Steaming tea kettle used by DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley
Things That Suck

Sore Throat

I woke up with a sore throat this morning.*

I’m writing this at 5:30 in the morning. A few minutes ago, I woke up with a slight headache and a sore throat. It’s the kind of thing that I would have totally dismissed a month ago. I would have pulled myself together, taken an Advil, gone running with Purva and taught a day’s worth of lessons, never thinking about the sore throat again.

But these are not normal times, are they?

So I’m sitting in my living room drinking honey and lemon tea, trying not to freak out.

I can already hear what my dad and sister are going to say when I call them. “It’s probably nothing, and even if it is the coronavirus, you can’t do anything about it. Just stay home unless you feel like you can’t breathe.” (Yes, they’ll both say this. They might as well be carbon copies of each other with how they respond to medical issues.)

I am thinking through the past few weeks. Other than occasional walks, hikes and bike rides, I’ve basically been isolated from everyone else since school closed. But it hasn’t been 14 days, so there’s still a chance that I got the virus within that window.

There’s a much better chance that I have a simple cold. A much, much better chance.

But widows don’t do well with statistics, do we?

I’m not going to tell my kids that I’m feeling off, because they will just freak out. No need to scare them. They are already really jumpy when I say anything about being tired (because damn it is tiring to be home with them all day!) Every single day since we’ve been home, at least one of them will ask me if I think I’m going to die.

“No!” I always say, emphatically. “I am not going to die!” That response always makes Claire and Austin both smile sheepishly, like they know they’ve exposed their greatest fear.

But I am still scared, and not just this morning. It occurred to me yesterday that my plan of sending my boys to Grant and Mark‘s house, and Claire to Becky‘s house was not a very good plan. If I was sick, they likely would be too, and then I’d just be infecting two more families. So I called my friend Abby, who does not have kids, and I asked her if she would come if I got sick. “Only if I’m too sick to care for the kids,” I said.

“If you get sick, I’ll come up,” she replied. When I set down the phone, I cried, which I know was a bit silly. But clearly I’ve been under a lot of stress. Knowing that my kids would be okay was a huge relief.

So as I sit here, drawing out worst case scenarios, I realize that there’s a lot I’ve done to prepare for an unlikely outcome where I get sick. I have made my kids learn how to start the dishwasher and washing machine. I have stored plenty of food in the chest freezer, and taught Claire and Austin how to heat up dumplings and taquitos and other leftovers. Tommy has mastered brushing his own teeth and I have a “critical telephone numbers” list taped up on the wall.

This is the way that single parents plan, I suppose: For the worst-case scenario. I guess that’s because there’s no other option.

Every day we’ve been home, I have the kids write in our collective diary. I give them a prompt and they have to write a few lines each day. It gives me a bit of insight into how they are feeling and I figured that someday they’ll be interested to look back on it. The other day, I asked them, “what is the coronavirus and how do you feel about it?” Tommy wrote, “it is bad you can die,” which took him like 20 minutes anyway, so I figured that was good. But both Claire and Austin’s responses gave me some pause, and some reassurance as well. They talked about how the virus was scary, but also about feeling safe with our family at home, and happy that we were all together. “I feel prepared because my mom did a lot of stuff,” Austin wrote.

So, yes, maybe all my prep is for nothing. This sore throat is likely a cold and I am probably overreacting to this tiny tickle in my throat.

But that is what I do now that I’m a widow. I worry about the worst case scenario. I overreact to small dramas. I plan for everything.

In the end, I’ll probably live to be 95, and I’ll look back on this time as simply one in which I had a heightened sense that everything might go wrong, yet again.

But whatever. I’m glad I’ve prepared, if for no other reason than this: my kids are going to be okay if the worst happens. And they know it.

Now back to that honey and lemon tea.

*I wrote this on Tuesday. Yes, I’m feeling much better today. No, it doesn’t really change the sentiment of the post.


  • Steph

    So glad your cold is improving, Marjorie. Yes to all the above. It’s a peculiar aloneness that my friends don’t seem to truly understand even if I explain it, they would have to experience it and I don’t want that of course. I’m exhausted, and the very limited amount of touch in my world, hugs from friends, is now zero. My teens want comfort but also their space, and to debrief with friends. Friends say I can call them but I can’t do that at the odd hours you might have a chat with another adult in the house ( late teens think they’re adults but their world view is so different). Us widows really thought we’d been through the hardest thing, and just want to do their best to recover. The world will come to rights again, and we’ve proven before the depths of our reserves know no end, so one day at a time shouldering all this responsibility alone I guess. Good luck and I hope your beautiful family stays well and happy xx

    • Marjorie

      Yes, I think that it’s really hard to be the only adult in the house “shouldering all this responsibility alone” as you note. That’s so true – and so tough. Hang in there. I totally get how you’re feeling.

  • D B

    Like you, I’m widowed with both a child and a parent in my household. Unlike your father, though, my mother has nowhere else to go. So she’s with us, and we are doing our best to sanitize everything that comes into the house. There is a useful video from a primary care physician about how to sanitize your groceries here: I wear a mask and disposable gloves when I prepare meals, in case I’m carrying the virus. (I have reason to believe I wa exposed to it already.) I wear a N95 mask and disposable gloves at the store, and get rid of the gloves as soon as I leave it. I sanitize the masks so we won’t run out of them. I’m lucky that my son is 13 and capable of helping out quite a bit – although I’m also careful not to turn him into a mini-adult. But he is capable of sitting down and applying himself to a day’s worth of school work with little intervention from me. So I don’t have that problem, which is good, because I’m working full-time from home and cutting back is not really an option.

    I read the WHO report that came out of Wuhan and one of the things things that struck me was that there were no documented cases of child-to-adult transmission. In addition, children under 18 made up just 2.4% of the diagnosed cases. The kids who didn’t have symptoms also didn’t have detectable levels of the virus. The whole concept of asymptomatic carriers was pretty much debunked. So – if you get sick your kids might get sick, but more likely they wouldn’t – they are something like 10 times less likely than you to get it. And it’s even less likely that they would infect an adult who caring for them. However, your house might infect another adult. So it’s probably safer to send your kids away to friends then to ask someone to come stay with them. I even think it might be better, because they’d miss you less in a new setting. However, I suspect they would hate to be separated from one another. You didn’t mention that but I’d be thinking about it, were I you.

    So – if you get really sick, get a hazmat team to deep clean your house before you let Abby into it. Or just some kind neighbors who’ve had the virus and recovered. While it’s always good to have a Plan B, do recognize that even if you get this coronavirus, there is every chance it won’t be any worse than a cold. You’re still well under 50. Myself, I haven’t really made that Plan B. I’m pretty confident that I’ll be fine, and that I’ll do a better job of protecting my mother from exposure than almost anyone else would. Just another perspective on how to view these risks.

    • Marjorie

      This is a great piece of advice! I’m hoping that the fact that I’ve now been isolating with my kids for two weeks means that our risk has gone way down. I hope!

  • Lorie Monroe

    Just found your blog and am so comforted by your honesty which is beautifully written with wit and humanity. I’m a youngish widow now since 2018 trying to find my way. As an assistant principal and former ELA teacher like yourself, I’m also scrambling to get virtually learning off the ground at my school by Monday on top of take care of a daughter and worrying about worst case scenarios, including my newly-developed sore throat. I’m so glad you are feeling better and thankful that I “bumped” into your blog that I plan to follow. Thank you for sharing your life with us and stay safe.

    • Marjorie

      Ugh. It’s all so hard and trying to also do distance learning (with no significant training, at least for me!) has been a challenge. And then there’s everything else, of course. Hang in there, and thanks for reading.

  • Nina

    It’s 12 am in the morning. I cannot sleep but it has become my new normal without my best friend and husband. So , Yes I am reading through your blog posts. All of them. Tomorrow I will reread them and the day after that. It brings me an odd sense of comfort; it has managed to cut through the silent tears that fall each night. Thank you my friend. I feel like Hashem sent you to me during this difficult time of my life. Thank you.

    • Marjorie

      I’m so glad my posts can bring you some comfort. I bet the early posts (from 2018) will really resonate with you. I wrote through my grief, so it’s very raw. Hang in there.