Person holding weight for blog by DC widow writer Marjorie Brimley
Missing Shawn

The Pieces We Don’t Know

A few years before he died, Shawn got really into CrossFit. He was trying to get in better shape and thought maybe something that required extreme discipline was just what he needed. Plus, he had a group of friends at his work who were already part of a gym nearby. He could go at lunch.

Once he started, he went almost every weekday and often on the weekends too. To supplement this new workout routine, he tried a variety of diets, including one where he didn’t eat any processed sugar at all (I hated that one, as it was no fun) and one where he put butter in his coffee. Every day, he’d update me on the WOD (Workout of the Day) and other CrossFit things that he found interesting. I swear, I heard more about CrossFit in the last few years of his life than I did about his actual paid job. If I haven’t made my point clear enough, one of the last emails he ever sent was to the CrossFit gym, telling them he was very ill and needed to stop his membership. Do you know when he did this? The day before he died.

So yes, Shawn loved CrossFit.

When he died, the CrossFit gym where he went did a little fundraiser in his honor, and they invited me and the kids. My cousin Larissa and her son came up for the event, and we set out for the gym one early weekend morning. Shawn had been gone less than a month at that point and I was barely functioning. Larissa took over greeting everyone and shepherding the kids throughout the morning – except 3-year-old Tommy, who clung to my leg.

When I got there, I realized a few things. First, everyone there knew Shawn. A few of the attendees I knew from his work, but most of these people, the ones who greeted me with tears in their eyes, were total strangers to me. How was it that he had affected people there so much that they cried over his death and yet I had never met them in my life?

Second, I found out that I was expected to actually do the workout that was in Shawn’s honor that day. I was in no shape to do any workout (the obsessive running I got into after Shawn’s death hadn’t yet started) and again, I had Tommy glued to my leg. But I found myself doing squats and pushups and explaining to the coach (are they called coaches? I still don’t know) why I couldn’t do a single pull-up. Everyone was super deferential to me, and I’m sure if I had just cried in the corner, no one would have been judgmental about it.

But here’s the thing – the whole time I was doing this workout, I just kept thinking, “this is where Shawn spent an hour almost every single day, with these people, in this space, doing these exercises….and it’s a world I never knew.”

Listen, I wasn’t a terrible wife, I promise. Shawn got into CrossFit when we had three tiny kids and were both working and were just barely holding it all together. Also, I’m not a gym person. So why would I go a visit his gym with my limited free time?

And yet, it was strange that the man who I loved for 15 years had this whole other part of his life that I wasn’t a part of. CrossFit was his, and his alone. As I stood in that CrossFit gym a month after he died, all I could think was, “how did I ignore this part of who he was?”

I guess we can’t know everything about our partners. I don’t think I was a terrible wife for not following Shawn’s CrossFit adventures; on the contrary, I was keeping things afloat at home so he could do these workouts. But in retrospect, I wish I had said – just once – that I wanted to go with him. What other things might I have discovered about my husband that I didn’t know? What was this world of his like? Why was it so important to him?

I never went back to the CrossFit gym after that fundraiser, even though the people there offered to help me learn everything if I wanted. “I’m not a gym person” I said, and they nodded, probably thinking all sorts of things about me, but polite enough not to say them.

I remain “not a gym person.” I run almost every day, rain or shine or sleet or scorching heat. I like like the way I connect with the world as a runner, and I love running with Chris. But it gave me a great thrill to post a note on social media, asking for help remembering about Shawn’s CrossFit obsession. Dozens of responses came in.

“Once, we did the Filthy 50 CrossFit and then went to Fogo de Chao and competed on who could eat the most meat. A blast,” one friend reminisced. Another wrote, “he came out on a run with the neighborhood Dads one morning with a weighted rucksack and we were all like WTF?” And a woman he worked with remembered “sheepishly telling him I was going to a barre workout one night in ~2016 like he would think it was silly and he was like ‘I’ve tried barre! Barre is super hard!! Have a great class!'”

Shawn’s been gone almost three and a half years, which means he’s not done CrossFit for about that same amount of time. (Yes, he did CrossFit with stage IV cancer) But these memories remain for so many people. Almost every eulogy and piece of writing about Shawn mentions his CrossFit (and workout) obsession. And I never really got to experience it.

But I love that others saw this part of Shawn, this piece of him that I never fully knew. It seems like a part I would have really liked.

8 Comments

  • Jerry Hendrix

    The Dude would look at me at work and tell me “You ought to try CrossFit” and I would look back at him and shake my head back and forth. I had ten years on him and was literally listed as disabled by the VA and he still thought I should do CrossFit because he loved it so much.

  • Linda Shanks

    My husband was a runner. The thing that surprises people is the story about him being in hospice in a hospital setting. He couldn’t die at home because he was still in such good health (other than Cancer) that his body tossed off pain killers.

  • Malgosia

    My husband went to Vegas every year for work related convention, and every year had a blast (not into gambling at all but it fascinated him to watch people in casinos, especially the rich ones). He read a lot about history of Vegas, how the city developed, watched every movie and documentary about it, was always staying at the same old casino/hotel because it was old and full of history. I never went with him, we sometimes talked about it but it sort of was his place. Now I am more and more inclined to go myself even for the fact that it is a great starting point for the national parks but… I feel like I should first prepare, do all the reading, documentary watching to be able to see Vegas the way he saw it…But the other part of me wants to just go, see it with my own eyes, no preconceptions, no “paying tribute to his fun”. I guess it is just “one of those things”.

    • M Brimley

      I get that – and I’d encourage you to go! It doesn’t have to be the same, but I’m sure you’ll see so many pieces of him in your trip. 🙂

  • Melody Cook

    I remember frequently looking around the office for him – and then remembering oh yeah, Cross Fit. He was so dedicated! It always made me feel better about sneaking out of the office at lunch time for a run. And then one day he told me how much weight he lost and I couldn’t believe it. When you see someone daily you just don’t notice it right away. Also I remember him drinking that muscle milk stuff all the time – yuck!

    • M Brimley

      He was SO DEDICATED! And I remember Shawn talking frequently about you and about how talented you were. I love that his example made you feel better about sneaking out at lunch – yes! 🙂 Thanks for this memory.

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