Marjorie Brimley types blog DC Widow by fireplace


Last week, I slept an average of four hours a night. I graded thirty freshman papers (and just trust me, freshman papers take three times longer to grade than senior papers.) I came up with a new idea for an article and pitched it to a major newspaper, and they picked it up and asked for a quick turnaround. I ran on my treadmill every morning and seemingly every time I came up with a new blog post that I jotted down as I ate my breakfast. I even applied for a promotion at the school where I teach.

At one point, I woke up in the middle of the night and decided to calm my anxiety by working on some of my writing. I sat in the recliner in our living room with only the computer screen lighting the space and I wrote about trying to bring magic to the house last Christmas. It wasn’t lost on me that I was up in the middle of the night many times a year ago, thinking about how to make the holidays happy for my family. I wrote almost a thousand words in the 90 minutes between 2 and 3:30 am.

I was busy last week, and I was sleep deprived, but I muddled through. I don’t want to pretend I did it totally alone, however. My dad helped me run many of the logistics, and my friends joined me to make crappy dinners for the kids a few times that week. My children had more screen time than usual, and I didn’t make it to any school pick-ups. But I still read with my kids every night and we still danced to bad pop music every morning. I still did Claire’s hair and found Austin’s homework folder and ordered Tommy a new winter coat.

I’m not writing all of this for a pat on the back. Most of you who know me already know that I am super type-A and like to have full days. I’m putting all of this down on paper to show how things have changed for me in the past year. I was a busy person before, sure, but I didn’t need to be busy.

In the middle of last week, I texted my two best friends from college, Kelly and Paige, about everything I had going on. “I’m exhausted, of course, but at least I have something to distract me from my life.”

They were reassuring, because they are my dear friends and they love me. “You’ve done so much all in this short period of time,” Paige wrote, “even with everything else that you have had to deal with. It’s impressive, Marjorie.”

“I need it,” I wrote back. “I need to do more now, you know? I’m not quite sure how to say this, but when I had Shawn, I didn’t need that much professionally because I had him. Now, my professional life is vital. I just need more.”


My life a year and a half ago didn’t need any more. I had a happy and flexible career, a house full of kids and a man who thought I was awesome. Of course, I read articles about how it was impossible for women to “have it all” and I saw some validity to them. But I also thought, “I do have it all!”

I wasn’t at the top of my field, but I was making a difference in my small corner of the world. I had a great home life and I had a ton of fun every weekend. I didn’t have it all, if “all” was a corner office and no childcare dramas and a husband who flew me to Paris for date night. But I was happy.

This fall, when I went back to teaching full-time, I looked around and realized that a lot of things in my life looked the same. My kids were still the center of my world. My job was still one where I felt I made a difference every day. My friends who surrounded me were still mostly the same people. But it wasn’t enough.

I needed more. I started writing more and I made it known that I wanted more responsibility at my school. I got up at 5 am and ran every morning. I even made an attempt to really understand Twitter.

It’s still not enough. I still need more. Low and behold, the giant crater of a hole in my heart can’t be filled by a better resume. But it doesn’t hurt. Somehow, the pain seems lessened when I push ahead with a million new things. I’ve started to frequently say, “I’m going to do something with my life,” and I mean it.

I can’t just push forward with the exact same life that I had before. Doing that makes my loss even more painful. Instead, I need to make my own new path – one that’s not radically different from before, but rather one that shows off a version of me that I never knew existed.

Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.


  • Ian

    This makes sense to me on a number of levels. I imagine it’s a bit like being lost in a jungle and feeling suffocated by the density of leaves and vines around you. Sometimes slashing away makes you feel energized or that you’re taking charge of the situation by working hard to find a way out.

    Slash on! I read every week and often stop short of chiming in as I just don’t know what to say. But, … you amaze me, my friend. If you’re not unbreakable, then you’re certainly unstoppable.

  • Erika

    You are an inspiration to so many, Marjorie. I am at awe with your strength and ability to accomplish so much. I hope you, Claire, Austin and Tommy have a wonderful Thanksgiving!❤️

  • Carmelita

    I feel the same way, Marjorie, even though I’m at a very different stage of life. My children were becoming young adults when my husband died. So now I have all this freedom to develop myself in new ways, to pick up on things I left behind as I had a family. I need and want to do something significant in the next decade of my life. I think this can be a door that death opens for us. Thanks for clarifying this experience with your writing .
    And I still miss my guy, too.

    • Marjorie

      Yes – I think you are right that we can “wake up” a bit when we have major life changes – at any point in life. And I love how you wrote, “I think this can be a door that death opens for us.”

  • David

    I just lost my husband in May, and I’m struggling with completing the PhD thesis I was almost finished with before his sudden death. I’m experiencing a powerful drive to move forward, and do something different. I’ve initiated the process to get my teacher’s license to teach high school English (my second undergraduate major), and find the day-to-day work on my thesis a project difficult to find motivation for. I’m sitting down to do it, since I’m close-to-finished, but it’s something I no longer wish to do. Before my husband died, I was moving forward toward this goal, but I was 100% happy with my life and son, and knew how good I had it. Now…

    • Marjorie

      I know the feeling. I was 100% happy with my life too, and it’s just hard to comprehend why someone who was so good would be taken from this earth. For me, it took six months before I was able to think about doing anything other than surviving – but I know it takes longer for others. Sending hugs.