The Look of Real Love

Shawn and Marjorie Brimley, writer of DC widow blog, after their wedding

Since becoming a widow, I’ve started to study other people’s relationships. I didn’t start doing this on purpose, and for many months after Shawn died, I didn’t really notice other people.

But then I started to look out. I began to watch my friends and acquaintances for clues as to how I was going to navigate the world without my husband. I did a lot more observing than I’d ever done before.

The other day, I met up with a new friend and although we’ve known each other professionally for a while now, I don’t know much about his personal life. I hadn’t seen him in a few months and was excited to get caught up.

We went to a coffee shop and sat down. “So,” I said, “tell me what’s new with you.”

“Actually,” he said, “I just got married.”

“Oh my gosh!” I said, “that’s so exciting!”

I wasn’t faking it. I like him a lot and he was clearly happy about this new life experience. “She’s the best,” he said. As he talked, it became apparent that he was madly in love with this woman I’d never met.

We talked about their City Hall ceremony and about what it means to get married when you aren’t a 25-year-old. He sported a shiny new wedding band.

“What’s next for both of you?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, “we’ve got a lot of moving parts, but she’s working as a designer and doing really well. Actually, do you want to see what she’s been creating?”

I said I did, and then he showed me her work. It was beautiful.

But that wasn’t what I noticed. What I noticed was the way the he talked about her, and the care that he took describing her work. “Isn’t it stunning?” he asked me as he scrolled through images of her work. The question was rhetorical, in a way. He thought everything she did was beautiful. His love for her was obvious.

And it took my breath away. Because I remembered what that was like.

It took me back to the time that I went out to dinner with some of Shawn’s new colleagues when we were in our mid-20s. They all wanted to know more about Shawn’s work, and he immediately turned to me. “Really, you guys should talk to Marjorie about what she’s doing,” he said. “You know she’s working in a low-income school in DC and she has so much to share about what it’s been like.”

And then he listened while I talked about my students. At one point, I glanced at him after I told a particularly compelling story. He was smiling and intently looking at me.

I actually remember in that moment thinking, “he loves me so much.”

It’s a beautiful thing to have new love. And it was beautiful to see it emanate from my my new friend about his new wife.

Later that day, I met up with my old friends at the pool. The kids ate popsicles from the ice cream truck and everyone laughed as we sat around the pool. It was a perfect afternoon.

Well, it was almost perfect. One of the couples was arguing about something and they separated themselves from the group. I watched them from across the pool deck.

I guess I should look away at moments like this. But I can’t. I used to look away, at least most of the time, when Shawn was alive. But now it’s like I want to remember what it was like to be married – even those imperfect moments of marriage. I want to remember what it was like to navigate the world with the same person, day after day.

I couldn’t hear them. But I could tell they were discussing something important, and their faces looked a bit pained.

This went on for a few minutes, and they seemed to be at a stopping point. But then the husband looked at his wife and reached out his hand. He touched her on the arm. I watched her visibly soften.

It was a peace gesture. He was saying, “I don’t like you right now. But I love you, always.”

I thought about these two displays of affection. One, so new and fresh and happy. One was like when I met Shawn and in those first few years of marriage when nothing could come between us. The other was something Shawn and I had both done a million times as the stress of life came between us.

Both were pieces of a love story. New love – the kind where you can’t stop talking about each other and have to always be nearby. And old love – the kind where you know you’ll never be apart, and even when you disagree you’ll have each other’s backs.

Both are beautiful to me. And both are pieces of what I miss when I think about the 15 years I had with Shawn.

8 Replies to “The Look of Real Love”

  1. Ben Schwartz says: Reply

    Beautiful

    1. Thank you!

  2. That is so lovely! And so true. I always enjoy reading your stories.

    1. Thank you!

  3. Cynthia Lamas says: Reply

    Hello, I too recently lost my husband to complications of cancer. I am 58 years old and I feel being a widow is so different than being single. I am currently on a seven day getaway to get my head around my grief. I am at a beach resort with many couples and families. I find myself wanting couples wondering if they know how fast things can change. My husbands’s death wasn’t part of the plan even with the cancer diagnosis. I really thought we would fight our way through it. My children from my first marriage were at my side through the whole funeral service. But then they had to get back to their lives. And four months later, I still breakdown in uncontrollable tears and I want is my husband to comfort me. I can’t ask this of my kids, His children are in the angry stage of why their father abandoned them. They were in their 20s with their own families, their dad didn’t abandon them but I can’t tell them how to feel. So I cannot go to them for comfort. I struggle with my status. I knew how to be single; I was single before my first marriage and after my divorce but being a widow is not being single. I met a woman who was a widow now currently married to another widow (they met a grief group). She had been widowed for 10 years. I told her about me, she hugged me and said it will be hard, really hard. Keep hydrated. After she walked away, I was really, I have to wait 10 years but drink a lot of water. I laughed so hard. But for some reason, I haven’t forgotten her words. It will take time. I would like to know your thoughts about heaven. Because prior to my husband’s death, I thought that when I die, I will be reunited with my parents, my siblings, grandparents, etc. Now, I wonder if that really occurs. What if his first wife dies and then I die and see her next to him. I know myself, I will want to cause a scene, tell her to move on, he’s mine. But heaven doesn’t work that way, I will never make it there if that’s what I want to do. Or if I remarry, not even contemplating it, but if I do will I have both men at my side? So heaven has to be different then what I believe. Am I going crazy worrying about this. We weren’t perfect but I loved him like no other. I spy on other couples, especially the older couples and I truly envy them growing old together. I don’t see that in my future and it saddens me.

    1. I mean, I don’t think I really have any answers. But I’ve thought about this – what if I get remarried? What happens when we all die in the end? I think I’m going to write a blog post about this, now that I’ve sat here and thought about it some more. But here’s the gist of what I’m thinking I’m going to write: I think our hearts are big enough for lots of kinds of love.

      If it’s helpful, I found things to get easier after about 4-6 months. Really. Sending hugs.

  4. I truly appreciate your post. It brought me to tears!
    I was widowed 6 years ago – I was 36 with a 19 month old little boy. It’s amazing how time truly does fly – my little prince is almost 8 now!
    But boy, do I still miss both sides of what you beautifully described as marriage. Time makes things more “normal” but sometimes I just have to take a moment and let myself feel the love and the loss all at once.
    This was a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thanks so much for reading – I’m so glad you liked it. It was one of my favorites so far. And yes – I miss all those parts of marriage.

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