DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley Hale hugs husband Chris at wedding by barn for dating post
New Perspectives

What If He Dies? (Part 2)

Well. There’s nothing like writing a post about my fear of Chris’s death to cause a lot of mail to arrive in my inbox.

Some of these messages were public. But a lot of them were private, as sometimes happens with really intense posts I write. “I feel that way too,” said one reader after another. “I worry about my new partner dying.”

“I know,” I’d write back. “It’s just something widows feel, I think. We know death is real. And even though we’ve faced it, it still scares us.”

A few days after I wrote the post, I was talking to Chris in the kitchen after dinner. We picked at the leftover gnocchi and I told him about some of the things that people had written me. “I think I hit a nerve,” I said. “Other widows feel like this too. They worry. I guess it’s just part of widowhood.”

He nodded thoughtfully.

“So, to reiterate, you can’t die,” I said.

He laughed. “No problem,” he said, but then he added, “but if I did, I think you’d be okay. I do.”

I strongly disagreed. I love him so much, our love is such a gift and it is so incredible that we found each other. His death would crush me. I could not do it again, I insisted. It was not possible.

“I disagree,” he said. “You’d survive it.”

We debated some more. Just because I’d survived it once didn’t mean I’d survive it again. I love him more than I ever imagined would be possible, and I’ve opened my heart in a way that makes me truly vulnerable. Another massive crushing of my heart wasn’t something I could imagine living through.

He kept disagreeing with me. “You’d survive it because you know things now about survival that you didn’t know before. I’m not just talking about how to deal with the DMV and the bank accounts. I’m talking about who you are now. You understand what it takes to get through trauma. You know it’s important for your mental health to run daily, you know you like cooking, you know you need people around you when things are hard. When you were widowed before, you didn’t really know what would help you through the pain. But now you know.”

For the first time that night, I didn’t have an argument against him. He was right, in a way. I have things that I’ve carved out for myself now – friendships and hobbies and lifestyle changes – that weren’t part of my life (at least not in the same way) as they were when I was first widowed.

I guess you can say I now have “widow skills.”

“Well, you still can’t die,” I said, after considering his statement.

He squeezed my leg, and smiled slightly at me. I know Chris feels the pressure that he really can’t die, not just because I’ve written about it, but because he knows the nightmares I still have and the fear I still feel. And because, of course, he loves our kids. He doesn’t want to put any of us through that again.

Obviously, we both know that this isn’t something he’s likely able to influence. We both have to live with the possibility of death, someday.

A few minutes after our conversation, the boys begged him to read The Ickabog for their bedtime story, and he went upstairs while I wrote this post. And so right now, I can hear him, reading the story about a monster who lives in a marsh. I am thinking about how much I love him, how much we all love him, and how he can’t die. Not now. Not anytime before 95. No, he cannot die. The kids would not be okay.

But really, I’m not thinking about the kids.

I would not be okay.

To distract myself, I open up my inbox. In it is another email, one I haven’t yet responded to. It’s from a fellow widow. He wrote this:

My sister called me a while ago, right after her second husband got an ALS diagnosis. Her first husband left us after leukemia, years ago, when their kids were tiny. She calls, heartbroken of course, and then she says, “But I did this already. I know I’ll get through it.”

She has.

For some reason, it makes me feel better. It isn’t a letter about how everything is going to be okay. It isn’t a note that tells me that it is unlikely that I’d be a widow twice. It isn’t a comment that helps me worry less about whether Chris might die. No, instead, it is a few sentences that reminds me about the same thing that Chris said to me just a few minutes ago. “You know things now about survival that you didn’t know before.”

It’s something Chris knows about me. And deep down, I know it about myself, too.

Image Credit: Sharyn Peavey.


  • Lori Gery

    I think because I’ve done it and I know how brutal it is, I would not survive. I mean, we all know that short of suicide, we don’t really have a choice but to carry on, but I honestly would not want to live through this again.

    • M Brimley

      I get that. (And yes, I sincerely hope no one considers suicide, obviously.) I think that’s why some people say that love again is not something that they want to do, and I can completely understand that. It’s up to each of us, and I 100% understand when people choose different paths.

  • Lisa

    I’ve already decided if I’m fortunate enough to have another partner, I will die first. No questions, no arguments.
    Ha! I wish it were that simple. My dark humor is showing.

    • M Brimley

      I make Chris promise me all the time that he will not die first. He does it, although we both know it’s kinda crazy!

  • Anonymous

    This is such a hard and (I think) less-talked about part of grief. I know this is not the same thing, but ever since one of my two closest friends died very suddenly and very young, I often catch myself thinking this way about the other friend. She wrote a very sweet card about looking forward to many more decades of friendship and my first immediate thought was, “Please let it be decades. What if something happens to you too?” It felt so dark and morbid. My therapist helped me re-frame it simply as a grief response, not being morbid, but …… man, it sucks. Doesn’t grief take enough energy in the bad momentes not to darken some of the normal and happy moments too??? Ugh.

    • M Brimley

      It is so hard. I know so many widows who struggle with this, and yet, I think you’re right that it’s less talked about. Maybe because we figure if we find a new friend or a new partner or have a new baby, then everything is okay again? Which, of course, it isn’t. Thanks for sharing.