Wall of photos in home of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley
New Perspectives

I’m Not a Polygamist*

Every year since Shawn died, I’ve hosted the “parent parties” for my kids’ classes. Basically, they are parties where the parents of the kids in a specific class gather to meet each other as well as the teacher of the class (the kids don’t come.) They are fun nights that involve very little preparation and only a few hours of clean-up, so I like to do them as a way to show that I’m an involved parent.

I also like to do them because then I don’t have to answer the question all year long about where my husband is. Sure, I usually have a few awkward conversations during the year, but the parties help explain my family to the wider community who may not know our exact circumstances. First, all of the parents get invitations just from me, and then they come to my house where there are various clues about my widowhood, including framed letters from politicians expressing their condolences to me and the kids after Shawn’s death. I can also show these other parents that I still welcome conversations about Shawn, as his picture hangs throughout the house, along with his guitars and other memorabilia.

This year, there aren’t any parent parties. I feel a bit sad about this, because it’s just another small loss of 2020. But it also means that I can’t control the narrative in a way that I could in the past. Most of the parent community at my kids’ schools don’t read this blog, and even for those who know I’m a widow, some don’t know how to react to this news when they see me in person. So what I do at these parties matters. It’s at these parties that I can show other parents that I’m open with our loss and my kids are encouraged to remember their father in a lot of ways. I can set the expectation that we talk about their late father, and hopefully show other parents how they might begin thinking about interacting with my kids. “Death is sad,” I want to say, “but don’t be scared to talk to us about the person we lost.”

I was thinking about the parent parties the other day, and telling Chris about the fun ones I’d hosted in the past. I told him that I liked hosting parties in general, but this “parent party” was one I did very specifically to tell people about Shawn. “Well,” he said, “it would be an interesting party to throw this year. What do you think people would say about all the different photos on our walls?”

I looked at the wall of photos across from me. On it, I have images of the kids, of course, and some of my dad. I also have family photos – some with Shawn, when the kids were young, and some with Chris in more recent times.

We joked a bit about the confusion that some people might have if they came to our house for a parent party this fall. Why were there two men in photos hanging on my wall? Were both men at the parent party? Did I love them both? Was I one of those interesting polyamorous women they’ve read about in books?

(This is widow humor. Chris is starting to appreciate it.)

We laughed about it a bit, imagining the interesting questions a guest might try and pose to figure out our family situation. Maybe this year would raise even more questions than previous years. I mean, it’s one thing to meet a woman with a dead husband, but it’s another thing to meet a widow with a new partner – and see both of their photos on the wall.

We really could have played the “who had the more awkward conversation” game this year!

But really, I’d like for the other parents at my kids’ schools to see that wall of photos, because it tells our story. Yes, it’s one of loss and grief, but it’s also one of remembrance and hope.

It’s a story we want to tell.

*As a reader pointed out, the word I should be using is polyamorist, which is a better – and more inclusive – description of loving more than one person. The text of the article has been change to note this difference.