“We are none of us just one thing, but rather glimmers and glimpses of so many things.”
So says Marianne Simon, founder of Poetic Plantings—a landscape-design company that builds gardens to nourish the earth and spirit—as well as playwright and star of her one-woman show, Widows Anonymous, which she performed in June 2019 as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival.
Born in Paris and raised in San Francisco, Simon, after graduating from San Francisco State University in 1988, moved to LA with her sister. “We were both starting our lives over. I was in a job I hated and had just ended a long-term relationship. As a theater major, I thought, How about the film business?
Hailing from a family of artists, Simon has spent her life exploring creativity. “For over 20 years I trained and worked as an actress and director, and have been writing for longer than that. It seems that naming my landscape business Poetic Plantings was quite prophetic, as it is this blending of nature and the human spirit that most often inspires my writings.”
Yet in May of 2017, when her husband of 26 years died suddenly, Simon was left to grieve and find a new way to parent, live, and create.
Q: How were you able to help your daughter with her grief when you were so deep in yours?
A: She’d just moved home, and we had a very hard time in the beginning. Our ways of grieving were very different. It was difficult to help my daughter when I was in so much pain myself. I think my sorrow scared her. I was open in my grief, and she was more reserved, keeping things much more contained, so for a while our communications were limited and stilted.
I can imagine she felt she couldn’t burden me with her sorrow and so tried not to display too much. Sometimes I felt like a bad mother—that I didn’t try hard enough to help her. I knew she was in pain and it broke my heart, but I didn’t have the capacity to figure out how to reach her or invite her to unburden her sorrow. On occasion I would write her letters. I found it easier to express myself that way and hoped she could hear my love and support.
On the other hand, she was quite the social creature and invited her friends to the house. They in turn brought me into their community. She and I hosted a Friendsgiving Day, a Christmas gift exchange, and any number of card games or movie-watching events. With time and therapy for both of us, it’s gotten better and easier for us to communicate.
Just over two years later, we’re closer now than ever. I am honored she trusts me with important things, and we have delicious conversations about life and love and what brings us joy and satisfaction. We are quite proud of each other. I love her to the stars and beyond.
Q: What were your resources when you first lost your husband?
A: I joined [the grief support center] Our House for 18 months—the center’s minimum commitment. I saw a therapist pretty regularly in the beginning, then less as time went on. I also worked with a nutritionist who helped with supplements and emotional support.
Q: When your husband passed, did you find your community shifted?
A: Yes and no. There were definitely friends who were “our” friends whom I didn’t see much beyond the initial outreach, but I had my own friends who were a wonderful support, to whom I could speak honestly.
However, for a long time, I felt like I was in a bubble when I went out with them—like I was listening but from behind a glass wall. I found I gravitated toward others who’d shared a similar experience.
Q: How did you process your grief?
A: In the beginning, it was endless crying. It was hard to sleep or even walk about without the loop of memories going around and around.
I also looked for solace in walks on the beach. In the beginning I couldn’t walk more than a couple blocks, but eventually I went longer. It was a place to breathe, to cry. I’d go down to the water and just sob—thinking only the waves heard me. One day I had a fellow ask me if I was OK. He ended up telling me about his mum passing away and gave me a big hug.
The final thing that helped with the healing is joining a women’s creative circle. It was such a beautiful, sacred space with unconditional permission to be where I was, and fully supported and loved. This is where the seeds were planted for Widows Anonymous.
Q: Tell me about Widows Anonymous.
A: It’s about grief and evolved organically from my experiences in my support group. In the beginning, it was an outpouring of sorrow, but over time, the pieces became more deliberate and characters began to show up until five characters emerged who represent a sliver of the widow experience. Creating characters who spoke on grief gave me a little distance and allowed me to share what was happening but not quite as personally, like writing in the third person instead of the first.
I’d been trained as an actress, so it felt good to be back up on stage. It gave me permission to share the spectrum of emotions—not only the sorrow but also the rage, the resentment, the impotence. Plus, it was a place to explore the questions: How do we deal with friends who don’t get us anymore? What happens when we meet a new man? How does one who’s lost a husband of 26 years go on?
Then a friend told me about the Hollywood Fringe Festival. It’s a month[long festival] of all different kinds of shows with permission to be whatever they need to be. This dovetailed rather perfectly with the nudge I was getting to get in front of a larger audience with my work. If you’d told me two years ago that I’d be putting on a show dealing with grief, I would never have believed you.
But I’ve learned to trust that inner voice, the one that said yes, quietly but definitively. Not to say there hasn’t been fear and doubt, but the inner voice, my soul, knew there was no going back.
Q: Do you feel your play can help others deal with grief?
A: I struggled with this question as I started to promote the play. While I personally felt the push to put this work up on the stage, I kept thinking, Why would anyone else want to come? Why would they want to sit and get depressed? I found myself trying to pretty it up with a happy ending or humor—looking for anything to make the topic a bit more palatable. But then I realized that this is what we do with grief. In fact, this is what we do with anything that is hard or uncomfortable.
So I sat with the hard and uncomfortable, and answered my own “Why come?” We come because it hurts. Because we are human. Because there is something healing and immensely gratifying in letting ourselves feel. Because we spend most of our lives protected behind our masks and our walls, afraid to feel anything. But when we soften those barricades, allow ourselves to open up to emotions, there is a sense of communion, connection, and healing.
I wanted to create a space—a container—where we allow ourselves to love and ache, yearn and mourn, rage and tear; a place to feel it all beyond the sorrow to the many layers, threads, and dimensions that are loss.
Though the topic is widowhood, it’s really about the journey we undertake when cracked open by tragedy, broken apart by circumstances, and then must somehow find our way forward. It honors how deeply we can love, how deeply we will mourn, and yet still rise to meet another day. And with each rising, each tiny step taken, with each breath and sob, we find ourselves releasing, claiming, shifting, moving into who we are becoming.
With Widows Anonymous, my great hope is that we will allow ourselves to feel, revel, commune in the glorious, terrifying, exhilarating thing that is the human experience. And when the lights go dark and we leave the theater, that we will feel a little more connected, a little more grateful . . . for the life we have been given and for the ones we have loved.
Q: Will you take your play on the road?
A: I haven’t planned for that yet. . . . That being said, I also said yes should an opportunity arise to be invited to participate in other fringe festivals. I acknowledge that just saying yes to that is a huge step for me.
Editor’s note: Based on the reviews following its festival run, Widows Anonymous, indeed, resonated with audiences.
Kathleen Laccinole, ESME’s Dating Resource Guide, has penned numerous films and parenting books but is best known for producing the highly lauded Greta, age 20, and William, age 16.
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