Computer at table for blog by DC widow writer Marjorie Brimley Hale
New Perspectives

Why I Write

It’s 5 am and the house is dark. The only light in the kitchen comes from the button on the dishwasher, telling me that it is now clean. The birds aren’t even up yet, but I am.

I’ve been here often, in this place and at this time. It has been my writing spot for many years, especially before the sun was up. I didn’t make a conscious effort to wake up in the wee hours of the morning after Shawn died, but it often happened. I’d lay in bed for a while, tossing and turning, my mind often filled with anxiety. Were the kids okay? What was that rattle in the car, really? Was I actually going to keep online dating, even after the past week of horrible men?

Eventually, I’d get up. When I did, I usually found myself downstairs with a cup of instant coffee in my hand and my laptop in front of me.

And I’d write.

I wish I had all my blog posts time stamped, because I think it would tell an interesting story. The ones I wrote at night were often the saddest, as it’s when I missed Shawn the most. The ones I wrote during the day were usually filled with frustration and anger, or of the crazy things that happened in my daily life. But the ones that I wrote in the morning? Those were often the ones where I tried to make sense of my life.

It didn’t happen right away, this reflective bit. I mean, I suppose it happened in small ways, but it took many months (maybe even a year, to be honest) before I could really start to make sense of widowhood. And much of that sense I made was through writing about it.

Here’s one excerpt from one entitled “Shawn’s Wife” that I remember writing in the early morning, at the end of the first year of widowhood:

So what am I now? I’m Shawn’s widow, certainly, but I’m not his wife.

This shift in identity has been a powerful one for me, and one that I’m only just beginning to explore. What does it mean to be seen only for who I am, and not for whose hand I hold? And if I’ve been part of a duo for so long, how do I even know who I am without my other half?

As I look to the future, I’m starting to think, “what’s next?” I wish I had a real answer, but it’s only in the past few weeks I’ve actually started to look towards the long-term future. Not just to what I might do with my career or with my finances, but also to what I might do in the long-term with my life. I’ve started to think about who I might be.

I remember at the time actually sitting back at the kitchen counter and thinking, “who am I going to be?” I knew some things about myself, obviously, but I was still trying to make sense of the new life I found myself living.

And so, I wrote.

I’ve read a lot about the power of writing, and I know that a number of grief-writing workshops exist. I understand that putting down words on paper can be a powerful thing for many people, and that has been true for me as well. I’ve dealt with a lot of my grief through writing and through this blog.

But I’ve also used my writing to try and understand what I’m doing in this world, where I’m going with my life, and why I’m here on this planet. I’ve written to understand myself, and who I am. Of course, I do not have that all figured out, even if I have published many hundreds of thousands of words. Merely writing each week about widowhood has not led me out of it.

Instead, it’s done the opposite. It’s helped me make deeper sense of what it means to grieve someone and to survive that loss.

Yes, in many ways, I am much more healed than I was four years ago. But I still have so many times when I need to make sense of my life. Even now I think how strange it is that Shawn is not here and that I am still living. Even now I wonder how to make sense of our family’s loss in a way that is meaningful and yet still allows us to keep living. Even now I wonder what it will be like when things change again, in some big way, and take me further from the life I once lived.

And so, I write.


  • Gina Hansut

    This piece resognated with me. I am widowed 11 months to my husband of 34 years. I feel like I am still Paul’s wife…which I think I always want to feel….but as time goes’s getting harder to feel that way. I loved being married to him, and maybe it’s old school, but I loved taking care of him. Fussing over dinner, making him his favorite things, especially when he was battling cancer. Making sure he was comfortable and had everything he needed or wanted. All out of love, and he always thanked me, which I didn’t need, it was my honor. I miss that. I miss taking care of him. It’s funny, last evening I sat down and realized that…that I missed being his wife, and questioned am I still a wife or now just a widow. Trying to make sense of it all. I suppose it never will make sense…just have to forge thru. Thank you for your writing. I always look forward to a new piece.

    • M Brimley

      Oh yes, I was about 11 months out when I wrote that piece on wondering who I was going to be in the future. It took a lot of pondering, and I’m not sure I totally know even now, but I do have so much more of a sense of self than I did then. Writing helped me with that.