DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley holds son Austin with daughter Claire in hospital
What Not to Say

Why Widows Always Think About Death

If you want to believe that you’ll live forever, do not get into a conversation with a young widow. To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to get through a whole discussion with another young widow without talking about death. Even the young widows who are my closest friends – the ones who I talk to about mundane daily events on a regular basis – even with them, pretty much every conversation of any length will inevitably include at least a brief conversation about death or dying.

I don’t try to have these conversations with my widow friends. It just happens. I guess it’s because at this point, most of us have learned how to not talk about death all the time with non-widows, but we still need an outlet, and we know we can have these types of conversations with each other.

Just after Shawn died, all I could talk about was death. In fact, I talked about his death with an obsession that was oddly similar to how I talked about the births of my three children just after they came into this world. I couldn’t not talk about death. It was all I thought about for months and months.

I knew that telling everyone about my husband’s death was sometimes weird, but I couldn’t help it. I told the Amazon delivery guy and the dentist and random women I met at backyard gatherings. I have a million stories about people’s reactions to my news of early widowhood. Most of them were quite shocked. Because of course they were – they were just going about their lives and I dropped a piece of shocking news on them. “Yes!” I wanted them to know, “people our age can die!”

Eventually, my compulsion to talk to everyone about Shawn’s death eased. I could actually think before I spoke, and I would say to myself, “is this really the best time to bring up death?” I still talked about death more than anyone else I knew, but at least I wasn’t constantly the party killer. I began to act like a somewhat normal person in everyday life, even if I still felt like I was walking around with this huge weight on my shoulders.

As time went on, this weight lessened, as it often does with grief. I still felt sad, but I didn’t have to stop myself from telling everyone about Shawn’s death because I didn’t constantly think about losing him. I still thought about him a lot, of course. But I could also drink an entire beer at a party or enjoy a full meal with friends and not think about losing him. I could also stop talking so obsessively about his death with everyone I met.

Or at least I could save those discussions for my widow friends.

It’s been over six years since I had my youngest child Tommy, so I don’t talk as much about his birth anymore (even though it was a pretty dramatic one!) But the other day, I met a woman who was very pregnant with her first child. She asked me about birth, and I went on and on about the various details of my children’s births. I remembered everything – what it felt like to be in those early days of parenthood, what it was like to give birth, and how obsessed I was with my birth stories when I was a holding my infant. I could really identify with her emotional state.

Yes, it’s been a long time since I went through childbirth. I don’t go around talking about birth all the time anymore. But damn, when I met someone who was in the same place I had been, it all came right back to me.

I’m projecting here, but I think this is how I’ll always react to meeting a young widow, especially one who is early in her grief. These days, I don’t talk about Shawn’s death with everyone. In fact, many people I meet don’t know that I lost my husband when I was in my 30s, at least not right away.

But when I meet another young widow, I find that inevitably we talk about death. Not because we love death, but because – like birth – it’s something that has changed the core of who we are.


  • Darlene Donaldson

    This is so powerful and posted in perfect timing. My husband passed 11 months ago today and I can’t seem to stop talking about death even though I want to. It makes everyone around me uncomfortable to the point I feel alone.

    Thank you for showing me I am not alone in this. I look forward to not talking about death so much.

    • M Brimley

      You are not alone! Really. There is a community of widows out here, and though I wish none of us had to be in this position, there is so much support too. Thanks for reading. Hang in there.

  • Kellie C Brady

    I think talking about the death of a loved one (in our cases – our husbands) is or was a form of therapy. It is an unbelievable event whether there was time involved before their death, or if it was a sudden event. Either way I think to talk about it is an attempt to help someone else to understand it and at the same time make it understandable to ourselves. The more you talk about it, the more you make it real? I truly think we experience a level of PTSD from this experience, whether we realize it or not. I think that is why our head (and sometimes our conversations) “go there” more times than we actually talk about it. It was all I thought about for months – the suddenness of a very healthy 51 year old man dying from a widow maker heart attack was shocking and traumatic. Finding him and trying to revive him was an out of body experience. I made all three of my adult children (ages 19, 24 and 27 at the time) go to the doctor for a full check up just to get a baseline for any future cardiac problems, if there were any to watch for in the future. Time definitely helps, but it doesn’t erase what happened. Fortunately most of us learn how to live with the experience and the thoughts and hopefully keep some good friends along the way!

    • M Brimley

      I agree – talking about it really helped me heal. It’s strange how that works, but it’s like I processed Shawn’s death through a series of stories that I told and retold a thousand times.