Woman typing at computer for blog by DC widow writer Marjorie Brimley Hale

When Auto-Fill Won’t Cut It

I’ve filled out so many forms in my life. That’s part of being an adult, I suppose. But the form-filling-out got way more intense when I became a widow.

When Shawn died, I seemed to need a new form for every single account I had everywhere. Sure, that made sense at the bank, but it seemed crazy to me that I needed a needed to fill out a new form (declaring my newly widowed status) for the internet company, among many others.

But the worst kinds of forms were the ones I didn’t have to totally re-do. The worst kinds of forms were the drop-down menus that I had to change. “Married” became “widowed” and “primary emergency contact” became my dad, instead of Shawn. Many times, like on the pool membership form, I just had to delete Shawn’s name, which felt painful every time.

This happened a lot with the forms I had to fill out for the kids. Since I did basically all the forms before Shawn died, his name was almost always in the “parent 2” slot. (Can I digress here for a second? How different would this blog have been if for some reason I had died and Shawn had written about his life? I bet there would be a lot more about figuring out how to remember to bring snacks for the kids’ sports games and a lot less about fixing the damn basement. We really did fit into traditional gender roles in that way.) Anyway, as I slowly updated these forms in the year after I was widowed, I often had to delete Shawn’s name from the “parent 2” slot.

“He’s still their dad!” I wanted to scream. But his phone number didn’t work, and he wasn’t going to be available for pickup of a sick kid, so I knew I needed to delete his information. Still, it stung.

But time passed. And it got more normal to see these forms, with no one else next to my name on the bank account and the school enrollment forms. And then more time passed and Chris and I moved in together and got married and slowly his name was sometimes next to mine on the forms.

Last week, Austin had to visit the doctor for a checkup. As part of the process, I had to fill out a registration form for our pediatrician. I hadn’t done it in almost a year, but I remembered that it was long and (mostly) boring: name, phone number, date of Austin’s Covid vaccine, what types of illnesses Austin had ever had in his life, etc. I clicked through the buttons saying that “everything was the same” but then stopped when I got to “parent 2”. It dawned on me that since Chris was now Austin’s legal father, his name should go there.

I clicked on the box which had previously said something like, “none” and put “adoptive father” (an interesting choice to have on a form, though it makes sense in a medical context) and then all of the sudden the rest of the information auto-filled.

With Shawn’s information.

I guess I shouldn’t have been shocked. Apparently, it had been there all along, just waiting as though Shawn might come back from the dead. Maybe it happens sometimes! Not the coming back from the dead part, but a parent coming in and out of a child’s life. Who knows? But anyway, there it was: his name and all his other information.

And since I was trying to fill out the form correctly, I had to go and delete all of Shawn’s information and put in all of Chris’s information.

I don’t know why this felt so strange, but it did. Yes, of course I’m so grateful and happy that my kids have Chris in their lives and that now as their (legal) father, he can be on these medical/legal/school forms. But it’s weird to delete Shawn’s name. It feels strange.

Sometimes when Tommy refers to Shawn, he says something like, “remember our old dad?” as though I may have forgotten him. He knows it’s possible this can happen with people since he has very few memories of Shawn. I always tell him something like, “of course I remember your dad Shawn. He loved to wrestle with you on the bed and carry you on his shoulders!”

Time has faded so many of Tommy’s real memories of Shawn. He was too little when Shawn died and that means he just cannot remember much. It’s up to me to remind him.

And this story may seem like something that has nothing to do with the form at the pediatrician’s office, but it’s one of the first things I thought of when I was clicking through that form. Which is strange in itself. They’re really different issues, aren’t they?

I guess it’s not that I’m worried that this one form at the pediatrician’s office is going to erase Shawn forever from the kids’ lives. I know it doesn’t really matter that much. But it’s odd to just be replacing Shawn’s name with Chris’s name, and Shawn’s number for Chris’s number, and so on and so on. When I think about Shawn and Chris as fathers, I think about them in an additive sense, not a zero-sum-game sense.

But that’s not how forms work. I’ve filled out enough of them to know.