Son of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley as a baby
What Not to Say

You’re Not Crazy. You’re Grieving.

As I type this, Tommy is in timeout for hitting his brother.

He’s six, so I don’t think he’s going to turn into a bank robber just because he hit his brother. But in our house, actions have consequences. (Or at least I try to make it that way. I’m no perfect parent and I am not necessarily consistent with enforcing consequences. I’m just doing my best, like all single moms. But I digress.)

My kids know that hitting is not okay, and an acceptable defense is not “but I was mad at him!” When they use this line of reasoning (which is common), I say, “it’s okay to feel angry. It’s not okay to hit.”

I think I learned that in a book or something. I don’t know. It’s not like you pop out a baby and then instantly know how to parent. But I like this type of discipline because it is about actions, rather than feelings. The goal with parenting like this is to show my kids that there are certain things they cannot do, but they are still allowed to feel a broad range of emotions.

I was thinking about how my emotions have evolved over the past few years when I was running the other day. I started to think about what was important for me to be writing about right now, especially in the context of my current emotional state. There are many things I could write about – single parenting as a widow during a global pandemic provides a lot of content. And yet, I’ve been realizing lately that while my readers appreciate the stories I tell about my family, there are many people who come to my blog who care little about my specific story. Rather, they want to hear about my pain and struggle.

And they don’t necessarily want to hear any sort of happy ending.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure my readers are happy to hear when I feel a sense of accomplishment in parenting or teaching or life. I’m sure they are glad that I’ve found a wonderful man with whom I can share my future. But I think that many widows (and others who’ve experienced great loss) actually need (yes, need) to hear about my pain, past and present. They need to hear about it not because they wish great sadness upon me, but because they want to know that they aren’t alone.

I know this because they tell me. They write to me about the posts that are the most heart-wrenching and they say, “thank you for writing this.”

But how can words that are so sad also be comforting?

I think we learn at a young age to control our feelings. Yes, it may be sad when someone dies, and it’s acceptable for a widow or a grieving parent to cry for a little while. But at some point, the world is ready for you to move on. Did you know that when my dad was in medical school, they taught the doctors that grief that lastest more than six weeks was considered problematic and outside of the norm?

I hadn’t even gone back to regular showering at six weeks.

I think we’ve gotten more understanding since the 1970s, but it still seems like we say to people who are grieving, “you need to feel better, and you need to do it sooner than you are doing it right now.” We might not say it directly, but we (as a society) seem to still convey this feeling to many of the widows who write me. “Thank you for showing me that my feelings aren’t crazy,” is a frequent comment I see on my blog.

Because here’s the thing: you’re not crazy. You’re grieving. It’s different.

I’m not going to encourage screaming at your children or throwing things at the wall so hard that they break (even though I’ll admit I’ve done both of these things.) But it is okay to feel sad, to curse the universe and to sob at inappropriate times.

It’s okay to feel big emotions, I tell my kids, even if I think they are overreacting. For us adults, I think it’s a lesson we need to hear again: it’s okay to feel wildly strong emotions, especially when something terrible has happened.

Losing someone you love should make you feel really, really sad. And feeling that sadness is normal. Even if it lasts for a really, really long time.

Big feelings can be scary, both to ourselves and to the people around us. But they shouldn’t make anyone feel crazy.

We should be allowed to feel all the feelings of grief when we lose someone we love.

Because you’re not crazy. You’re grieving.

Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.


  • Melissa Guensler

    I can believe it about what your dad was taught in medical school. I worked for an older ophthalmologist for several years. One day he came out of the exam room and was genuinely puzzled because the patient, a recent widow, had started crying during the exam. He didn’t know what to make of it because, after all, “It’s been three weeks.”

    • Marjorie

      Oh wow. And yes, I think that was certainly the case when older doctors were trained. It’s so strange that American society seems to still hold on to many of these ideas.

  • Julie

    Hi Marjorie,
    I’ve been following forever. I’m not a widow, just love the perspective on life that you always seem to give me. The strangest thing that happened to me was when you wrote about the “man in your driveway”, I cried. I was so happy you found someone, but I was so attached to Sean by then, and it was then, I realized, you were truly, actually, and for real, moving forward. I felt some grief for Sean, because it sunk in, that he really was going to miss so much with the kids, and with you. I promise, we don’t want you sad, we want you happy more than anything, but as you move on, I feel like I’m now missing Sean, too. Weird, right?

    • Marjorie

      Oh, I love this comment so much. I don’t think it’s strange AT ALL. I love that you feel like you knew Shawn….and I want to keep him alive on the blog, both for me and for my readers. I love that you feel like you’re missing him too.

  • Kate

    I am a widow as well. It’s been 21 months. Strange how we count in months until we hit the 2year mark, isn’t it? The thing that I like most about your blog is that it provides hope and a bit of a path on how to move forward. I actually enjoy seeing you move on with a new relationship because it shows that we can heal and we can still be happy and love again. This provides immense comfort to me and doesn’t make me feel so alone about wanting love. companionship and intimacy again in my life. I know that you will always love Shawn, but it makes me so happy that you found someone to connect with again.

    • M Brimley

      Oh, I’m so glad it’s a source of comfort. I can’t really provide any sort of roadmap, since grief is so individual, but I do know that it gets easier. And yes, like babies, I counted my grief in months until the two year mark. There was something that was lifted for me at two years, which made everything (including dating) much easier. I still grieve Shawn, and I think I always will, but I am also glad that I can show you that we can still find love again, even if it’s complicated.

  • Nikki Gordon

    I am a recent widow. The day after my 41st birthday my husband died in a tragic accident. We have 3 children. My family and friends are so supportive but after 7 weeks I feel that they expect me to start feeling “better.” For me, it feels like it happened yesterday. I still don’t believe it. I still cry all of the time. I know I am not crazy. To me, it is crazy to think that I could ever feel “better.” I am holding hope that some day I will feel better but I know it’s going to take a long time.

    • M Brimley

      I’m so sorry to hear about your husband’s death. There is NO WAY anyone can recover after 7 weeks – really. So go easy on yourself, and gently remind you family and friends that you will certainly need more time. (You can always send them this blog, if they need a bit more of a reminder!)