Across the Doctor’s Office

DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley's pregnant belly with Shawn's child

Almost daily, someone asks me why I decided to write this blog. Here’s the response I usually give:

In the beginning it was a way for me to connect with my loved ones and get my feelings out into the open. But then the blog (and my motivations behind it) changed a bit. DC Widow became a place of where I could connect with people that I didn’t know, specifically other young widows. My posts sparked conversations with my friends both online and in person. Soon, I found that I had a new reason for writing. I wanted my loss to have some sort of meaning.

One of the posts that generated the most responses was “Salsa in My Cup,” the blog post I wrote about watching loving interactions between my friend Kristin and her husband Shaffer. I heard from so many people afterwards, especially widows. One person commented, “Since my loss is still so recent, I often feel a sting when I see my friends sharing a hug or a kiss with their spouse because it is a reminder of what I have lost.” Another noted, “I like what you say about sitting with your feelings. I’ve encountered the same thing when I see couples my age having fun or just walking by holding hands.”

But it wasn’t just people who’ve lost a spouse that connected with that blog post. “I never comment publicly on your blog even though I always read it,” a friend of mine told me in person, “but this post really struck me. When I couldn’t get pregnant, I had a hard time being around people who had babies. It’s different, of course, but that feeling of wanting something you don’t have – I get that.”

My favorite comment came, not surprisingly, from my widower friend, “I don’t know these people, Kristin and Shaffer, but I like them,” he texted me. “They know what they have.”

I think that blog post, which was mostly about love but was also about loss and jealousy, really hit a nerve with anyone who’s ever loved someone. We all want what Kristin and Shaffer have. “Reciprocated love,” as my dad would say, “is the most important part of life.”

Of course, I remember what it once felt like to have that kind of love. It wasn’t that long ago. Even just a little over a year ago, I saw the look in Shawn’s eyes when he was with me.

Other people saw it too, and one of those people wrote me after I published “Salsa in My Cup.” Here’s the email I got just a few days later (the sender knows I’m using this email, but I’ll keep her anonymous here):

Dear Marjorie,

We’ve never met, but I had the pleasure of witnessing one of those magical moments between you and Shawn. Given the topic of your recent post, I felt it was time to share.

For background, I had the pleasure of working with Shawn from 2004-2006. We shared great laughs, inside jokes, and as many have attested, exchanged stories of his deep love and fondness for you. He loved you so dearly.

So fast forward to the summer of 2008. I had recently returned to DC and made an appointment for my annual gynecological visit. I took a seat in the waiting room, and across the crowded room, noticed you and Shawn sitting nervously, yet expectantly with one another. It had been a few years since I had seen Shawn, and given the setting, seemed like an inappropriate/awkward time to approach and say hi, so I kept my distance.

Despite being across the room and in a corner, I couldn’t help but notice that you were beaming. Radiant, actually. 

Looking back at the timing of it all, I think I may have witnessed one of your very first OB/GYN visits in anticipation of Claire’s arrival.

I say this not to be creepy, but to share that it’s been over ten years now, and I still remember the energy between you two. 

Shawn looked nervous. Steady, but nervous. You were glowing, couldn’t contain yourself. Yet, between you two there was a mutual assurance, a “we have each other’s backs” sort of energy. It was clear there was a deep trust between you two, and despite being on the precipice of one of life’s greatest and scariest adventures, there was groundedness and deep affection. 

She was right. That was likely the first or second appointment we had with my pregnancy with Claire. I was 29 and we’d been married for four years. We were babies ourselves, really.

But our love for each other was so obvious that someone who observed us across a crowded doctor’s office could see it. This woman – the one who wrote me this email – didn’t know me, and she hadn’t seen Shawn in years. But she could feel what we had with each other. Reciprocated love.

So maybe that’s another reason why I write this blog. To remind myself of all that I once had. To remind myself that it was real.

Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.

15 Replies to “Across the Doctor’s Office”

  1. I have only seen you with Claire, Austin, and Tommy only a few times at St. Columba’s, but it seems obvious to me that – even though Shawn is gone – that reciprocated love is very much a part of your family.

    1. Thanks for noticing! And I think you’re right – I certainly share reciprocated love with my kids.

  2. There’s no guide book. I just lost my Dad to cancer on Jan. 1st. I’ve thought every day about writing publicly about it because there were so many things along his very short journey from diagnosis to death that I wish I’d known.

    So I admire your strength in writing…. and publishing. And I, too experience that feeling of seeing other people with their Dads and feeling envious/regret/grief all at once. Thankyou for writing.

    1. You’re right – it’s an impossible thing to try and process a very quick death. I think writing is where I was able to do a lot of that processing. Thanks for reading.

  3. I just discovered your blog today and haven’t stopped reading for hours. Thank you so much for your honest, beautiful sharing of your life. I lost my husband of 39 years to cancer two days after Christmas 2017, so what you’re writing really resonates with me. This grief journey is no picnic, but it certainly helps to have dear ones nearby and to discover empathetic fellow sojourners on this path we walk. Again, thank you.

    1. Wow – that’s such a nice compliment! Thanks for reading – and connecting. I agree that it helps a lot to know other people who are walking the same path, even if I wish that wasn’t the case. Sending hugs.

  4. Hi Marjorie,
    I was a fifth year clinical psychology doctoral student when my husband left our relationship two years ago. I found myself heartbroken and in a deep grief. All my academic studies weren’t helpful at the time. I recently came across the book ‘The Grief Recovery Method’. It is transforming me and helping me get back my life. I’m drawn to grief recovery since then and was attracted to your writing in the Washington Post.

    I invite you to check it out and share it with your father too.

    Time doesn’t heal all wounds. It’s what we do during that time.

    From my heart to yours,
    Mariel

    1. I have it on my nightstand! I haven’t gotten to it yet, but that’s a good recommendation, so I’ll try and check it out soon. Thanks so much for sharing.

  5. Michelle Bryden says: Reply

    I think that one of the things we miss is our spouse’s side of the story. There are things that my husband would remind me of that I had forgotten … now he is no longer here to share his version of events. And so, yes, I tell the stories alone now, to remind myself and others that those stories are real. If I dont share them, who will? Thank you, again, for your eloquence and taking the time to write.

    1. Exactly! Since I’m the only person remembering events now, sometimes I think, “is that actually what happened?” It’s hard to reconstruct it all without him – you really hit the nail on the head with this comment.

  6. Thank you for finding the strength and courage to write this blog. I so share your feelings. I too am in thr process of creating a memory book about my 23 years with my love Gregory. He passed suddenly at 49 on December 15 this year. In my grief, I refuse to allow the sudden traumatic loss cloud the unconditional love we shared , the beautiful amazing 5 children we have and fond memories that live on in us. Most of all the life lessons he taughr me by the way he loved and lived leaves me a stronger women than when he found me.

    1. Oh, it’s so hard when it’s so new. Sometimes I look back and realize that I started my blog less than two months after Shawn died and I can’t believe I had the ability to do that. It’s such a tough, tough time. I like the idea of a memory book because it’s a way to heal and that’s beautiful. But go easy on yourself. Sending hugs.

  7. Dear Marjorie,
    That piece about feeling a sting when you see other couples also resonated with me, as it’s something I’ve often felt after my wife’s death in January last year. But the hardest thing for me is not seeing my friends or other young couples. I feel the strongest sting everytime I see an old couple walking together, holding hands… It’s the feeling that I lost the future we dreamt of.
    Thank you for your writing, it’s really helping me a lot!
    Ivan

    1. Ivan, I feel the EXACT same way. I actually wrote an article a few months ago that will be coming out around Valentine’s Day about the exact same thing. (I’ll link to it on social media.) The young couples are hard to watch, but it’s the old ones that get me too.

  8. It’s actually the first time I share this with anyone, I’m looking forward to reading your article!

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