DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley walks away with partner Chris
Love and Chris

Accompany Me

About a week before the anniversary of Shawn’s death this year, I sat by the fire with Chris and started talking about what it was like to watch someone die. I’m not sure why I wanted to tell him. He’s heard it all before and we talk sometimes about how I’ve processed Shawn’s death. But it wasn’t that I needed him to know more details. It was that I simply wanted to tell the story to someone again. I wanted – maybe even needed – to process it once more.

And so he listened. He let me talk and asked me a few questions. But mostly I just remembered what that week three years ago had felt like – the one when I knew that Shawn was going to die. Chris and I must have sat in front of the fire for over an hour, and then we talked more after we put the kids to bed. Over that week, I realized later, I spent dozens of hours talking about losing Shawn. I talked about my emotions and sometimes I talked about the actual process of dying, and what it looks like.

And he listened.

At one point, it occurred to me that it must be really difficult to be Chris. To just listen and provide support, without me giving anything in return. “You know,” I said, in a moment when the sadness wasn’t rushing over me, “you should write about this week for my blog. I bet it would be interesting for other people to hear about what it’s like for you to experience this week with me.”

“No,” he said. He wasn’t unkind but he spoke with conviction. “This week is not about me. It is not about my emotions. It is not about the story that I have. This week is about you.”

I disagreed with him. His emotions still mattered, and he certainly still had them. He agreed that he had his own set of emotions around the week, but that it wasn’t what needed to be the focus for my blog – or for our family.

I pushed him a bit, and eventually he started talking about his work in Colombia. For five years, following a formal peace agreement between the government and right wing paramilitaries known as the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, he worked for a diplomatic mission to support the peace process. His job entailed working with demobilized former combatants and more often with those who had been victimized by their crimes. “Among other things, the work we were doing was often referred to as a ‘mision de acompanamiento’ – meaning that we were there to accompany. It was an idea that I struggled with at first because it felt really passive. But after a bit, I began to understand how important it was to just walk alongside those who had been impacted by the conflict, oftentimes as they were grieving the loss of a parent, spouse or child. We of course couldn’t bring back their loved one. But we could listen to their stories.”

He looked right at me. “That feels like what I can do this week, for you.”

And so I let him. I’m sure it wasn’t easy when I woke him up multiple nights in a row as my anxiety overtook me. I’m sure it wasn’t easy when I couldn’t have a normal conversation with him for days. I’m sure it wasn’t easy to watch me cry over a man I loved deeply for a decade and a half.

But he accompanied me through it.

And on January 9th, he helped me do the hardest thing I do every year: face Shawn’s death. First, with my children, which meant sitting together as we watched videos of Shawn, and comforting them when they needed it. And then, with me and the kids, as we visited the cemetery.

At the cemetery that day, a crew was out filling in a new grave. There had obviously been a burial a few hours before and the kids were curious about it. Had that happened when their dad was buried? When I die, will I get buried here, or with Chris? Was dad’s body disintegrated into the earth, or still there?

I didn’t know the answers to many of their questions, and I told them as such. Chris put his arm around me as I answered, squeezing my side when the questions got really hard. “Let’s walk around,” I said, and we did.

Tommy was particularly restless, and he ran all over. Eventually, he ran back to the area where Shawn’s grave was. “I found it!” he shouted, and then he started doing a funny dance, as though he’d just completed a touchdown or something.

I laughed and so did Chris, because it was adorable. Tommy was literally dancing on his father’s grave – though obviously it was out of joy, not disrespect. Still, it made me shake my head as I laughed at the absurdity of it all.

Chris went over and hugged him, and then Claire joined them. I came up and Chris pulled me into the hug. “Austin!” Tommy shouted, “you have to be in the family hug!”

Austin joined us and then there we were – all five of us – hugging each other next to Shawn’s grave.

Eventually, the kids ran away, playing tag as children do, or at least as my children do. The cemetery is a place they feel comfortable.

Chris looked at me. “Do you want to stay longer, or have some time by yourself?” he asked.

“No,” I said, “I feel okay now.”

And with that, he put his arm around me and walked me back to the car.

Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.

13 Comments

  • Sue McAulay

    What a blessing it is to find someone so accepting, that really seems to “get it.”
    At one point I met someone at grief group…but even though he lost his wife…he didn’t get it. He felt I talked about Mark too much. Some day I hope to meet someone to share life with. Your “story” gives me hope.
    💜

    • M Brimley

      Oh, I too thought I once met someone who “got it” – he wasn’t someone I loved, but it was someone with whom I was close for a while. But just because someone “gets it” doesn’t mean you’re made for each other! I’m super lucky to have found Chris but I also know that there are other wonderful people out there who really do “get it”

    • M Brimley

      Oh, you’re in the early days. There’s no way you could have figured it out by now. I actually found that about four months out was the hardest. It does get easier – I promise. Hang in there.

  • Yvonne C

    Most men I meet cringe around the date my late husband left this earth. I started dating only a few months out from his death and have dated two men at different times seriously. I thought I was ready both times and I wasn’t in retrospect even if I tried to hide the feelings for my late husband. Surely the feelings were locked in my head if I didn’t verbalize them? Sometimes I would start crying when hearing a song that reminded me of my history. I would speak and the men appeared to be sympathetic but I think it may have been too much too soon. Looking back this was not fair to the men I became involved with and the men terminated the relationships when they figured out often blaming other issues that were solvable – at least in my mind. Somehow the men could tell my emotions were on something or someone else. This really stung and still hurts, but I can’t blame either of them. After each relationship ended I felt worse and felt more grief than I did before starting the relationships. It’s a little passed two years now and I haven’t figured it out which makes me feel worse about the whole situation. I’m finding it difficult to meet people in the middle of a pandemic much less someone less than a “scammer” who wants to take on a widow with kids. I’m sure this must affect Chris some and perhaps he’s not showing it? I am so happy for you and that you found Chris and he found you. Thank you for sharing the lovely story and you have a true gem in Chris!

  • Henry

    I have been dating a widow (which solves the problem of finding someone who “gets it”). Last year, on the anniversary of her husband’s death, she wanted to put flowers on her husband’s grave, but she felt uncomfortable going alone. I said I would go with her, which I did. She said that this was exceedingly kind of me. I responded that I though it was the obvious thing to do.
    You noted that you weren’t giving Chris anything in return, but I think you missed the point. You gave him your needs and the opportunity to accompany you in your need. From what I have learned about Chris, that opportunity meant a lot to him.

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