Restaurant similar to that frequented by DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley
What Not to Say

Where’s Your Husband?

You can get the best huevos rancheros in Austin, Texas.  Though I’m not a native-born Texan, I’ve spent big chunks of my life with my family in this great town.  So when I get the chance for a meal out, I do it.  A few days ago, on a weekend downtown by myself, I wandered into a restaurant specializing in Oaxacan cuisine and asked the waiter what he recommended for my brunch.  His answer:  huevos rancheros.

We got to chatting after that.  I asked him about how they make their amazing sauces, and he told me more about the history of the restaurant.  Then, as conversations sometimes do, we turned to surface details of our lives.  He was a single guy, trying to figure out the next step in life.  I was a mom of three kids, I told him.  I left it at that.  I figured my missing wedding ring would answer the question about my marital status.

“So what are you doing next?” the waiter asked.  “Coming back here for dinner?”

He winked at me.  I laughed. “No, I have to go back to the suburbs and go back to being a mom,” I said.  “But it’s been great to eat here.  I really enjoyed the food.”

The waiter cleared my plate and then asked, “Where’s your husband?  He should have come with you!”

This question always hits me like a ton of bricks.  And yes, I get it more often than you’d think.  I actually can’t believe people still ask this question because I could be divorced, separated, married to a woman, a single mother by choice, or any number of other categories that would make me not have a husband.

But at this point, since I did once have a husband, I figured I could have answered a few different ways.

Option #1:  I could lie.  “Oh, he wanted to come but I needed him to stay home and watch the kids.  He’s great at making sure I get time for myself.”

Problems with this option:  I know that I am lying.  Also, the waiter could ask me follow-up questions that might eventually make me cry and give away that I was lying in the first place.

Option #2:  I could try and skirt the issue and give a non-answer to the question.  “Oh, well, it’s so great to be here alone!  I love getting time just by myself.”

Problems with this option:  I am also lying!  I like having some time away from my kids, but I wish Shawn could be with me.  Also, the waiter could continue to press the question, with something like, “yes, but doesn’t your husband miss you?”  (Answer:  “I fucking hope so!”)

Option #3:  I could refuse to answer the question.  “I appreciate the concern but I don’t really want to go into that.” 

Problems with this option:  It makes the waiter think the worst.  Maybe my husband was a serial cheater or a serial killer!  Who knows with this answer!  Also, it makes me feel like I’m being disingenuous to Shawn – because I know that he was a great husband and this answer makes him sound like a douchebag.

Option #4:  I could tell the truth.  “It would be great if my husband could be here, but he died of cancer a year and a half ago.”

Problems with this option:  It makes the waiter uncomfortable.  It could make the waiter say something like, “I’m so sorry I asked!” and feel like he ruined my brunch.  It also makes me feel a bit bad for making the waiter feel awful.

So, dear readers, which option to you think I chose as I ate my brunch?

I paused before I answered.  To lie or not to lie?  The only option I knew was out was #3 – I wasn’t going to make Shawn look bad, even to a stranger who would never see him again.

I also couldn’t really fathom option #1.  I mean, it’s an all-out lie, and I still had half of my plate of huevos rancheros to go.  I was sitting at the bar and I was the only person there so this waiter literally only had me to talk to.  It was likely to lead to even more discussion and I didn’t want to keep making stuff up about my husband who was not actually living and breathing anymore.

So, I thought, should I skirt the question, return to my magazine and hope he would get the point that I wasn’t in the mood to share more?  Or shoud I tell him the truth?

If you’ve been reading my blog long enough, I bet you know what I chose.

I told him the truth.

He stumbled all over his reply.  “Oh no, I’m so sorry.  I’m so sorry!” he said.  “I shouldn’t have pried.”  He looked down.  Like many people I encounter, he was uncomfortable with death and he worried that he’d ruined my brunch.

“It’s okay,” I said, “I get that question a lot.”

He still looked pretty horrified, so to make him feel better I said, “I’m lucky that I have a great family here in Austin who let me have weekend breaks like this.”

He smiled.  “Family is the best,” he said, looking more relaxed.

We chatted more about the huevos rancheros and the way that they were different from other similar dishes served by rival restaurants.  He didn’t ask me any more personal questions and was clearly happy to stay in a “safe” zone with me.  He brought me extra tortillas to scoop up the yummy sauce and didn’t charge me for my coffee.

Yes, maybe he was worried that he reminded me that my husband is dead.  But I already know that.  I already think about it all the time.  All he made me do was say it out loud.

I left him a big tip.  I didn’t want to ruin his day.  He hadn’t ruined mine. 


  • Rachel

    Yes! People always say to me “sorry to bring it up” or “so sorry to remind you” and my response is usually something like “I am never not thinking about it”. Not that my mind is focused on my husband being dead every second, but it is a part of me, something that I will always carry and is always there.

    • Marjorie

      Exactly. I never forget that I lost my husband, so it’s not like someone bringing it up can ruin my day! I’m much happier when they then ask me about him and I can share the stories of our life together.

    • Marianne

      Exactly! My husband is always on my mind. And to be honest, I’m yearning to tell people that I’m grieving, and to mention my husband. I so much want to keep him around in some way. I even show people his picture, assuming there is time or it’s appropriate. There is nothing to be ashamed of in grief and I frankly don’t care if I cry in front of others. Maybe we need to make it more normal. There are grieving people all around. It’s not right that we have to try and hide away something so integral and central to ourselves as the fact that we have lost a spouse? It’s not something to be ashamed of. Now it is part of the waiter’s experience that he met a bereaved woman and knows that might be an explanation for why someone’s husband isn’t with her in the restaurant. I think that is good.

      • Marjorie

        I love what you wrote here. Yes, we need to make grief more normal – because everyone will experience it at some point. I too love to talk about Shawn.

  • Bonnie

    Well although I’m older , 63, I’ve been a widow for a little over two years. I used to get more stares , etc, which let me know people wondered how I was doing but were afraid to ask. Of course as time goes by I don’t get as many stares. But what I’ve learned and told my friends is to ask me how I am. Or mention my husband. I’d rather they mention it than just stare. If I feel like talking I’ll talk, if I don’t I’ll just tell them I can’t answer them. I’m not an expert on being a widow. I just know how I’ve dealt for two years. I know time helps but for some reason this week I’ve cried more than I have in a while. I’m suddenly more lonely than ever. While I don’t wish being a widow on anyone, I just wish others realized a few things.

    • Marjorie

      Oh yes, my friends know that I want them to talk about Shawn and remember him fondly. It’s something that was hard at first, but I think it’s been so good for me and the kids.

    • Marjorie

      It’s such an up-and-down road, this path of widowhood. Some days I feel like it’s easier, and then I’ll feel like it’s impossible. But we keep going, because that’s all we can do, I guess.

  • Eiley

    Im four months in live in a beautiful close knit town that cares for myself and my children . I work in customer service so i get it all day everyday i have learnt to step outside of my body and talk facts but somedays its really hard and you cannot do it. But ive not had to explain it to a stranger yet ,i have relayed the conversation in my head but i tend to just blurt stuff out without thinking

    • Marjorie

      I’m so glad you have support. And yes, it’s hard to explain things (which happens to me often, since I live in a big city) but it’s gotten easier the more I’ve done it. I hope you’re hanging in there. 4 months was my low point – things looked up a bit after that.

  • Lyn

    Really, four months was your low point? Today is exactly four months since my beautiful husband died, and today, I found your site and just read this. Now, I know that I am not the only one missing him even more and having my low point at four months. Glad to know, is all.

    • Marjorie

      Yes, it was. I can VIVIDLY remember sitting at my kitchen counter at exactly the four-month mark and thinking, “I cannot do this anymore.” It was my low. Things are still hard, of course, but never as hard as that. Yes, it will get better. Hang in there. Sending hugs.

  • Tim

    I found your blog yesterday and have been thinking about this four month period. I lost my 56 year old wife to cancer in July and your blog is reinforcing my feelings. So I feel a big thank you is in order to you for posting your blog. Thank you – I wish you happiness.

    • Marjorie

      If it helps to know this, four months was my lowest point. Things got easier after that. Never EASY, but easier. Take care – and hang in there.