My Husband Died, And I Have No Choice But To Adjust To The 'New Normal'

by Marjorie Brimley
Originally Published: 
Stefanie Harrington Photography

My life before my husband got sick was charmed in so many ways. Like many other people who live privileged lives, I had only a vague sense of how perfect everything was. Many times since he died, I’ve thought, “What was life even like before he was sick?” So I went back to my Google calendar and tried to figure it out.

The first week in October, right before before he first started having stomach pain, my calendar was filled with things like, “Dad on field trip with first grade,” “elementary school fall picnic,” “guitar lessons,” and “dinner with friends.”

God, it was so normal.

Looking at my calendar led me down a rabbit hole, searching for clues about his illness. I spent a good ten minutes trying to remember a specific birthday party that one of the kids went to, and whether or not my husband was in bed that day or not. I started texting friends about backyard parties, wondering if they knew about my husband’s illness by a certain point in time. When did it become really bad? When did my life change?

It’s easy to say that my life was altered forever on January 9th, the day he died, and that would be true. But to be honest, it was probably more like November 29th when I knew things were really bad. My husband had come home from the hospital with a scan that indicated he might have cancer, and we had consulted with my father, who is a retired doctor. My dad was fairly calm on the phone, but told us it could definitely be stage IV cancer. And yet, we felt hopeful — we thought this couldn’t possibly be as bad as it looked.

After the call, I left my husband at home and went over to my friend’s house, as she had picked up my kids that afternoon. On the way, I called my sister, because it was her birthday. I left a message and didn’t say anything about the medical issues we were facing. I didn’t want to ruin her birthday.

About an hour later, she called me back. She was crying. Obviously my dad had called her.

My sister doesn’t cry. Or at least, she doesn’t cry over silly things like I do. It was then that my heart sank. My sister is an ER nurse who has seen it all, and has always spoken the truth about illness and death. Though she didn’t say it then, her tears spoke for her, and I knew we were facing something very, very bad. I can remember standing in my friend’s daughter’s room, looking at her stuffed animals and thinking, “Oh my God. This is real.”

I didn’t say as much to my husband. He was already nervous, and we just needed to get through the night. We fell asleep holding hands, or at least he fell asleep that way. I had to get up and drug myself in order to get any sleep at all.

And so began the horror of the next six weeks, and then the two and a half months after that. Which, when you put it all together is just four months. Was it just four months ago that my life was normal? Or do I need to go back further, before my husband started feeling bad, before the heavy doses of antibiotics and the pain that doubled him over? If so, I would need to go back to late September when we went camping with friends and he and I sat on the grass and watched the kids ride their scooters in the perfect fall weather. Try as I might, I can’t totally remember the last time I felt like things were normal. But I remember camping, and I remember feeling such joy that weekend.

Maybe that was the last time I felt blissfully happy. Or maybe it was another time curled up next to my husband watching a movie, or watching him leave with our kids in the morning as they skipped down the street. I wish I could remember, but I can’t. Because when life is good — when life is truly, wonderfully, happy — the days just aren’t as memorable. Sure, I enjoyed fun trips and great parties, but the day-to-day happiness wasn’t something that made me stand back and say, “Wow, this is just such an amazing morning filled with Cheerios and lost socks and kitchen dance parties and logistics discussions.” It wasn’t something I really appreciated. It was just my life.

And it was perfect.

And now it’s not.

So, how do I face this new normal? How do I get through each day without breaking down when Facebook reminds me of what I was doing last year with my husband, or when the ceiling light bulb burns out and I don’t know how to replace it, or when one of my kids does something impossibly cute and there’s no one who thinks it’s quite as cute as I do?

I don’t know. I have no idea how to do this. After my first child was born, I remember coming home from the hospital, standing in my living room and saying to my husband, “I have no idea what I’m doing! Who let me leave the hospital with this baby?” Well, I feel like that now, except so much sadder. At least with new parenthood, I had my husband and I had a mom’s group and we all stumbled through it together.

My blog is an effort to help me figure out what’s next. I’ve found that once I write things out I can often connect the dots between different events in my life, both before and after my husband died, and make some sense of where I am now. It’s also my way of connecting with all the people who want to know how I am, how my children are, and how the hell I am doing it.

I actually don’t know how I’m doing it. I guess it’s because there’s only one option, and this is it.

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