Brimley family on a birthday wagon ride before becoming a widow

My 39th Birthday…

…the first one without Shawn since number 22.

I love my birthday.

When I got the news that our third child was due on my 35th birthday, I cried.  Not my most mature moment, for sure, but February 25th is my day.

Shawn knew this.  And every year he planned for it.  Last year he got a group of friends together and we sang karaoke until the wee hours of the night.  Shawn and I started out with our favorite song – Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.”  It was the first song we sang together the night we met, in the late summer of 2001 in Japan.  There are photos, somewhere, of us standing on a table and singing with a sort of wild abandon.

Last year, we seemed to forget that we had 3 kids under 8 at home, that they all had playdates and baseball practice and diaper changes the next day.  Instead, we just had a really good time.  It was magical.  “Epic” as Shawn would say.

And so this year, all I could think in the days leading up to my birthday was: I feel so damn anxious.  Anxious that it will be terrible, that I’ll cry at my birthday dinner and ruin my time with my friends.  Anxious  that my kids won’t make me birthday cards because they’re too little to think of it on their own and no one will think of it for them.  Anxious that I’ll feel old.  Anxious that I’ll be alone.

But I guess my oldest friends knew this, because my two dearest friends from college, Kelly and Paige, came in to DC for the weekend.  I was too overwhelmed with everything to plan anything, but of course it didn’t matter.  All I wanted was to see the two of them, take walks around the neighborhood and finally talk about something other than the serious issues in my life.  The last time they’d been here was just after Shawn died, when they’d left their families and jobs and stayed for a week, helping me sort out the logistics of my life and consoling me as my heart was breaking.

And so we did what old friends do – we took long walks, we drank lots of coffee, we talked about our kids and our jobs, we laughed about our lives and they let me cry about Shawn.  On Saturday we found ourselves in the perfume section of a massive department store, spritzing each other and ultimately spending stupid amounts of money on something so fleeting.  But as we cruised through a few other stores and talked about why we did or did not need a new wine opener or a sleep mask, I laughed more than I had in many months, and I found myself – if briefly – in one of those states where I was just in the moment, and happy.

Later that afternoon, we went out and bought champagne and proceeded to get ready for hours in my bathroom, playing 90s music and generally acting as though we were back in college.  My 8-year-old daughter was mesmerized, and a little horrified, to see us having such a great time.  When we were finally done, and I stepped out in my 4-inch heels with my girlfriends by my side, I felt happy, pretty and…something else.  Empty?  Scared?  Nervous?

We met some other dear friends at a hip restaurant, one of these places in a neighborhood so utterly cool and new that I was shocked to see how it had transformed in just a few years since I’d been there.  We ordered from the perfectly curated menu and drank a specialty wine.  My friends told funny stories about their lives and everyone smelled my new perfume.

I’m not quite sure how it all came up, but at the end of the evening, I started talking about how I was barely able to process the word “widow” and how it just seemed so foreign and so old.

“Of course,” my friends told me, “you are beautiful and sexy.  Who cares about that word?”

“I guess it’s not the word” I told them.  “It’s just that I feel so insecure without Shawn.”  And then as I had feared, I started crying.

Here’s the thing – it’s not that I feel insecure in the same way I did at age 21, worried about how my hair looked or whether I was wearing the right jeans or drinking the right beer.  Those sorts of silly issues faded just by mere fact of growing older.  It’s that when I was with him, I felt so secure in who I was.  I felt so secure that he loved me.  I felt so secure that we were a thing – Shawn and Marjorie, Marjorie and Shawn.  I felt so secure in who I was a person, as a partner.

Now, I don’t feel that.  Instead, I feel quite insecure, which is honestly a feeling I can’t say I’ve had often in my adult life.

I’ve heard that people who lose an arm or a leg are often left feeling phantom limbs where none remains.  In many ways, that’s how I feel now.  It’s like this part of me is gone.  I don’t mean it’s like a part of Shawn is gone – I know he’s not here.  What I mean is that part of what made me who I am – happy-go-lucky and confident – that part has been replaced by something else that makes me more nervous and less sure about myself.  And a lot more anxious.

I know things will get better, or at least that’s what I’ve been told a thousand times.  I know part of the reason they will get better is because I have wonderful friends around me, many of whom cried alongside me at that dinner table.  I know my kids will get older and write me cards on my birthday that I don’t have to ask them to write.  I know I will regain some of that security as I find my footing in this new world of mine.  But we will not be Shawn and Marjorie, Marjorie and Shawn.  That person is forever frozen at age 38, singing karaoke with her head thrown back and her husband holding her hand.



Image Credit: Stephanie Harrington Photography.


    • Marjorie

      I’m so lucky to have you as my dear friend – and family photographer! I never realized how important all of these photos would be for me.

      • Subhashree Ghoshal

        Hi Marjorie!
        I came across your website while searching for something that I need to get me through this phase of my life.
        I can completely relate to your 1st story as it will be my first birthday this month without Aryaman, my late husband. Things are not the same, well that’s not been same for past 4 years now.

        Thanks for sharing your story! I will continue reading.

    • Steve Szymanski

      Marjorie- first, I want to send my condolences. Secondly, I’d like to thank you for your courage, your fearless way that you express your grief , your love and how you love life , albeit different , today.
      My wife, of 20 years, passed away this past New Years Day. Suddenly, without warning and we still are searching for answers. Somehow, after 2 plus months of navigating this new life without the love of my life, I found your blog. A simple thank you is all I wanted to share. So, thank you for helping me get through the minutes, hours and darkest of nights . Keep helping those like us – we need these thoughts of yours to keep going .

      Best Wishes,

      • M Brimley

        I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your wife. It’s so recent and clearly the pain is still so raw. I’m glad the blog can be at least a little bit helpful. I’ll be holding you in my thoughts.

    • Marjorie

      I miss you. Someday, I’m going to write more about our time in Japan, where we met dear friends like you.

  • Jen Martin

    Wow this is beautiful Marjorie. You write so well. You are a so strong and wise. Love that you are writing a blog. I’ll be following along.

    • Marjorie

      Thanks Jen. I appreciate your kind words and am so glad there will be people reading what I put out there!

  • Carrie

    Hi Marjoire,
    Very touching. I really loved reading your story. I teared up as it rang home as my brother is in the DC area and too is going through being a single dad of a toddler. Not what he thought how things would play out.
    I will be following along your journey.

    • Marjorie

      Thank you. I think we all have different experiences but it’s so hard when things just don’t turn out how we planned, you know?

  • David

    Yes, I too felt 100% safe and confident, because, despite all my faults and insecurities, I had someone who loved them along with my good qualities. Now, widowed at 34 with a teenage son and mother-in-law, I’m extremely insecure, floating around with a wedding band on my finger that is no longer an achievement, but a remnant and reminder that I’m missing my other, complementary half, and the relationship we worked so hard to build.

    • Marjorie

      I hear your pain, especially with this line: “floating around with a wedding band on my finger that is no longer an achievement, but a remnant and reminder that I’m missing my other, complementary half.” I’m so sorry. I know the feeling. For me, I eventually took off my wedding ring, but I have friends who still wear theirs, even years later. For some it’s a comfort and for others it’s a bad reminder. We all figure out what to do about that in our own time.

  • Ronak Rafiei Rozbahani

    Hi. I randomly found your blog. I became a widow 11 july 2018 , at the age of 32. I am so happy I finally found someone that writes about similar experiances.

    • Marjorie

      I wish there weren’t other people who share my experience, but since there are, I’m so glad we are finding each other. This time period – especially the first six months – is SO TOUGH. Sending hugs.

  • Jenae

    I’m just now coming across this blog. Our stories are so similar. My husband died suddenly of a heart attack in July of 2018 at the age of 39. We have 3 young children and I am a high school teacher. It helps to read your posts. Prayers for you and your family. ❤

    • Marjorie

      Wow – that is a really similar story…and I’m so sorry you’re going through this as well. Take care. I know it’s been over a year for you but as I’m sure you’ll see in my blog, things are always a bit up and down, even after time has passed. Hang in there.

        • M Brimley

          Oh, I’m glad you liked the article and are getting something out of my blog! Thanks for the note. Widowhood can be so awful…but it’s comforting to know that others are out there (even if you don’t wish this fate on anyone.)

  • Riley

    Hi Marjorie. My beautiful 43-year old wife, Natasha, passed away two and a half weeks ago, after battling stage IV gastric cancer for (only) 15 months. So I am now a widower at the age of 46, also with 3 kids, and thoroughly devastated.
    I came across your blog a few days ago and have been reading various articles at random, all of them well-written, and raw, and speaking directly to me and my experiences (as I’m sure they do for many young widows/widowers), so I’ve decided to go right up the start and read through your blog from the beginning.
    And this very first article about feeling insecure is exactly how I feel. I had someone who truly loved me unconditionally for 23 years, which provided such a solid base for the both of us to then be able to face the world and everything and everyone in it throughout that time, and I reasonably thought (at least a year and a half ago) that that would continue on until we were both old and grey. But now that she’s gone, and that love is gone, I just feel so untethered and lost. We made all our big decisions together, and now I wonder how I’ll be able to make any decision ever again.
    But thanks so much for writing and articulating all of these difficult emotions and journeys, and condolences of course on your and your family’s loss. Hopefully I won’t leave comments this long on each article…

    • Marjorie

      I’m so sorry. Your loss is so new and honestly that was the time period for me when I felt like the world was just filled with chaos. I actually remember desperately trying to find something online (like a blog) to help me understand what I was facing. I’m hopeful that my blog can be that for you. Hang in there. It does get easier, but the early days are rough. Go easy on yourself.

  • Jamie

    I just lost my 39 year old husband a month ago after a 5 yr battle with colon cancer. I also have three children (age 10 and under). Your words ring so true to exactly how I feel right now. Especially when you talk about being a part of a couple – we were together 18 years. And especially the part about losing confidence in yourself. I am mourning for the loss of my husband, the loss of ‘us’ and the loss of the happy and vibrant girl standing next to him in pictures. I loved who I was and now I feel empty and insecure. I’m told time will help a but forever just seems inconceivable.

    • Marjorie

      Time does help. But that was NOT a helpful platitude for me to hear in those early weeks and months. It’s impossible in the beginning. Just hang in there, be as kind to yourself as you can be, and know you will make it, even if it doesn’t feel like that right now.

  • Candice Hartig

    I’m glad I found this blog, my husband died a month ago. I say husband but we were not legally married, it was just a technicality to us. That has come with a whole host of different issues. My birthday is next week and I feel you hit the nail on the head with things I’m feeling. I cried as I read this. I too feel so insecure. We have a 1 year old, and he was step father to my other 3 kids for nearly as long as they can remember. I’m not sure how to take the first step to move forward…

    • Marjorie

      My heart goes out to you. You are in the early days, and what a terrible, terrible time to be in the early days. I remember them, and I’m just so sorry that your loss is so recent. Hang in there. I promise it does get easier. And no – it doesn’t matter if you were legally married, the loss is STILL the same. I’ll be thinking of you. I think you just have to take it one day at a time, as much of a cliche as that is.

  • Kristin G.

    Riley… I am so sorry for your loss. My husband of 21 years passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on the evening of March 29, 2020. He was 48 and I am 47 and we have an 11 year old daughter. I am heartbroken and still in shock. While I desperately try to find others I can relate to right now, I’m saddened when I do come across people experiencing the same grief I am. I do not wish this pain on anyone.
    Finding this blog has been a comfort, for as you wrote, so much of what I’ve read speaks directly to me, helping me to feel understood and not so alone in my grief. “Unteathered and lost” is such an accurate description of how I feel right now too. Again, I am so sorry for your family’s loss.

    • Marjorie

      Yes, I think the number one emotion I had in the early days was one of feeling unteathered. It’s much easier now – time does heal some parts of loss.

  • Clyde

    I recently came across your blog. It is so profoundly written as it speaks to me in many ways since my dear wife of 56 years passed away 10 weeks ago. Tonight I came across a note she gave me saying she hopes we can graciously grow old together, but now she’s gone. Many write to you about being alone with young children. I understand since I am alone now with my special needs son. Covid-19 keeps us confined to our home. Can’t even go to out to activities my son enjoys. While my wife no longer suffers from her cancer losing the love of my life hurts so deeply. I wept while preparing dinner for us this evening knowing that my wife would have made it differently. Your blog is helpful when you spoke about your mother because my mother-in-law suffered from severe depression, too. As a teenager, my wife did not understand. I wish she could have read your blog. It also helped me better understand why my mother did not talk about losing her father to suicide at age 16 and later losing a brother the same way. I pray that you continue sharing the insight and wisdom you have been blessed with. Thank you.

    • M Brimley

      I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your wife. You’re in the early days and weeks, and while I wasn’t married as long as you, I do know that the grief and the loss get easier to bear, eventually. Thank you for your sweet notes on my writing. I’ll be thinking of you.

  • Bern

    I just found you…..thank you for your writing your blog. My husband also died in 2018, on October 1st, which is also my birthday. Seriously, what are the chances? Your writing is amazing and you really express the truth of a husband dying at a young age leaving us with young kids. Keep on writing – so great! ty ty!

    • M Brimley

      First of all, I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s awful, no matter when it happens, but especially when you lose someone on a day like a birthday. I’m glad you have found the blog helpful. Those early posts are so raw, but I’m glad I wrote them then – it really was exactly how I was feeling. Thanks for reading.

  • Shannon

    I am just stumbling onto this blog. My husband (42) died Aug 2021. Navigating being a widow is becoming a challenge. Mine more so due to how people are pulling away and almost ignoring me. And these were people who showed a lot of love amd support during his illness and after his death.

    • M Brimley

      I get that. It’s so hard. I felt really alone around 6 months, I think because everyone assumed that things were “back to normal” and they definitely were NOT. Hang in there. It does get easier. But it’s okay to also tell people you still need more support, if you can figure out the best way to do that (I used a lot of “would it be possible for you to check in with me every Monday?” texts.)

  • Amber McMahon

    I just happen to find your blog on the eve of the first anniversary of the worst day of my life. My husband died in a car accident on 1/9/21. Now I find myself alone at 43, one kid in college and another in high school. I throughly enjoyed reading your posts as some of your thoughts and feelings mimick my own. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • M Brimley

      Oh, I’m so sorry to hear this. And as you may have noticed, my late husband Shawn died on the same day – January 9 – in 2018. It’s so hard. But I will say this…it gets easier. Not perfect, but better. All the people who told me the second year was harder than the first were wrong (at least for me). It’s a gradual process. But hang in there. I’m pulling for you.