Daughter of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley runs in cross country race
New Perspectives

What’s the Worst Thing That Can Happen?

I was driving to a cross-country meet with Claire a few weeks ago, and she was really nervous. “I have butterflies!” she said from the backseat.

I tried to calm her down. She’s still in elementary school and she was only going to be running a couple of miles. “It’s for fun, anyway,” I said.

“But what if it’s terrible?” she said. I could hear the worry in her voice.

“Okay,” I said, “what’s the worst thing that can happen today?”

“I could die!” Claire said.

“You’re not going to die,” I said. “You know that. So let’s think about what actually might happen.”

“I could have to walk,” she said. “Or I could be the last person to finish!”

“So, let’s imagine that worst-case scenario,” I said. “If you’re the last one to finish, then what happens?”

“I’d feel sad,” she said.

“That’s real,” I said. “But that’s the worst thing that can happen. That doesn’t seem so bad!”

She smiled at me and admitted that I was right. She was still nervous, but really, she knew it would be okay.

Later, I thought about how I could apply this question to a lot of areas of my life. Of course, I know the worst thing that can randomly happen at any point: someone I love might die. But there’s not a lot I can do about something like that.

In the rest of my life, this question is a useful one, especially right now. I’m still scared to do a lot of things that I once did with ease. I do not want to eat out alone. I do not want to head to a party, dressed to the nines, without someone at my side. I do not want to drive my kids by myself to another sporting event where I’ll encounter dozens of intact families. I do not want to strike up a conversation with a handsome stranger at the coffee shop.

I do not want to do a lot of things, actually.

But why? Maybe I should apply this same question to myself: what’s the worst thing that can happen?

I might feel lonely eating out alone. I might cry. Someone else might feel sorry for me.

I might really miss Shawn at a party. I might see other couples and feel jealous. I might walk home in thigh-high pleather boots and cry the entire way.

I might feel overwhelmed at a sporting event without Shawn. I might see the other fathers and worry obsessively about my children’s futures without their dad.

And I might get rejected if I try and talk to someone new. Maybe immediately, or maybe after some time has gone by. I might get my heart broken.

But you know what won’t happen? Just like Claire at the cross-country meet, I know one thing for sure: I’m not going to die if I do these things.

I’m not saying I can – or should – do everything. There’s a limit to this question, of course. But when I start to retreat into myself, I’ve found it helpful to remember what I asked Claire that day:

“What’s the worst thing that can happen?”

Really, the answer is sometimes not quite as bad as I imagine.

Image Credit: María Luz Bravo Photography.


  • Brandi

    Love this! Once you’ve experienced our kind of heart break, anything outside of course another lose of our loved one, is a piece of cake. At least, that’s how I feel on my “good” days, anyways. What’s the worst that can happen when the worst has already happened? ❤

    • Marjorie

      Totally. It makes you simultaneously more scared to do things (because you know what could happen) but also more brave (because you can face a lot more than you thought.)

  • Steph

    I am double-learning this now, as my 18 year old son has developed a serious mental illness 2 1/2 years after losing his Dad, (and during his final school year assessments). My psychologist is helping me learn not to ‘catastrophise’ – instead to be in the moment, because that’s all we can work with. However I totally understand Marjorie the statement about the challenge of seeing ‘intact families’, and worrying about the kids futures having encountered this loss as just children- I just hope this means they start adulthood as compassionate and self-aware people who have a better sense of what’s important, and to find happiness in the everyday because they know the fragility of life and health. Thanks for all your posts, I rarely comment but do appreciate your sharing this strange life we now lead. Steph x

    • Marjorie

      Thanks so much for reading. I’m so sorry for all you are going through. I do love your psychologist’s advice – I tend to “catastrophise” as well…maybe because I get that things really can so south in an instant, and yet – what good is that? I’m going to think a lot about your comment. Thanks so much for sharing.