• DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley poses with family in 2017
    Missing Shawn

    It’s Not All About the Last Day

    One of my favorite quotes on dying comes from the late Paul Kalanithi, in his book When Breath Becomes Air: The last day of your life is not the sum of your life. The sum of your life is the sum of your life. I’ve thought about this quote a lot over the past three years. As I’ve discussed Shawn’s illness and death, both in my private life and on this blog, I’ve thought about how I needed to keep remembering other parts of him. I’ve tried – often unsuccessfully – to push back on the bad memories and remember the good ones. Yet try as I might to think…

  • Orange flowers for blog by DC widow writer Marjorie Brimley
    Things That Suck

    The Room at the Hospital

    I had to get a mammogram the other day. I might be a young widow, but I’m not that young, and I was already months behind on my check-up due to the pandemic. I’m never behind – I am deeply fearful of cancer – so I donned my mask and went to the appointment. As usual, the initial mammogram was inconclusive. Something is almost always a bit strange with my body, and I usually have to get the follow-up testing. The doctor told me they could do it immediately, but I’d need to change rooms and wait just a bit for the technician to do the procedure. She brought me…

  • Fireplace like that of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley
    Things That Suck

    My Body Knew

    I sat in front of the fire, not because the wind was whipping the tree branches side-to-side, and not because the ice had started to cling to my car windshield over the past week. It was cold, to be sure, but the inside of our house was warm on that November night. Still, I shook. Confused, I put my face close to the flames, hopeful that it would stop the involuntary shaking that had taken over my body. Shawn was upstairs, finally asleep. I had held his hand and pretended to sleep as I waited for his grip to loosen mine, so that I’d know that he was unconscious. He…

  • Hands holding newspaper like that written by DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley
    What Not to Say

    Trigger Warning

    Last week, I wrote this piece for the Washington Post on how parents can help children who are grieving. In case you haven’t read it yet, I introduced the piece by talking about how Claire was really missing her dad last summer at the pool, and then I discussed what experts say parents should do in similar situations. I did not describe Shawn’s illness or death at all. I posted the article in an online group, thinking maybe others would want to read it. Also, I was genuinely proud of the work I did and wanted to share it. A few hours later, I saw that someone had replied to…

  • Photo of Marjorie and Shawn held my DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley
    Things That Suck

    October 10th

    I heard the story so many times, I could tell it verbatim to the doctors and nurses who asked. Yes, Shawn went to a baseball game early in October. Yes, he had at least one hot dog. Almost immediately after, the pain started. We thought he had food poisoning at first, and then maybe an infection. But it was that day – the day the pain crippled him for the first time – when things became truly concerning. That day was October 10th. He had some small warning signs before that. An upset stomach here or there, a twinge of pain every once in a while throughout the few weeks…

  • Arial view of 4 doctors like those treating husband of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley
    What Not to Say

    Questions

    There were so many questions after Shawn died. So many. Was there a family history of cancer? Did he exercise? What were the warning signs? Why didn’t you demand a colonoscopy earlier? Did he have a regular doctor? Did he smoke? Did the medical team try immunotherapy? Did he eat a special diet? Did he drink a lot? Did he have symptoms earlier in the year? Was he healthy otherwise? Those were just some of the things people asked me. Of course there were questions. Shawn was an incredibly vibrant 40-year-old. How could this happen, they wondered? But the big question was lurking under all of these questions, one that…