Trees and mountains for blog by DC widow writer Marjorie Brimley
New Perspectives

On Details and Memory

I was talking with my sister the other day. We were trying to remember some things about my mom. When did she get sick? When did we know? When was it obvious to other people? We could remember the basics: that she had depression our entire lives, that it got worse when we were young teenagers, that by the time we were both in high school she rarely got out of bed. But the other details were hard to remember. What year did we take the last trip together as a family to the mountains? Three years before she died? More? You would think we would remember everything – she was our mother, of course. But even as we really tried to remember, we couldn’t pinpoint all the details.

Memory is strange. Sometimes I am surprised when I read a blog post of mine from 2018 or even 2019. When I think back to the early days after losing Shawn, I can remember key moments, like when I first went back to teaching after Shawn died and found my planner, and across the top every other Thursday I had written “chemo”. Or when I sat at the kitchen counter four months after he died and thought I just couldn’t keep going. I can remember the first time I took Claire to her guitar lessons and what it was like to visit Shawn‘s grave on his birthday. But sometimes it’s hard to remember exactly what happened and how I felt at different points in time. Was I just as bereft six months after Shawn died as I had been two months after he died? Could I see positive pieces of my future by the end of that first year of widowhood? When I try to answer these questions just from my memory, I often settle on an answer easily: no, I was not as sad six months after Shawn died as I had been two months after he died. Yes, I could see happy pieces of my future a year after I had been widowed.

But when I go back to my blog and look to confirm the answers to some of these questions, sometimes I find a different story. Sometimes I see a note, maybe from a blog post in the fall of 2018, a time I remember as being hopeful, and I am surprised to learn that I had some weeks in there that felt just as bad as the first few months after he died.

When people ask me what it was like after Shawn died, I give them the best answer that I can. It was terrible. There were many months after he died when I felt hopeless. But then I say it got better after four months. There was an upward trajectory. Things got easier. And all of that is true, if I think of the big picture of that first year.

But the details matter don’t they? It matters that I had low points not just at two months after Shawn died, but also at eight months after he died and 14 months after he died. It also matters that some of my experiences, like Shawn‘s 41st birthday (the one we spent at his grave) was not 100% sad. There were moments that day that were happy, too. There were moments that day when I felt proud of my children. And this may be strange to say but there were also moments that day when I also felt proud of myself, too.

The blog, in a way, keeps me honest. Sometimes I want to remember the past – and especially the early days of widowhood – in one way. But I kept a record of what it was like, both on this blog and in my private diaries. Sometimes those records are not pretty. Sometimes I said things on them that I don’t want to remember that I said. Things like, “I will never love anyone like I love Shawn!” That example is just one example, but it’s a good one because it’s hard to re-read today, having found a second love with Chris.

I don’t think that means that memory is not important. I just think it means that memory is not perfect. Of course this blog does not tell every bit of every part of my story, but it does remind me that it was not always just a straight line upwards, towards a happy future. I struggled at a lot of different points – sometimes I struggled so badly that I wasn’t sure how I was going to get to the next week. I really missed Shawn, sometimes at the most mundane times, like when things were hard at work and when parenting was too much and when I just wanted someone to hold my hand a party. I made some bad decisions and I said inappropriate things and I wasn’t often a great parent, especially that first year.

When I think back to the first year after Shawn died, what I remember is merely that things did get easier. And that is true. So it’s not a lie when I tell people who are struggling with new widowhood that “it gets easier”. It does. It’s just not the full autobiographical truth. It’s merely what I can recall.

My sister and I cannot remember the moment when we both knew my mom was really sick. We just knew she wasn’t that sick and then she was. We can’t even really remember the year it happened, and we certainly can’t remember most of the details.

But I haven’t forgotten everything from my teenage years. In fact, the thing I remember most was that my sister was always there. I knew that when things were hard, she was there in the room adjacent to mine, and she was there in the bathroom we shared and she was there riding shotgun in the seat next to me to school. Having her by me was a great comfort. The rest of details really don’t matter that much, not to me.


  • Angie Bell

    I am at 9 months out and I can attest to that rollercoaster of emotions. And the fact that they come at crazy times. But I have had many good moments, too. Next week I will move, the third move in less than a year, to be near my grandkids. I think it is a good decision. I need them and they need me. This isn’t what we planned, but it is where I am. I am going forward.

    • M Brimley

      That’s a good decision – yes to moving near your grandkids! I wish you so much joy, and being near grandkids sounds like it will bring happiness to your life!