My 39th Birthday…

Brimley family on a birthday wagon ride before becoming a widow

…the first one without Shawn since number 22.

I love my birthday.

When I got the news that our third child was due on my 35th birthday, I cried.  Not my most mature moment, for sure, but February 25th is my day.

Shawn knew this.  And every year he planned for it.  Last year he got a group of friends together and we sang karaoke until the wee hours of the night.  Shawn and I started out with our favorite song – Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.”  It was the first song we sang together the night we met, in the late summer of 2001 in Japan.  There are photos, somewhere, of us standing on a table and singing with a sort of wild abandon.

Last year, we seemed to forget that we had 3 kids under 8 at home, that they all had playdates and baseball practice and diaper changes the next day.  Instead, we just had a really good time.  It was magical.  “Epic” as Shawn would say.

And so this year, all I could think in the days leading up to my birthday was: I feel so damn anxious.  Anxious that it will be terrible, that I’ll cry at my birthday dinner and ruin my time with my friends.  Anxious  that my kids won’t make me birthday cards because they’re too little to think of it on their own and no one will think of it for them.  Anxious that I’ll feel old.  Anxious that I’ll be alone.

But I guess my oldest friends knew this, because my two dearest friends from college, Kelly and Paige, came in to DC for the weekend.  I was too overwhelmed with everything to plan anything, but of course it didn’t matter.  All I wanted was to see the two of them, take walks around the neighborhood and finally talk about something other than the serious issues in my life.  The last time they’d been here was just after Shawn died, when they’d left their families and jobs and stayed for a week, helping me sort out the logistics of my life and consoling me as my heart was breaking.

And so we did what old friends do – we took long walks, we drank lots of coffee, we talked about our kids and our jobs, we laughed about our lives and they let me cry about Shawn.  On Saturday we found ourselves in the perfume section of a massive department store, spritzing each other and ultimately spending stupid amounts of money on something so fleeting.  But as we cruised through a few other stores and talked about why we did or did not need a new wine opener or a sleep mask, I laughed more than I had in many months, and I found myself – if briefly – in one of those states where I was just in the moment, and happy.

Later that afternoon, we went out and bought champagne and proceeded to get ready for hours in my bathroom, playing 90s music and generally acting as though we were back in college.  My 8-year-old daughter was mesmerized, and a little horrified, to see us having such a great time.  When we were finally done, and I stepped out in my 4-inch heels with my girlfriends by my side, I felt happy, pretty and…something else.  Empty?  Scared?  Nervous?

We met some other dear friends at a hip restaurant, one of these places in a neighborhood so utterly cool and new that I was shocked to see how it had transformed in just a few years since I’d been there.  We ordered from the perfectly curated menu and drank a specialty wine.  My friends told funny stories about their lives and everyone smelled my new perfume.

I’m not quite sure how it all came up, but at the end of the evening, I started talking about how I was barely able to process the word “widow” and how it just seemed so foreign and so old.

“Of course,” my friends told me, “you are beautiful and sexy.  Who cares about that word?”

“I guess it’s not the word” I told them.  “It’s just that I feel so insecure without Shawn.”  And then as I had feared, I started crying.

Here’s the thing – it’s not that I feel insecure in the same way I did at age 21, worried about how my hair looked or whether I was wearing the right jeans or drinking the right beer.  Those sorts of silly issues faded just by mere fact of growing older.  It’s that when I was with him, I felt so secure in who I was.  I felt so secure that he loved me.  I felt so secure that we were a thing – Shawn and Marjorie, Marjorie and Shawn.  I felt so secure in who I was a person, as a partner.

Now, I don’t feel that.  Instead, I feel quite insecure, which is honestly a feeling I can’t say I’ve had often in my adult life.

I’ve heard that people who lose an arm or a leg are often left feeling phantom limbs where none remains.  In many ways, that’s how I feel now.  It’s like this part of me is gone.  I don’t mean it’s like a part of Shawn is gone – I know he’s not here.  What I mean is that part of what made me who I am – happy-go-lucky and confident – that part has been replaced by something else that makes me more nervous and less sure about myself.  And a lot more anxious.

I know things will get better, or at least that’s what I’ve been told a thousand times.  I know part of the reason they will get better is because I have wonderful friends around me, many of whom cried alongside me at that dinner table.  I know my kids will get older and write me cards on my birthday that I don’t have to ask them to write.  I know I will regain some of that security as I find my footing in this new world of mine.  But we will not be Shawn and Marjorie, Marjorie and Shawn.  That person is forever frozen at age 38, singing karaoke with her head thrown back and her husband holding her hand.



Image Credit: Stephanie Harrington Photography.

18 Replies to “My 39th Birthday…”

  1. Beautifully written. Happy birthday!

  2. Such a beautiful and honest post. LOVE. These photos are a sweet reminder of many fun times.

    1. I’m so lucky to have you as my dear friend – and family photographer! I never realized how important all of these photos would be for me.

  3. I’m in tears reading this and fist pumping that you’re writing. Love you lady.

  4. I LOVE hearing your voice through your new blog. Keep it up!

    1. I miss you. Someday, I’m going to write more about our time in Japan, where we met dear friends like you.

  5. You are the definition of beauty and grace.

    1. Oh Shannon, you are too kind. I know Shawn thought the world of you.

  6. Wow this is beautiful Marjorie. You write so well. You are a so strong and wise. Love that you are writing a blog. I’ll be following along.

    1. Thanks Jen. I appreciate your kind words and am so glad there will be people reading what I put out there!

  7. Hi Marjoire,
    Very touching. I really loved reading your story. I teared up as it rang home as my brother is in the DC area and too is going through being a single dad of a toddler. Not what he thought how things would play out.
    I will be following along your journey.

    1. Thank you. I think we all have different experiences but it’s so hard when things just don’t turn out how we planned, you know?

  8. […] and function because I don’t even know who I am without him.  I was always half of the pair Shawn and Marjorie, Marjorie and Shawn.  Now it’s just me and I’m not even sure what that […]

  9. Yes, I too felt 100% safe and confident, because, despite all my faults and insecurities, I had someone who loved them along with my good qualities. Now, widowed at 34 with a teenage son and mother-in-law, I’m extremely insecure, floating around with a wedding band on my finger that is no longer an achievement, but a remnant and reminder that I’m missing my other, complementary half, and the relationship we worked so hard to build.

    1. I hear your pain, especially with this line: “floating around with a wedding band on my finger that is no longer an achievement, but a remnant and reminder that I’m missing my other, complementary half.” I’m so sorry. I know the feeling. For me, I eventually took off my wedding ring, but I have friends who still wear theirs, even years later. For some it’s a comfort and for others it’s a bad reminder. We all figure out what to do about that in our own time.

  10. Ronak Rafiei Rozbahani says: Reply

    Hi. I randomly found your blog. I became a widow 11 july 2018 , at the age of 32. I am so happy I finally found someone that writes about similar experiances.

    1. I wish there weren’t other people who share my experience, but since there are, I’m so glad we are finding each other. This time period – especially the first six months – is SO TOUGH. Sending hugs.

  11. […] might be in the first stages of labor. My contractions were all over the place, but I was hopeful. The baby was due a few days later on my birthday and I definitely didn’t want to share th…. We took the kids home, read them a story and I tucked them into bed. “I’m going to go […]

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