Tell Me About Him

Husband of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley lifts massive pumpkin

About a month after Shawn died, I was on the phone with his former boss. She was asking about the kids, but then we started talking about Shawn. She shared stories with me, and I smiled, but mostly I cried. She worried that she was upsetting me, and I reassured her that I wanted to keep talking about Shawn.

In fact, it’s all I wanted to do in those early days. I wanted to talk about Shawn all the time. I knew it was inappropriate to tell strangers on the metro and at the grocery store about my dead husband, but I did it anyway. It was a compulsion of sorts – one that said: “World, please don’t forget him. Don’t let me forget him.”

These feelings eased after a while, and I could move through normal life without needing to mention Shawn at least once an hour. But I always loved it when other people would tell me a story about him. I loved hearing people tell stories about his obsession with DC baseball, his love affair with Coors Light and the funny antics he pulled when I wasn’t around. I would hang on their words, desperate to hear more about the man I still loved.

Once I’d been writing this blog for a few months, I started to notice that other widows would write me (usually privately) and tell me their stories. But these widows didn’t just tell me about their spouses dying. They also almost always shared about what their spouses were like when they were living.

He was a baseball coach of their son’s little league team. She was a nurse, who worked through much of her cancer diagnosis. He could fix anything, and loved to work on his car. I heard about first dates and honeymoons and births. I saw photos. I learned about all of these men (and sometimes women) who had been lost to cancer, heart disease, suicide and dozens of other tragedies.

I never really knew what to say back, but I usually wrote something like, “thank you for telling me about your husband (or wife).” I meant it. I loved hearing about the spouses they loved and continued to love.

Why do we do this? Why do we want so badly to tell our stories and the stories of our dead spouses? Why is there such a compulsion to say their names and tell their stories after they die?

I think it’s because our stories with our spouses aren’t done when they die. Maybe that’s because we are still very much alive. And part of them lives in us, forever.

My dad believed this, and so even after my mom died, he kept talking about her. He told me stories I already knew, reiterating her personality traits so I wouldn’t forget. He told me new stories as I got older, showing me pieces of her I never knew.

He kept her alive for me.

So, yes, Shawn is gone. I am moving in a forward direction and I am trying to live fully because that is what Shawn wanted for me. But I don’t want to stop saying his name or telling stories about him. I don’t want him to disappear, just because he died.

What I’ve realized lately is that I don’t just want to tell my story about Shawn anymore. I also want to hear about the people you’ve lost.

I want to hear all the stories I don’t know yet, or those that I haven’t heard in a while.

If you are grieving the death of your a husband, wife, sister, brother, child, parent, friend or someone else you loved dearly, I’m specifically inviting you to tell me about that person in the comments below. I’ll read them all, I promise. And if you don’t want to do something so public, you can send me a private note, or just silently take a moment to remember exactly how he used to unload the dishwasher or how she used to crumple up her face when the sun was bright.

We keep them alive when we say their names, and when we tell their stories.

I’d love to hear yours, too.

Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.

22 Replies to “Tell Me About Him”

  1. Tiffany McBurney Pothapragada says: Reply

    Dear Marjorie,
    Thank you for your blog. I haven’t lost a spouse, but my spouse almost lost me. And I’ve always struggled with the concept of non-existence.. I still do, but your blog has helped me process what I might want for my spouse should he live longer than me.

    Today, I would like to remember my mother. One of the most loving and generous people I’ve ever known. She left this earth 4 years ago and I remember like it was yesterday. She didn’t have a lot of friends- my parents spent all their time together. My mother spent her life as a soldier’s wife, mother, and homemaker. When she did work, it was as a housekeeper in an assisted living facility. She loved her residents. She visited them often when their families couldn’t.

    As a child, my friends remembered how she was always asking goofy questions which made them laugh. I remember her cooking. It was so bad lol. The ball of spaghetti we ate because she was afraid of using too much water in the noodles. The salted loaf of bread when she accidentally added a cup of salt. But she had a way of making instant mashed potatoes taste real which surprised everyone, every time. I also miss how excited she would get trying to play video games. Jumping out of her chair trying to get Mario to jump higher. On those rare occasions she would drink, she would dance around the pool table with the pool cue and then run the table. She couldn’t hit a shot to save get life while sober. She used to bowl with me on league. She had the most amazing hop in her bowling approach and she used to frustrate me that she could throw a light ball, dead center, and get a strike rather than a split like any normal person. She loved to read. She could finish books faster than anyone I knew. And she LOVED online video poker and mah Jong.

    She endured a lot throughout her life and it wasn’t fair. The last time I saw her alive was the night before my honeymoon. The day after we got back began an 8 day spiral- I watched her body fight Long after (I think) she was gone. There was no service. There were few that knew she had gone and that consumes me some days. I could write so much more about this woman who miscarried four babies before me and still found the strength to try again. I appreciate your offering the opportunity to share a few snippets about her so that maybe more people would know she was here and that she was so special. She was my light and I miss her. This post cannot possibly do her justice but thank you for reading it. Many healing thoughts your way.

    1. Oh, this is so beautiful and so heartfelt and I feel like I really got a glimpse of your mom! What great details (I love how she hopped in her bowling approach and made instant mashed potatoes taste real!) Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. Mary Schaefer says: Reply

    Marjorie, the person I miss desperately is my dad. He died over 10 years ago. Still, when I want to share something good, or just need to talk to someone, my first thought is to call my dad. He loved the outdoors, fishing and hunting enthusiastically. He loved his country, flying a flag in his yard 24 hours a day. He loved his family. We were especially close and shared a special sense of humor. He was principled and always stood firm in his beliefs. He was not a religious man, but spent many hours talking with the pastor of the family church after my mom passed away. I miss him so much.

    1. Oh, this line is so beautiful: “when I want to share something good, or just need to talk to someone, my first thought is to call my dad” – yes! It’s so hard when we can’t do that anymore, but I love how you captured your dad.

  3. Marjorie, I love your blog so much and have “quietly” read for some time. Your writing is so honest and raw and real and speaks to the complexity of grief. I am lucky, in that my deepest loss into my 30s is a grandparent, but she was truly a third parent for me and I relate so much to what you write even though the losses are so different.

    I was profoundly lucky to have had my one-of-a-kind grandma for 31 years, a grandma who lived two blocks away for almost my entire life.

    In so many ways, my Gram was everything you think of when you hear the word “grandma.”

    When I was little, and she’d pick me up from Kindergarten, we’d sit under the big tree in her yard and swing and she’d ask me about my day. “What was the funniest thing that happened today? The scariest? The craziest?” Sometimes I made up the stories, and she knew it, but she didn’t correct me or stop my imagination from leaping around. I am fairly certain that my love of books and Shakespeare comes from this early and daily story time.

    She taught me nearly every game I know. Especially Scrabble and Gin Rummy and Yahtzee. The value of a well-timed triple word score or “knocking” in rummy before the other person could go out or taking a Full House when the dice showed it instead of gambling for a better roll.

    When I spent childhood summers with Gram while my mom was at work, she planned a full day of activities: swimming, tennis, bike-riding, board games. Never mind that she’d had polio when she was a little girl and often had some difficulty walking. She and her granddaughter were going to have FUN.

    I still can’t really imagine a Christmas not at her house. Decorations covering every square inch. Toll House cookies made with a hand mixer in her homey kitchen with the sunlight pouring in. Looking for Santa on her back deck.

    This woman had more decorations for each holiday than you could possibly imagine. Quite frankly I still don’t know what we’re going to do with the bounty of red hearts, leprechauns, rabbits, red-white-and-blue pinwheels, pumpkins, turkeys, and abundant Santas and wreaths that were stashed in every corner of every walk-in closet of the house.

    And then, in so many other ways, my Gram was everything you might NOT expect when you hear the word “grandma.”

    She never tried to hide that she loved a good-lookin’ man. She had, oh, about 30 boyfriends before her first husband. No exaggeration. There is a book with a picture of every one of them. She had a long and wonderful marriage to her second husband, the love of her life. And in her final days, when her biggest smiles were for her MALE visitors, we teased, “A cougar to the end, eh?” And though she couldn’t speak, she raised up her hand and formed an unmistakable claw shape to imitate us. That’s my Gram.

    She loved a good drink. Every day, 5 p.m., a healthy glass of Scotch. Keeps you young, she told me. Every Christmas, a generous cup (or two) of bourbon in the egg nog. Adds flavor, she told me.

    Anytime my friends would visit (and so many of them loved her home and backyard, just like me), she didn’t give them any grandmotherly homemade baked goods or quietly get to know them. No, she launched right into dispensing sassy words of wisdom. Such as “Never date a man who drinks martinis. You just cannot trust that.”

    Anytime she’d watch a Marlins game that wasn’t going her way, the words that came out of her mouth would make the most seasoned sailor blush.

    She was everything a grandma should be. And much much more.

    So here’s to my feisty, loving, beautiful, Scotch-drinking, holiday-loving, man-chasing, unstoppable Gram.

    Thank you for inviting us to share. 🙂

    1. This is so incredible – I hope you shared it with your parents! I love how you remember all the details of her. I feel like I know her from this comment! The good looking men stories made me laugh too. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Mary Showalter says: Reply

    I would want you to know about my little boy, David, who died 25 years ago when a car crashed into our house. He was 2 1/2, the youngest of our four children and a beautiful little boy. He walked and talked early, like he knew his time was short and he had a lot to do.
    David lived and died before cell phones and their picture/video abilities, something that I deeply regret as it is getting hard to hear his voice in my head.
    I have gratitude that my older children survived the accident, that I am blessed with 8 grandchildren and one on the way, that my husband and children say his name often…but 25 years later my heart is still broken.
    Thank you for the opportunity to share my sweet boy.

    1. It is heartbreaking to read this story, but I love that you shared it. David sounds like an adorable and advanced little boy, and of course you still have a broken heart from losing him. Thank you for sharing about him, and about all of your family.

  5. Liesl Rockart says: Reply

    Dear Marjorie,
    Thank you so much for your blog and for this opportunity.
    Today would be my father’s 89th birthday. He has been gone for six years. There were so many wonderful things about him, but I wanted to share what to me is a precious memory. When I was about seven, in the midst of the seventies, I had a tie dye birthday party. On the Monday morning afterward, as I saw my dad leaving for work in his suit (he was a professor at MIT) I thought to myself, “My dad loves me so much he was willing to help with my party knowing that meant he would go to work with purple hands.” They were really, really purple.
    It’s a gift to share this today. Thank you again.
    Liesl

    1. Oh, what a beautiful story! Purple hands – such a sweet memory. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Kristin Garner says: Reply

    My husband Gregg died suddenly on March 29th of this year. He was only 48. I still can’t believe it some days and feel like he’s just on a work trip and will walk through the door like he always did in the past. Father’s Day is tomorrow and I’m reminded of what a wonderful Dad he was and how this was one of his most treasured accomplishments in life. He was a wonderful, loving & supportive husband, but his love for our daughter was absolutely beautiful.

    My daughter doesn’t realize it now, but she’s been cheated. She had such a loving, caring, supportive, intelligent and fun loving man taken from her. I’m still very emotional of the void in our lives left by his death; but, can still smile at some of my fondest and funny memories of Gregg.

    Two of my favorite recent memories of him and my daughter are when he bought a hair book and asked her to pick out some favorite hair styles, which he then learned to do. He took our daughter to school in the mornings and was responsible for doing her hair. She had braids, pick tails, side ponytails, all courtesy of her loving father. He did so much of a better job in this area than me!

    My other fond memory was the day a small pink lock box arrived by mail at our house. My husband had ordered it because our daughters’s feminine products were being taken by other girls in the shared restroom cabinet at school. When our daughter shared this problem, he ordered her a pink lock box to put her items securely in, never to be taken by others again. So sweet, but also so funny that he did that and not me!

    He was a true gem taken waaaaay too soon. Thank you for allowing me to share some of his wonderfulness. I miss him so much and it feels good to share my fond memories of him.

    Happy Father’s Day Gregg.❤️

    1. This is such a beautiful and heartbreaking comment to read. I love hearing about Gregg, and about what a wonderful father he was. He was taken too soon from you and from your daughter, but I know she will continue to carry these memories with her.

  7. SARAH MILLER says: Reply

    I’m not even sure how I stumbled upon your blog, but it’s so nice to hear someone write the things I’m feeling. I’ve been reading all your posts for an hour now, just thankfully sitting with the fact that I’m not alone in the way I’m feeling.

    My husband passed away 3 weeks ago from a bad car accident. He was far from perfect, we had been fighting for several weeks before he passed, but he was the kindest, most loving guy. He always bought me the same bouquet of flowers, roses and stargazer lilies, I nicknamed it the husband special. And ended up naming our daughter Lily after my love of the flower.

    I’m so grateful to have found your blog, and plan on reading every post, when I’m up at 3am and can’t sleep. Thank you for sharing your story.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about your husband’s passing. The early days are so terrible, but I think especially right now, when we can’t be there physically with those who are grieving. I’m holding you in my heart.

  8. I think about my wife constantly. Am I doing what she’d want? As I lost my father in my young 20’s and struggling to remember what he looked like 25yrs later. Remembering mostly his image in a photo we have on the wall. I am so troubled wondering if I will only remember what my wife looked like from the favorite photos I have? I assume so but wonder if others suffer the same? My wife was the strongest personality in our home. The silence is deafening.

    How to meet someone when you were definitely not the social butterfly. But rather the consistent worker.

    1. Oh, yes. I’ve actually written about this, as I too lost my mom when I was young: http://dcwidow.com/20-years/

  9. Hi Marjorie,
    I have been reading your blog for quite some time. We went to school together (Albany), though we haven’t spoken in many years. A mutual friend is often sharing your posts and they always pull me in. You have done a fantastic job with this blog, and telling your story. You have often been in my thoughts as I have been cheering for you from the sidelines. Thank you for all of your raw, heartwarming, and emotional posts. They have made me really think over the loses I have faced over the years and the ways that I have chosen to navigate them. I wanted to comment on this post to say hello, I see you, tell you that you’re doing an awesome job, and to say thank you. The morning you shared this post, I was sitting on my back patio drinking my coffee, scrolling facebook. Your blog popped up and I took a moment to read it. I was sitting in the sun thinking of my grandparents and all of my fond memories of them. As I was daydreaming of their memory, my phone rang. It was my mom, though it wasn’t my mom on the line. It was her friend calling me to let me know that my mother had just passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. It’s been an emotional month, but through it all I have had your words swirling in my head from this post, “we keep them alive when we say their names”. So that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been continually bringing her up and telling her stories to (hopefully) let people know that I’m okay with these conversations and I want them to continue. So, thank you. Those words have been a wonderful gift of comfort these past few weeks.

    1. Julie – thanks so much for writing, and I’m so sorry to hear about your mother’s passing. It is such a terrible time period after you lose a parent, no matter how old you are. I’m holding you in my heart.

      And thanks for reading! Sending love to all of you in Albany.

  10. I lost my husband And father if our two teens , Jack, on March 16, 2020, right at the start of the pandemic shut downs here in Massachusetts. Although he was a stage 4 lymphoma survivor, 18 months, in remission, he died unexpectedly of a pulmonary embolism. It was probably related to his cancer and treatment but developed so long afterwards that it was truly unexpected. Some people wonder if he had COVID-19 as blood clots are now connected to that disease for some patients. I think his condition was unrelated. No one else in the family had COVID. We lived each day by getting up and going through the motions. We all had online school to attend (I’m a teacher, and my son is in high school with my daughter a first year student at GWU in DC.)
    Lately as I am now at month 5, I am feeling more grief with a lot of crying. We were finally able to have a real wake, funeral, and reception at the very start of August. For a few weeks, I was in the throes of preparation but am also reliving the trauma of his death which I witnessed and would never wish on even my worst enemy.
    I’ve started talking to and “hanging out” with men, but much of that has been both fun and stressful as sex is a topic that makes me so scared. (I really like your blog on sex. It really resonated with me perfectly. I want sex, but I feel guilty and frightened by it as I was married for 22 years and with Jack for 28 years. His illness interrupted our intimacy which had been kind of stalled out even prior to his getting sick.) Navigating this new landscape with men is difficult. I am hopeful that I can have some fun and eventually fall in love again. The truth is I really want my old life back. I want Jack, but that’s impossible. When I cry, which is a lot lately, he would have been the one guy there for me, letting me cry on his shoulder and holding me and comforting me. Will there ever be another man like that for me who is selfless and loving and generous? Right now, it just seems like an impossible dream. Men seem to only want sex from me and not a relationship, not wanting the rest of what I have to offer. All of this just makes me angry and so sad and even lonelier than I was when Jack first died as I felt his presence then. Now that connection is waning. I need him now more than ever but alas he is not here. I just wish I could fast forward my life 6-7 months, but I know I have to walk this path even though it is so difficult.

    1. First, I’m so sorry to hear about your husband’s death. It’s so terrible.

      And, oh, I remember that feeling of wanting to fast-forward my life!! In fact, I wrote a blog on it: http://dcwidow.com/press-fast-forward/ and re-reading it I remember this sentiment EXACTLY.

      Hang in there. Thanks for sharing your story.

  11. Thank you so much for this blog. I have been reading all afternoon and so much of it resonates with me. I lost my Paul on May 6, 2020 after a 4 1/2 year battle with multiple 9/11 illnesses. Paul was a firefighter for the FDNY. Those years were so hard and exhausting both mentally and physically. Paul was in amazing physical shape. He always said he would never let his job kill him (how ironic) so he always ran and worked out in order to be in top physical condition. Dying during a pandemic has been extremely difficult as well. There is no closure. His official Line of Duty service will be 10/15. We were together since our first date in 1986. We raised 3 beautiful boys together – all of which are grown. Only one remains home – he is 22. We were everything to each other. He was fun, full of life, funny, sarcastic, loving, affectionate, and extremely protective. The life of the party who organized everything. I feel so cheated. We finally got to the point that our kids were self reliant and we could start doing our own thing, and Paul got sick. I miss that so much in my life. I was so used to being loved and loving. I want that back so much, and then comes the guilt. What would Paul think? What will my sons think? What will our friends and family think? Dating in 2020 as opposed to 1986 is quite different. I don’t know if I am ready or I am just trying to fill that void. I don’t even know how to go about it. As you stated in a previous blog – much different when someone hears that you are a widow as opposed to being divorced. I actually went to lunch with a friend’s brother the other day, I think the whole widow thing was too much for him. He kept accidentally referring to Paul as my “ex” and then correcting himself – got weird. The whole situation just sucks. Thank you for writing this blog and “understanding”. I do realize I am not alone in my grief.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about the death of your husband. It’s always awful and the early days are the worst…but I think for it all to happen during this pandemic is yet another layer of horror. Hang in there. And honestly, notes like yours are why I keep writing. Thank you for telling me all of this about your husband – and for reading my story too.

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