love that Claire remembers that her dad used to say things like this.

Anyway, somehow the inspector figured out whatever it was that he needed to know. I was no help.

Then it was off to the tire place. My friend Beth offered to come along, and when I pulled up to the shop, an older man came out to help me. He had so many questions.

“How old are the tires?”
“How many miles are on the car?”
“When was the alignment last checked?”

My answer to every question was “I don’t know.” I could tell I was looking like an idiot. “My husband did all of this,” I said, as some sort of explanation. “He died in January so I have no idea how to answer your questions.”

His face changed. “I’m so sorry,” he said, looking up from underneath the car. I saw the look in his eyes, the one that said, “you are so young.”

But you know what? He gave me great service, and knocked down the price on almost everything for me. Later, I texted my sister, “well, I played the widow card all over today. Even at the tire place. But I guess I might as well get cheaper tires if my husband has to be dead.”

“That would make a great blog post title,” she wrote back.

I guess it would, I thought. I mean, my life was basically a disaster this weekend. I mostly held on because of the kindness of my friends. But at the end of the weekend, I was left with the feeling that things were spinning out of control and even total strangers were feeling sorry for me.

That night, as I sat in my house and tried to figure out how I was going to get the kids to all of their activities the next day, I got a text from my friend Purva. She had watched Tommy for much of the day. “Hey, I know you had a rough day,” she wrote, “but I wanted to tell you that Tommy was absolutely wonderful. He’s funny, chatty and bright. He’s a reflection of you, Marjorie.”

My tires are still going to cost a small fortune. I have a 2-hour phone call scheduled for today with the bank about the estate tax. Embarrassingly, I played the widow card more than once this weekend.

But I made it through. Some people pity me, I know that. Maybe they should, and sometimes in moments of weakness, I let them. But the people who surround me on a daily basis – the ones who watch my kids and patch my tires and pour me an extra glass of wine at the end of the day – those people are the ones that matter.

And they think I’m doing okay.


  • Joy

    I think everyone is in awe of you and your wonderful kids. I know strangers think the same. I’m sorry for the shitty weekend. If you ever need a giant glass of wine, I’ll pour one.

  • JRyan

    From: Married father of 2 in Dallas
    Subject: it will all work out


    As a DFW transplant from the NYC area, I keep my self sane by indulging in the WaPo and NYTimes subscriptions. I notice your column over the months and, like the typical “fixer” that I am, I wanted offer up a suggestion on how you can obtain some sense of comfort with the whole house/car familiarity issue. Not many of us have a deep mastery of these two critical components of our daily existence, but maybe you might find these suggestions to be helpful? My take is one does not need to be an expert, but rather, one should aim to be a knowledgeable consumer. To that end, if you do not have someone that is able to walk you through the “what/how/why of how your house/car work”, in your family or network of friends and neighbors, you might want to find a reputable realtor or a home inspector, that can take an hour or two, to provide a lay-woman’s overview of the major systems and normal operations/conditions you should expect. Likewise, find a good trustworthy, independent automobile repair facility. If you can, get a personal intro to the shop owner/lead, from someone that is known by them and that you trust. Finally, there are a boat-load of “how things work” guides, again, written for the lay-person… most are available online, with YouTube videos that walk you through things (even so, I still prefer to have the actual book that I can reference)…

    You are a strong person and obviously a great parent. You, your family, and of course, your husband, were all dealt a sucky hand. I can not imagine how you cope, but I can offer this first-hand perspective – when I was 27, my dad, aged 62, was dying of pancreatic cancer. The night before entering the hospital for a procedure to attempt to address the jaundice he was experiencing, he and I sat on his deck and broke open a bottle of Scotch. As we sat, I sensed that he knew he was not going to leave the hospital alive. As such, he proceeded to share with me the back-story on all the “events” that occurred during his and my moms 35 yrs of marriage. Of pertinentence to your situation, my dad was sharing the circumstances surrounding the death of my younger brother, at age 4, when I was 8. As the youngest of 7 children, I knew my brother was afflicted with a heart defect, for which he underwent, what was then considered to be a radical procedure, to repair his heart. Mike died the morning after the procedure (a procedure that today, is done in vitro, with a high success rate), my parents were of course devistated, and were even still traumatized, 17 years later. I asked my dad how did they even manage to function after such a tragic loss? His answer was simple – they had no choice not to… they had 6 other children at home, ages 8-16, who needed their mom and dad. To this day, 31yrs later, I am still guided by their acts of love, compassion and responsibility, and their commitment to not losing track of his memory.

    One day at a time…..

    • Marjorie

      Thank you so much for this amazing story. I really appreciate you sharing. As others say to me, “I can’t imagine….” but it’s actually how I feel when I read a story like this. It’s just impossible that people can die so young, especially children, and yet, we do all carry on. Yes, you are right, “one day at a time.”

  • Melissa

    I love the title of your post. There is no shame or weakness in letting strangers help you. My husband died in June from cancer. (I’m not a young widow, I’m 71. We were a week short of our 42nd anniversary.) When my friend who’s been a widow for 15 years and I went to lunch for the first time after my husband’s death, she told the hostess that she wanted to be given the check because I’d recently lost my husband and she wanted to pay for our lunch. When the server brought our food, she said that it had been paid for by another restaurant customer. We were both stunned and tearful at that kind gesture. We had no idea who it was and whether they overheard my friend’s conversation or just decided to do a kind deed that day. We both intend to “pay it forward” to someone else.

    • Marjorie

      I love this story so much! It’s one of the best things I’ve ever heard, and one that I hope to emulate someday if I ever watch someone at a restaurant in pain. I am going to remember it for a long time. Thanks for sharing!


    I found your blog just an hour ago and have been reading non-stop. I lost my husband on July 22nd. A flat tire a month later brought out overwhelming grief for me because (just like you) my husband handled everything. I am adjusting to the new normal. I pray that God will give all of us young widows the strength that we need to move forward…

    • Marjorie

      Oh, these are the comments that keep me writing. Thank you so much for reading. I am not much further out than you but I remember the first few months of grief….and the disaster of dealing with my finances, house, car, everything. It can all seem totally overwhelming. Sending love to you and your family.

      • SEEMA

        Thank you, Marjorie. I am still sifting through all of your entries! I feel like I am listening to a friend.