Father’s Day, Year 3

Letters I love dad for blog post by DC widow writer Marjorie Brimley

I try not to look at social media on Father’s Day.

I know I’m not alone. A lot of widows purposefully avoid social media on these fraught days – and there are many fraught days. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Thanksgiving…the list could go on. Because here’s the thing about social media on days that are celebratory: people post photos of their smiling and (usually) intact families. They sing the praises of the fathers in their children’s lives. This is great, and yet it is all a brutal reminder to me that my own family does not look like it once did.

Father’s Day is probably the hardest of all of the holidays for me. Yes, I’m thrilled that my friends love their dads, and their husbands, and all the men in their lives. But damn if I don’t feel insanely jealous on Father’s Day. It’s a day when I’m really sad – for me and for my kids.

My kids aren’t on social media yet (thank goodness) and this shields them from a lot of the comparisons they might be making on a day like today. But I still worry about them, because how can they not miss their dad on Father’s Day?

That said, my kids don’t grieve in the same way that I do. I think much of this is because they can’t really imagine what their lives will be like in the future. For me, thinking about their future without Shawn is immensely sad. It’s not that I worry as much anymore about how they will fare on a day-to-day basis. I’m pretty sure they’re going to be okay. It’s that I worry about Shawn’s absence at Tommy’s high school graduation, and Austin’s first day at a full-time job, and Claire’s wedding. I worry about the far-away future, a future they can’t even imagine.

Since Father’s Day is even more fraught than most days, we started planning weeks ago. The kids wanted to do what we’d done last year – go to the cemetery and the toy store and out for pancakes at our local diner. But of course we can’t do all those things this year, so we settled on a loose plan to visit the cemetery and take a bike ride.

As the weekend approached, I could feel my anxiety rising. I was nervous about how the day would go with my kids. They wanted my partner Chris to come with us to the cemetery and on the bike ride, so I discussed it with him. He wanted to do whatever was best for me and the kids. (Because of course he did. He loves us.) But what would it be like for us to visit the cemetery all together?

Basically, the plan I devised last night was “wing it.” It seemed appropriate, as that’s what we’ve been doing for the past two and a half years for pretty much every major holiday. So this morning, we got up, had pancakes at home and then headed to the cemetery.

The kids directed Chris to their father’s grave. We all stood around it for a minute, and then Austin asked if he could go run around. “Sure,” I said, and all three of them took off.

I stood there for a long while, watching them. I remembered when their father’s body was put in the ground, and how they’d run around the cemetery that day with some of their cousins, happy to be free of the church pews and car seats. “They miss their father,” I said to Chris, “but the cemetery isn’t a sad place for them.”

He squeezed my hand. He knew it was still a sad place for me.

Maybe it’s especially sad on Father’s Day because I see my kids getting bigger each year, knowing that one day, they won’t run around the cemetery because they will be too old for that. Knowing that one day they will be grown, and that they will live so many years without Shawn. Knowing that he will have missed so much of their lives.

But they don’t know that yet. They can only really see today.

“Come see the new path we found!” Claire shouted at us from across the cemetery, and then all three of them came running.

We followed them, over the hill and past the graves of people who had lived to be 80 or 90. Tommy turned around, laughing at something and then ran to keep up with his siblings. They were all smiling with the kind of childhood joy that proclaims, “I don’t know what’s coming next, but I think it’s going to be something special.”

They led us into an area of the cemetery I hadn’t ever seen, and we did some exploring. As we walked back to the car, they held hands and excitedly talked about the bike ride that was next. I took a minute to watch them from the top of the hill, thinking about their lives, both past and future.

I realized that I have spent years grieving the future they won’t have.

But they haven’t been grieving their futures. They miss their father, and they certainly miss him on Father’s Day. And yet, they believe in a future that is full of possibility, wonder and joy.

I think that – more than anything – is what would make Shawn truly happy.

14 Replies to “Father’s Day, Year 3”

  1. Wow…the sentence “And yet, they believe in a future that is full of possibility, wonder and joy“…so powerful! Kids are so resilient!

    1. Yes, they really are!

      1. Carmen Laguna says: Reply

        That was beautiful….this year was my first Father’s Day without my love and the first our boys had without their “Pops”. And like you, I dreaded going on social media because it truly hit me that I was jealous of what everybody else had except for me and our boys. They both posted beautiful heartfelt messages to their dad, but one thing I realized was their growth and positive attitude. See, our boys are actually not little boys. They are young men with children of their own. My husband and I were teenage parents and so we were blessed to have our grandkids in our forties. I had been thinking like you about the future of our kids, but then I realized that for only being 45, my husband was blessed to have met all of our 4 grandchildren before he left this Earth. He got to experience that part of his life and was able to share fatherhood with our boys. And our boys got to experience that with their dad. The saddest part is that they terribly miss those conversations where they were able to talk to him about becoming men, husbands and fathers. As they go through their struggles in life there are just some things that as a female I can’t talk to them about or understand. But, one thing I know for sure is that my husband made a lasting impression on all of us. I can see how our boys do things with their children that my husband would do with them and it melts my heart to see that. Our grandkids range in ages 3-8 and they all know about their grandpa because we constantly talk to them about him and continue to share memories and introduce them to the things he loved to do. The older grandkids did have the opportunity to know and remember their grandpa, but the little ones at this point may not remember him, but we will continue to talk about him and share all the things he loved. And I also noticed how children are resilient. My oldest grandson did hurt emotionally from his grandpa’s passing, but he loves swimming and that’s because it was my husband who taught him and would always take him to the pool or how my granddaughter loves to make her grandpa’s favorite french toast with cheese. She calls it “grandpa’s french toast”. It’s moments like those that give me hope because I see that although he may not be physically present, he is present in all of our lives and that makes me happy. I know this is a long post, but I’ve read quite a bit of your blogs and I just want to say thank you for sharing your stories. I enjoy reading them and it has brought some comfort and understanding for me through my difficult journey….that I’m not crazy and I’m not alone. I will be moving to Virginia soon. It would be nice to be a part of a widows group. I had been thinking about it for a while, but couldn’t find one for my age group. Do you have any suggestions? If so, I would love to know. Thank you.

        1. I love these stories about your husband – he sounds like such a wonderful man, father and grandfather. I think in-person widows groups can be invaluable. Mine grew from friends telling me about friends they knew who were also widowed, but that’s harder to do when you move to a new city. You may want to look at the Facebook group DMV Widows and Widowers – I’ve gotten a lot of good info from them about events and discussion groups. And there’s a group for DC of the Hot Young Widows Club (online – you can google it.) Hope that helps!

  2. Wonderful story. Similar to you, Mother’s Day is the hardest for me. Thank you for the post. I enjoy reading your blog because it’s nice to know someone else is out there that experiences the same things other widows/widowers do.

    1. I can completely understand how Mother’s Day is so tough, and my heart goes out to you. It’s just all so tough.

  3. Enjoy reading your blog! I understand every bit of your emotion and thoughts. Yesterday was also year 3 Father’s Day for me and my kids who lost our beloved husband and father. This holiday was also the hardest for me and you put things in perspective I can totally relate to. Thank you!

    1. I’m so glad that my post spoke to you, and provided at least a small amount of comfort. Hang in there – these holidays are tough.

  4. Cathy Phillips says: Reply

    I remember how beautifully you incorporated your mother into your wedding ceremony. Claire will do the same for Shawn. I’m impressed with Chris. What a guy to accompany you to The cemetery. As I write this Jim and your dad are on the course. They’re both pretty great guys who love you, too.

    1. Yes, my dear father has always been there for me! And Chris is wonderful….the best kind of man. There will more on the blog about him in the future, that’s for sure!

  5. Again I, a stranger, thanks you for another evocative post. Your children will grow up ok, I think you just saw another piece of this at the cemetery yesterday. It is really lovely that they wanted to include Chris in their day, even lovelier that he could be with you all in such a state of grace. My father died when a was a young teen, a bit younger than you when you lost your mother. These ‘days’ of celebration are always hard, but they change, as you know and express beautifully.

    1. Thanks for such a sweet comment. And yes, I feel so lucky that Chris is in my life and the lives of my children. He really is an amazing person, especially for how he was on Father’s Day.

  6. Thank you for this. Our first Father’s Day without my husband. I truly didn’t anticipate how hard it would be. (Worse than Mother’s Day was, for sure.) For all the reasons you stated. And, similarly, our children are also young and carefree—they cannot grieve “into the future“ the way you and I can and naturally do. One of the best pieces of advice I received upon my husband’s passing (only a few months ago) was to remain in the present. I had no idea how impactful and nuanced that advice would grow to become over time. But it has helped me—to know that my sorrow is real, but my worry is truly in God’s hands, for we of all people can affirm that we know not what tomorrow brings nor what God’s plan is for any of us, but that it is ultimately for our good. That in my view is the definition of hope. The hope that our children, not wearied by the world, are able to express and simply live each day; and their joy is a reflection of that hope. Thank you for sharing your story and being somewhere to go that holds a voice of a fellow widow, someone I know will always speak in ways that I can understand and relate to right now.

    1. I agree – this was also advice I got, and I think “remaining in the present” is really the only thing you can do to stay grounded, especially the first year. Hang in there. Father’s Day is the hardest of all of the holidays for me, and for a lot of widows (as you can probably see from the comments on this page already). We’re all pulling for you.

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