Moments after a Biden win was announced, a friend turned to me and said, “I’m thinking of Shawn right now. It feels like he’s with us.”
I smiled. I was camping with a few friends but we managed to get some service and (since we are Biden supporters) celebrated in the socially-distanced way that we could with our kids. We drank a few beers and roasted a extra marshmallows that night. I tried not to think too much about what could have been, because what’s the use in that? I’m happy now in my personal life – more than I ever thought possible – and though I still miss Shawn, I try not to imagine what it would have been like if he were alive. He’s gone, and in order to heal, I had to accept that fact.
And yet. This time period would really be his moment to shine. It isn’t just me that thinks this. His friends – the ones I was with when we heard about the Biden win – they think it. His colleagues who emailed me – they think it. His family up in Canada and Texas and all over – they think it, too.
And hey, even Twitter thinks it. In fact, in the moments after the election, one of Shawn’s colleagues wrote this:
All of this makes me think of @shawnbrimley right now. Brimley would be excited, but not just for the political win but the chance to go back to DoD and move the ball down the field in important ways.
I was struck by how immediately this friend and colleague thought of Shawn. Others agreed, and I couldn’t help the creeping thought that came over me:
What would it have been like for Shawn to be here?
And then I went down that path – the one I’m not supposed to go down – where I thought, “damn it’s unfair that he’s missing this.”
He’s supposed to be on the transition team. He’s supposed to be helping shape a new American foreign policy. He’s supposed to be working for Biden.
I know it will never be, so I try to restrain myself from thinking about it.
And yet. Dammit, he should be here to see this.
I guess thinking about “what could have been” is just part of widowhood, even if I’ve managed not to let it consume me. Because does it matter that Shawn’s job was connected to politics? Not really. Had he worked in health care, I’m sure I would have thought of him constantly whenever data came out about the pandemic. Or if he was a teacher, I know I would have imagined what it would have been like for him as we both taught online. Yes, this weekend reminded me of his life and career and what could-have-been-but-wasn’t. But there are plenty of things that can trigger such a feeling in me – or in any widow.
Even when the healing feels thorough, the grief and the loss are never really gone, are they? Not for me, and not for those who Shawn knew when he was alive.
In fact, the best thing I read on Twitter this weekend was a reply to that initial comment above. It was from a man who Shawn once mentored, and it wasn’t really about what Shawn was missing in the political sphere. It was about the legacy that he left:
I often think about the lessons that Shawn taught me. There’s so many young professionals in national security-on both sides of the aisle-who were mentored by him. It’s not hyperbolic to say his kindness and his greatness will echo in D.C. and further afield for years to come.
I wish he could see this Biden win – not just because he worked for the Democratic party when he was alive, but also because he would have been able to see those he mentored come into the next administration and fulfill their own dreams. But since Shawn can’t be here, I feel so lucky that what his friends, family and colleagues remember about him was his joy, his insight and his kindness.
Because that’s what I remember about him, too.