DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley and partner Chris
New Perspectives

A Life That Sparkles (400th Blog Post)

I don’t know what the statistics are around it, but I know a lot of widows who’ve recently decided to move. I think there’s a number of reasons for this, but certainly a house can feel heavy when so many memories remain in it. Given different circumstances (if my husband had died in the house, for example) I might have moved too.

But Shawn was insistent that I stay in the house. He knew what it would take for me to stay, and he talked me through it. He instructed me on how to pay the bills and fix the clogged drains and how often to clean the gutters. “Staying in the house will provide stability for the kids,” he said almost every day as he was dying.

Honestly, I think my kids would have been okay moving. But I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want to leave the house. I didn’t want to leave the pieces of Shawn that were still in it.

And now that Chris is in my life, it means that he is living in a house that is still filled with Shawn in so many ways. I’ve given away or stored all of Shawn’s clothes, but his guitars still hang on the walls. I’ve rearranged the furniture, but the couch he picked out is still a part of our living room. I’ve encouraged Chris to remodel the garage, but Shawn’s tools still remain.

I’m not even sure why I still have some of this stuff. I mean, it was easy to get rid of the medical equipment and the old suitcases and things that I really didn’t want or need. But there was plenty of stuff that I kept around just because it seemed silly to discard. The tools were a part of that category. Since I know very little about fixing things, I rarely used anything other than the hammer.

But Chris is very handy, and has a lot of tools. As he moved them into my garage, I told him he could do whatever he wanted with Shawn’s tools. A few days later, when he was going through everything, he came and showed me something. “Do you know what this is?” he said, clearly surprised. He was holding up a piece of metal.

“Something for the drill?” I guessed.

“It’s a titanium drill bit!” Chris said, setting it back in the box of similar objects. “They’re really nice,” he said, answering the next question I was going to ask.

He was clearly impressed and maybe a bit surprised at the quality of the drill bits. “Shawn liked nice tools,” I said, as though this provided some sort of insight into who he was as a person.

Chris smiled, and we talked about what it was like for him to uncover pieces of Shawn in the house. They never met – or at least we both don’t think they ever met – and so Chris only knows Shawn from the stories he’s heard. But he also knows him from the things Shawn left behind.

It’s not just the tools, of course. Shawn in present in the color of the wood floors and the TV that hangs in the living room and the fan above our bed – all of which he picked out. He’s also there in the Star Wars covers that Austin and Tommy still use, and the special photo of her dad that Claire keeps on her dresser. And until I lost one of them, the pair of diamond earrings that I always wore were a daily reminder of him. Shawn is everywhere in this house, and in the lives of the people who lived here with him…and who now live here with Chris.

“It must be strange to live in a house that is so filled with a man who is gone,” I often say to him.

He always smiles a bit as he answers. He is careful in his answer, but always honest. “A bit,” he says, “but it’s worth it.”

And yet, I worry that it’s not just strange, but also hard for him. I know it’s sometimes even strange and hard for me. I was glad Chris incorporated the nice drill bits into his own set of drill bits, and got rid of the tools that weren’t as useful. But what about the jewelry Shawn gave me or the painting we received at our wedding? Do I keep those items, or is it time for them to go?

These questions remain. Sometimes we talk about it. Chris always says I should do what feels right. But I don’t always know what “right” is.

Last week, after a long day of online teaching and homeschool, I sat down with Chris to eat pizza. I had flour in my hair and I was exhausted. He poured me a gin and tonic, sent the kids upstairs and told me to sit down for a second. Then he came back and set down a small present on my plate.

I opened the card slowly. Inside was a cryptic note that said, in part, “one of us has given you this twice.”

It was signed, “Chris and Shawn.”

I opened the box. Inside were a pair of diamond earrings.

I was confused at first. Did Chris find the one I lost? Was he uncovering so much in the house that he’d managed to do that?

“That one is the original,” he said, pointing to one earring.

“And this one,” he said, pointing at the other, “I had made to match.”

It took my breath away. They were beautiful, but my tears weren’t actually about the way the earrings sparkled. The emotion overtook me then, and it overtakes me now as I write this. How could I possibly respond to such a present – one that is so filled with love?

I don’t know. Like so many parts of my life, I can only be wonderstruck by how it’s all turned out. There is so much grief and loss that stays with me and that will always be with me. But now that sadness sits beside this newly joyful life I’m living.

Sometimes it feels strange to have such pain and happiness together. But mostly, I feel grateful. For Shawn’s ability to see the future and wish me happiness without him in it. And for Chris’s ability to include my past in our life together now.

It is a life that can be messy and sometimes a bit rough-around-the-edges.

But it is a life that sparkles, too.

Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.

36 Comments

  • Julie

    Marjorie!!! OMG, this is an incredible post. I’m going to share with you what I’ve been feeling about you, Shawn, and Chris over these last few months with you opening up more about your new relationship. As I wrote to you before, it’s bittersweet. I am very attached to Shawn and you (I blame you for this as you are a tremendous writer 🙂 Your first blog including Chris made me cry because, in a weird way, it meant Shawn was really, actually, and truly gone from this earth. I think I was still in the “Year of Magical Thinking” as Joan Didion would say. BUT, it started to change when you started sharing more about Chris and then it became completely clear. Shawn and Chris also have their own relationship. Shawn loved Chris before he even knew who he would be. He knew the man you chose would be a man of honor, kindness, and that this man would love you and the kids in a way that Shawn would no longer be able. He gave you the freedom to love this man as he already did. I can almost sense Shawn talking to Chris through prayer in his last weeks. Chris, being this wonderful man that we all knew you would choose (Shawn knew it before you even) also loves Shawn. He loves the man that Shawn was, the family he created, and the space that Shawn opened up for him. He keeps the pieces of Shawn that are meaningful to him and allows you to do the same. That is why he can give you a gift so beautiful, loving and generous of spirit. You have found a man that loves ALL of you. Chris and Shawn also share their own kind of love and I bet they still talk to each other once in awhile, maybe even over which drill bit to use 😉

  • Brooke

    Marjorie! What an incredibly thoughtful gift and way that Chris has incorporated both himself and Shawn in your life. ❤️Cue the waterworks!

  • Vidita

    I am in tears as I read this because this is the gesture of a very generous heart and he loves you and the gift of you and your three precious babies. Your blog has helped me so many many times. I am so happy for you and Chris.

  • Katherine

    This is a beautiful post Marjorie. I often struggle to balance my new partner and my deceased partner and my new partner’s deceased wife. Sometimes it feels like there are so many people in the relationship. I often wonder how my new partner feels about being surrounded by the memories of my deceased partner. But we seem to be getting there and, like Chris says, it’s worth it.

  • Sarah

    I think that is one of the most loving and beautiful gestures I’ve ever heard of. May you wear your earrings with both joy and sorrow, to represent the both the love here on earth and the love from heaven.

  • Nikki G

    Marjorie, posting your experiences and feelings on this road is incredibly helpful to the rest of us that have to walk it. I became a widowed mom 4 months ago with no warning. Your blog is sometimes the only thing that gets me through the day. This story is so wonderful, what a great way to honor genuine love that happens in real life.

  • James

    I recently found your blog for a reason I’ll mention in a moment. As I read post after post in your archive, I can’t help but shed a tear on every one. Both Shawn and Chris sound like remarkable men. And… though I don’t know any of you except through the glimpses you share here, my impression of you is that you are also remarkable for how you’ve adjusted and adapted, and even thrived now through circumstances I cannot even imagine.

    Here’s the reason I found your blog: I went searching for information. I am dating a widow that lost her husband just one day after yours. She sold her house after her husband passed, for entirely personal reasons. It’s been just a couple months that we’ve been together, and reading your entries here have given clarity to the things I have been learning about her loss. I find it interesting that your blog subhead is “There’s No Handbook for How to Do This”… while in my view, you’re providing exactly that handbook for others navigating a similar point in our lives.

    I don’t really know how to sum this up other than to say “Thank You” – for being so candid. I feel a bit better equipped as I learn more about B and her loss to be able to make a way forward for the two of us together. Seeing the title of another post right below this box where I’m typing – “The Danger of the Fast-Forward Button” – reminds me to slow down and listen and learn and talk every day with her. With that, I’m off to read that next post. Thank you again, Marjorie.

    • M Brimley

      Oh my goodness – I love this so much. I’m going to read it to Chris, too! I think it’s so lovely that you’ve gone looking for resources and though I seriously don’t know much except my own experience, I’m so glad it’s been a place that you’ve found helpful. Thanks for the encouragement!

  • Mada

    Hello Marjorie am new here I’ve just lost my husband of 5yrs on 28 January this year with covid 19 a new widow with 2 girls aged 4 and 1 year and my and am failing to get up a have so much guilt inside of me and I want to move out and find somewhere to live we didn’t prepare anything financially and am stuck I miss my husband so much he was 37 years so young but this covid lob me my sweetheart am completely numb I don’t work up from bed am feeling like everything is stopped how can I be a widow to my age I don’t kno what to do and I find your blog very interesting

    • M Brimley

      I’m so sorry. The early days are really, really hard – try to go easy on yourself. It is not your fault that your husband got sick or that he died, and though I don’t know what happens after we die, I do know that your husband would want you to be okay. For now, that means taking care of yourself and your kids, and knowing that you just take it one day at a time.

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