Shawn and Marjorie Brimley black and white photo before illness
New Perspectives

Who Am I?

Last night, a friend of mine flew in from out of town and we had dinner.  We met up on 14th street and both marveled about how much it had changed from when we were in our 20s and roaming around on a Saturday night.  We had a great meal and got caught up with each other.  But at this point in time, dinner with me is never just one where I gossip with my friends.  It’s almost always a pretty intense affair.

I think when I start talking about my life, it also brings out the serious side in some of my friends as well.  As we ate our gourmet tacos, she shared with me that she was starting to question who she really was.  What was her calling?  What really defined her?

I’ve had a lot of these conversations in the past few years.  Maybe it’s that many of my friends have turned 40, or maybe it’s that we don’t have babies on our hips anymore.  This conversation with my friend tonight reminded me of last fall, when Shawn was first feeling ill and I hosted my book club at my house.  The book we read for that meeting was a serious one, and we all delved into an intense conversation from the very beginning of the night.  We discussed our lives and our futures.  I remember one of my friends – a very successful career woman with a beautiful, happy family – began to talk about how she was starting to wonder about where her life was going.  She said sometimes she looked around at her life and wondered, “Is this all there is?”

I remember thinking – and maybe even saying out loud – “yes, this is it.  And isn’t it great?”

To be fair, I think my book club friend knew that she was lucky in life, and yet was expressing a bit of mid-life ennui.  And if I’m going to be honest, I felt it too.  I know I struggled with where my career was going and the fact that my kids were growing up.  But really, my life last fall was great and I usually recognized that.  Even though I may have had some general angst, I basically knew who I was.  Most days, I thought, “damn, if there was a life lottery, I won it.”  I didn’t need to achieve some awesome goal or become a household name.  I (mostly) just wanted what I had.

Now, of course, I am missing such a vital part of that previous life that I yearn for the days when I wondered – even just a little bit – “Is this all there is?”

I feel anxious without Shawn, and I feel lonely too.  If I try hard enough, I can remember how it felt to be so content.  Which in some ways makes it worse.  Because like my friend I met up with tonight, I am questioning who I really am.  Before Shawn’s death, I was a teacher and a mother.  I am still those things.  But I was also Shawn’s wife, and I am not that anymore.  Or not quite.

That is a huge change.  I can’t fully fathom that he’s gone and I still feel like his wife.  I still wear my wedding ring and have no plans to take it off.  But then, who am I?  Am I a woman who wears a ring that a dead man gave her because she can’t face the new reality in front of her?


In some ways there are parts of me that are the same, but much of the time I’m surprised with my reactions to different life events.  More than ever before, I ask those same questions that my friend asked me last night.  What is my calling?  What really defines me?

I don’t know.  Sometimes I sit on my bed at night, typing these blog posts and thinking about what life would be like if Shawn never got sick.  We’d probably be watching Netflix and maybe I’d be worrying about whether to take on a new role at work.  I might even be realizing that 40 was rapidly approaching and I didn’t have anything specific that defined me.  Maybe I would have said to Shawn as we settled in for the night, “I don’t know who I really am.”

But I did.  I may have felt unsure at times, but I never felt unmoored.  I knew who I was.  I knew who loved me.

I guess the only thing I really know right now is that I don’t truly know who I am.  There is some clarity in that statement.  I have no idea what the next few days or weeks or months will mean for me, and how I might start to re-imagine myself.  But in an odd way, I accept this fact, because it seems that there’s no other way to feel when the most important anchor in your life is pulled out from under you.



  • Joy

    There’s so much wisdom here. Thank you for writing. Something clicked in my head when you wrote than you feel unmoored. I’m so sorry and hate this for you. If there’s a positive spin to be had here, I’m hopeful–and really feel for you–that adventure awaits.

    • Marjorie

      Thanks so much, my friend. Being unmoored is exactly how I feel, and I think how many widows (of all ages) feel. It’s like you don’t know where you are rooted. I appreciate the hopefulness!

  • Ian

    I’d agree: as weird as it must feel, I don’t necessarily think that a firm definition for your life could be possible now. This is fundamentally a time of painful transition for you and the kids, so feelings of uncertainty, loss and things being in flux are probably totally normal (and should be for a while, … right?)

    The search for that new normal is going to be a long one, but from what I read each week, you’ve built yourself a great support system and vehicle (in this blog) to figure out the path.


    • Marjorie

      Thanks so much for this comment. I agree – figuring out what my life is right now would be incredibly difficult. There’s only one way to go, and it’s forward. Even if it feels like I’m doing it blind.

  • Sheryll Brimley

    I would think all these feelings are so normal …given the fact that you have lost the “most important anchor” in your life. You ARE facing this new reality & with such grace & wisdom.The fact that you are sharing those feelings & writing about them is just amazing & definately not something that everyone could do. You are such an inspiration to so many. Please know in your heart Marjorie that so many of us love you & your children so very much.

    • Marjorie

      Thanks Sheryll. I’m sure you understand how important the anchor is – it’s just so disconcerting to be without Shawn. But I so appreciate the love sent from so many people, especially you.

  • Everett Hartman

    you have been through a life changing event and forever now you will mark it as Before Shawn’s illness and After……..fondly remember the before life but you will soon be more focused on the after for yourself and your children. And 40 is just a number, speaking from experience ! You have always “moved forward” in your life and you will again because that;s who you are.

      • Kristen W

        Right now i think I’m glad I have the roles of teacher, mom, friend, etc. I think without those roles, the missing parts of me (wife/partner/lover) would feel like such a loss I might not be able to bear it. We are all just trying to live the life he would have wanted, and having those people who need me seems to help.

        On another note, was that El Centro? I only ask because my late husband George was one of the architects who did the design. <3

        • Marjorie

          Gosh, it’s been almost two years, so I can’t remember the restaurant from that night. But I love El Centro!

  • Paula Donnelly

    The turning-40-midlife-crisis must feel so much more acutely like a crisis this year… but you’ve weathered it! Like so many women, you wear a million hats every day and I bet you don’t realize half of them (think of what you are to your students!). For what it’s worth, I think many of us are at a professional crossroads sort of age which has made me, personally, feel disconnected in some ways.

    I know you know you aren’t *one* thing and “unmoored” sounds like a really apt description of losing one of those identifying titles. You can be Shawn’s wife for as long as his memory lives on, which will pretty clearly be a number of generations.

    And I got surfing lessons for my 40th… it would be kind of wild to add “surfer” to your “who I am” list 🙂