DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley gets car battery repaired
New Perspectives

The Day the Car Didn’t Start

The day the car didn’t start was a day when I really needed the car to start.

I guess that’s usually how it goes, right? As usual, I had risen at five in the morning, gone on a run and pulled myself together by the time my kids woke up. “Okay,” I said to the three of them at breakfast, “here’s the plan. Grandpa Tom will take Tommy to his allergy shots. I’ll drop Austin off with the Wilsons and Claire is coming with me to Children’s Hospital to get a blood draw. We’ll all need to go in a few minutes.”

I rounded the big kids up and we went out to the car.

It wouldn’t start.

I tried a few times to get the car to start, but it was dead. “What’s wrong?” Claire asked.

“The car is dead,” I said. I cursed inwardly.

“Oh no!” she said. “What are we going to do?”

I was thinking the same thing. “Okay,” I said, thinking out loud, “Austin, you can walk to the Wilson’s. Just make sure to look when you cross the street.”

Austin was elated to have this level of responsibility. “Claire,” I said, turning to her, “we’ll take a cab to the hospital.”

I looked on my phone. It was early in the morning but already rush hour in DC. I knew it wasn’t going to be cheap to get there.

But I could do it. I texted my dad about the car and then I emailed my boss to let her know I’d be a little later than planned. Claire whined in the cab about how much she didn’t want to get a blood draw, and I tried to reassure her that it wasn’t a big deal.

Eventually, we got to Children’s Hospital. I filled out dozens of pieces of paper and wrote down my insurance information.

“You have new insurance?” the woman at the front desk asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“So the primary person responsible is no longer Shawn Brimley?” she asked.

“No,” I said, “he died. My daughter is under my insurance now.”

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “Let me get your new information entered into the system.”

I came back and sat next to Claire. There was a kid in a wheelchair across from us and another kid without any hair. “Mom,” she said quietly, looking around the waiting room, “I feel so bad for some of the kids here.”

She paused, and then even quieter, she said to me, “I’m glad I only have allergies. It could be so much worse.”

I squeezed her hand. I was thinking the same thing at that moment. “Everyone here is really brave,” I said, “including you.”

An hour later, Claire had her blood draw and we were back in a cab headed to her school. We stopped to get a treat at a coffee shop beforehand, and laughed about the adventure we’d been on that day. After I dropped her off at school, I went home to meet the man from AAA and get the car started.

As I waited, I thought about how tough the morning had been. I was exhausted and I hadn’t even begun to do the “work” part of my day. My car was dead. I had to deal with new insurance forms. My daughter still needed a lot of care for her allergies.

And, I thought, I am doing it all alone. Yes, my dad is around. But I’m handling all of those big decisions alone.

But then I started to think about how much harder this morning could have been. When my car didn’t start, I didn’t think twice about taking an expensive cab both ways to the hospital. When my son needed to go with a friend to school, I knew my neighborhood was safe enough to let him walk a few blocks alone. When my daughter felt sick, she was able to get treatment. When my husband’s insurance no longer covered us, my workplace provided insurance for me and the kids. When I needed an extra hour to deal with my dead car battery, my boss didn’t penalize me.

I’m alone. I’m doing so much more work with so many more obstacles than I was a few years ago.

But some mornings I sit back and remember this: it could be so much worse.


    • Marjorie

      And also that things are hard! I think it’s one of those things where it’s good to acknowledge both.

  • JustDad

    I’m glad to read that you feel blessed. As I read through the posts on the HYWC band, I’m regularly stunned at how much harder other widow/ers have it than I do. While we all have this similarly-sized hole in our hearts, there isn’t a day where I don’t say, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” My kids are great. I have a loving family. I’m healthy. I have friends who get me. I have a great job. I own my home. My cars all start (today, at least!). Some of these folks literally have NONE of those things. While I don’t dig the loneliness and hard work that accompany widow-hood, having grief compounded by more immediate struggles has got to be 10X worse. To be able to feel blessed, grateful even, keeps me going every single day.

    • Marjorie

      Yes – true. I think about my luck often. I didn’t lose my house or my car and my kids are surrounded by so much love. Some days, the grief is overpowering – and I do think that’s the same regardless of circumstances. But yes, I’m lucky to have what I have.

  • Lindley Worley

    Thank you for sharing because I feel and think the same exact words you shared! I’m doing it all alone now. But, I’m doing it. I’m really making it happen now by myself and with my two little kids. Thank you!

    • Marjorie

      It’s so tough – every day. And yet, some days I need to remind myself that it could be so much worse.

  • Greg

    At the ends of days like these I sometimes want to shake my fist at the heavens and yell “is that all you got?” but then I usually settle down and pour out a libation of thanks to the blue-eyed girl whose stubborn refusal to die taught me enough patience to get through such times with at least a little dignity.
    I remember my family played this silly game on long car rides that we called “What could be worse?” One person would start with something like “Oh no! Gramma ran over the dog, what could be worse?” and the next person would have to top it with something like “She was driving a stolen car, what could be worse?” it would go on and on, and get sillier and sillier, until Gramma was head of an international crime syndicate or something. It was like we were training for days like the one you describe. But there was no way we could have trained for the day our spouses died, when we’d learn the answer to that question.

    • Marjorie

      Seriously. Sometimes, when things seem really terrible, I just remind myself that I’ve lived through much, much worse. It’s not a consolation, really, but a reminder that I can get through anything – because I’ve already faced the worst.

  • Rebecca G

    My husband died suddenly a few after days after injuries sustained in a car accident 6 weeks ago. I found your blog about a month ago when I was searching for someone who knew what I was going through. Each week I am so glad I found your blog! It feels like you know exactly what I need to hear. This week was no different. I edged the yard which hadn’t been done in two months, ran out of fuel, made mixed fuel all by myself, sucked out the dryer drain pipe that flooded, figured out how to pay June’s bills somehow, and got my son off to Officer Candidate School on Saturday. I’m angry every day that my husband is gone, and am definitely not the same person I was 6 weeks ago, but it really could be so much worse. I have a support system that will come if I ask, and I am working on that. I haven’t been sick (lupus) since he died which is rare, my neighbor told me what to buy to make mixed fuel, and I took my son to the airport in a car which has been lent to me indefinitely. The Marine Corps was his Dad’s thing with him, but I read his orders and his instruction packet and made sure he had what he needed. My son balked, but I had my father in law as backup. I was able to pay my bills because people I don’t even know took up a collection at the base where he was an Army Civilian that has bought gas and groceries for weeks, which has saved me from using my bank account that much. I’ve had friends and family help me with the neverending stack of paperwork once I finally got his Death Certificates a week ago. It’s manageable now and looking at it doesn’t cause me to panic anymore. There are people just like me who have not had the help I have had. I have no idea how they do it. I’ve been grateful. Thanks again for your blog. I especially loved the recent one about how your life’s plans have changed. I’m really still trying to wrap my head around that, especially since my youngest is in high school and we were starting to make plans for once she left for college. Everything is different now. It helps to know it isn’t just me!

    • Marjorie

      Oh, your story really brought me back to those early days – it’s so tough just to continue to move through the world when you are in that initial time period after loss. I think the best thing you can do is to be kind to yourself. You are already doing SO much. If it’s any consolation, I didn’t do some of the tasks you describe (like yard work) for like a year! Thanks for reaching out. I’ll be holding you in my heart.

  • Wishy

    I feel the same sometime. I read your story yesterday and I thought, thank god that I’m so lucky my car still start everyday. And believe it or not this morning when I had to drop my son off at school on the way to work. I had a flat tyre. Well I try to called roadside assistance to help me change the tyre and it will take them an hour to be at my place then I decided to do it by myself. Unbelievable what did just happened to me today !!!

    • Marjorie

      I mean, the universe, right? It’s so hard to survive the big tragedies and yet the little ones can sometimes be the thing that actually breaks us. Good luck with the car!

  • Jen

    I love your perspective on this. It is always important to see the blessings during our hardest times in life. I don’t know I could have gotten through this first 8 weeks without the support of my family, friends, and co-workers. The support made me feel like Phil was sending me ways to survive.

    • Marjorie

      I think EVERY DAY about how lucky I am to live in my community and have my wonderful extended family. It’s the ONLY way I’d ever be surviving this.