When He Was Still Mine

Shawn and Marjorie Brimley in their DC house with heads touching before Shawn's illness

One year ago today, curled up next to him in the hospital bed, I began to tell him a story. It was the story of our life together.

I was up almost the entire night previously. He was sick, and needed care and I couldn’t sleep and let him suffer. At 4 am I checked his breathing. At 5 am I called my friends to bring me paperwork so I could take over the medical decision-making process. At 6 am I called his family. “Hurry,” I said. At 7 am, the palliative care nurses came in, and I wept for the first time in 12 hours.

“You can get in bed with him,” they suggested, and they pulled the sheet back so I could lay on his chest.

So many years I’d laid on his chest. First as young lovers, so amazed by each other that we couldn’t stop physically touching anytime we were together. Then as a young couple, happy to have each other in a world where it seemed there was so much else we couldn’t control. Then as young parents, with our baby also on his chest and my face touching both of them. Then as tired professionals, happy to have each other at the end of the day. I knew his chest, and even if the cancer had weakened it, it still felt like home to me.

He wasn’t talking on the morning of the last day of his life, but he was breathing and I could feel his chest rise and fall. I didn’t know if he could hear me, but I started talking and didn’t stop. I began the story at the very beginning – meeting him for the first time at a karaoke bar, singing Bon Jovi and riding one bike home together. I told him how the wind felt on my cheeks that night, and how I laughed thinking back to that first adventure.

I told him about our time as friends and that first long night on the beach when the sun came up too early and we had to go home without a first kiss. I told him about the times we traveled and the times when we stayed home, and I told him about how he made me the happiest girl on the planet when he proposed. I told him about how nervous I felt getting ready on our wedding day, but how happy I felt when I saw him at the front of my church.

I even told him about our fights, including the stupid one we had during our first year of marriage where I didn’t speak to him for the whole day. I mean, I told him about most of that fight, but I still couldn’t remember what it was about. Neither of us ever could.

I told him about our life before kids and I cried, a lot, when I told him about the births of each of our children. I told him that his face was what I remember about those three days. Not the kids’ faces. His. He was so proud and so happy and so in love with me and our little family.

I kept talking even when the nurses and other staff came in the room. I didn’t want to get to the end of our lives because….then what? Would he die if I was done telling our story? Was that going to be it?

I wasn’t even sure if he was hearing me for much of the time. But every once in a while – when I was crying, usually – he’d squeeze my hand, or pull me closer to his chest with just a tiny tug and I’d know that he was still there. He was still mine, even if he was being called away from this earth.

It was the worst day of my life. But I’d do it all over again, just to have one of those moments when he pulled me close to him and said “I love you” without speaking.

Just to have one more moment when he was still mine.

One year. How have I survived a whole year without him? I do not know. I will never know how it is possible that I am here.

And he is not.

Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.

38 Replies to “When He Was Still Mine”

  1. Written through such tangible grief, this is stunning, powerful, and so beautiful. I am so sorry you must walk this journey. I am so moved that you have known such love. Thank you for writing this. It helps so many of us.

    1. Thank you for such kind words. And the grief was real as I wrote it, so when I went back to edit it, I really didn’t change anything. I wanted it to be raw.

  2. I sitting in the hall way crying reading this as I wait for my next class to begin. I lost my husband 2 years ago and everything since seems surreal. Surreal that he’s really not coming back at the end of the day, surreal that my children won’t be tucked in again by him, surreal that I am sitting in a hall way waiting for class…. crying about something so horrible and yet I can relate to completely. Two years ago I was a living in a comfortable little bubble as a stay at home mother with two kids and a husband that I adored and was at the center of my world. Yet, here I am in a new reality, back in school studying for another degree to start a new career, raising two young kids without my rock. I don’t know if this new way of life will ever NOT feel surreal, but in my husband’s honor I will keep moving forward in raising our children and living the best, most fulfilling life I can. What other choice is there really? Prayers for you today and everyday.

    1. Thank you so much for reading. Starting over is so hard – I think one of the things that makes it a little easier for me is that my day-to-day (teaching school, in particular) didn’t change. You are coping with so much but soldiering on. We can do it – and we will, because we must. Thanks for your prayers.

  3. Sending love and hugs to you on this difficult day, Marjorie.

    1. Thank you for the hugs.

  4. I’m not sure what I want to say or if I could even express it so I will just say I’m honored to have read this.

    1. Thanks for the love – today and every day.

  5. Sheryll Brimley says: Reply

    My heart will never be the same since I lost my son. Today it is breaking again, yes because Shawn is up in heaven. But also because he left a wonderful wife & children to continue living without him. He was so happy with his life, with you & his children. Whenever we chatted I would ask how you & the children were & he would always say how wonderful you all were & how happy he was! I can remember him asking me…”Mom, how is it possible to be so happy?”
    I now know what it is like to lose a child. I cannot even imagine your loss of your husband, your best friend & the father of our grandchildren. You not only have survived such a tragic loss Marjorie, but you have loved & cared for your children in such a terribly difficult time. You have also helped so many others through your writing. Lots of love today & always!

    1. Thanks so much for these words, Sheryll. I love that he talked to you about me. He was happy – that much I definitely know – and we built something that I now realize is much too rare in this world. My heart hurts for you and Bill as well and I am sending you extra love today. xo

  6. Marjorie, I didn’t know what you would write about today but I imagined you crying as you wrote down each and every word. I wish that all of us left behind didn’t have the last memory be so emotional but this pain imparts so much onto us. A day before my husband passed away he couldn’t speak but he put his hand on my cheek and this gesture spoke volumes…I will forever treasure this act of his. Praying for you on this day of remembrance.

    1. I love that image of your husband’s hand on your cheek. Love it.

  7. I remember the last time my husband held me in his hospital bed…it was the last time I’ve been held like that for over 7 years. It meant everything to me. I was told I could, but I did anyway. It was the only night we had just to ourselves, no tests, no visitors, no doctors, just us. We didn’t know then that’d it be our last…but when my husband asked what our future would look like weeks later (when he knew he wasn’t going home and I was still hoping), I held his hand like there would be those future days, and talked about holding his hand on our front porch while in the rocking chairs he always wanted, and watching our grandchildren play…the grandchildren he’ll never see and the chairs I’ll never have the heart to purchase. Hugs my widow warrior on this terrible journey…so sorry you had to join our club.

    1. I love this story so much. I love that you held his hand and talked about his grandchildren. It’s a beautiful image. Thank you for the love and for sharing.

  8. I don’t have sufficient skill or vocabulary to explain how moving your words are, Marjorie. But I want to thank for you sharing this, and for a year’s worth of amazing reading. You have brought me closer to an old friend I’d lost touch with and painted such a vivid picture of a happy life. Short though it was, I’m so grateful Shawn got to live it, and live it with you.

    You are unbelievable, and amazing.

    1. Thanks for your constant support and kindness – and for reconnecting with our family. We are lucky to know you.

  9. My husband of 25 years passed away in February of Breast Cancer after a 6.5 year battle. We have two wonderful sons that were everything to us. We reveled in the joy of raising them to be these incredible people and we were so proud of our family.

    I have been drawn back the last few weeks to all of the lasts I am approaching. The last chemo treatment, last set of scans, last track meet that we went to together. On February 4th of last year Mike was having trouble catching his breath. As we left for the ER I never in a million years would have believed that he would not come home again. He had just been at work a few days before.

    It ended up that we had another 3 weeks together. In the ICU for a week while we prayed that something would help clear the fluid from his lungs and then 2 weeks in hospice at he hospital just trying to make him comfortable. We tried to fit so many memories in that time frame, tried to get everyone to the hospital to say goodbye. We even snuck our dog in so that Mike could have a goodbye with her.

    While I am so grateful that Mike had the chance to say good byes I was also so jealous that I was not getting the time to spend with him. I was making sure that the boys had alone time as well. I feel like there was so much more that I would have liked to have said or done. I often find myself back in that hospice room with him thinking of the what ifs.

    As I get closer to the year mark I am trying to believe that there was nothing left unsaid between Mike and I. We had the same goals where it came to the kids- but most important was the fact that he knew that I loved him with my whole being and I knew the same. It was said with every hug during chemo, every laugh we shared and the nights that I held him when he didn’t feel well. As I approach the one year mark without my other half that is what I am choosing to focus on.

    And my goal now is to move forward and find who I am now and to make Mike proud. Thank you for your words.

    1. I have regrets – some of which I can write about and some of which I can’t, or at least not yet. But like you, I know that Shawn knew I loved him and that he loved me. That is all that really matters, you know? Thanks so much for sharing.

  10. Marjorie, this is beautifully written and so, so poignant. I actually read this during my “prep. period” at school this afternoon and had to hold back the tears. The love you both had for each other is very evident in your photos; they reflect the complete happiness two people experience when they grow together, learn together, and flourish in spite of disagreements and maybe even because of them. Yours is a true love story.

    Your post carried me back 4 year and 5 months ago to the day my husband died. After spending days in the ICU and then on the palliative care floor with me at his bedside night and day and then our daughter there as well, he passed away peacefully as the sun came up over the bay that his hospital window looked out over. It cast the most beautiful pink glow across his face. I know he was trying to say something or to wake up, but I just held him, telling him we would be ok, that he could rest and that he was the best thing that had ever happened to me. Immediately afterward, the last breaths were drawn and he was gone. The reality that he was gone and I was still here didn’t set in until after that first stressful year when things settled down and I had the time and strength to ponder everything. I sometimes wish I were still in the fog.

    Sending hugs to you on this day and as you continue your journey.

    1. Thank you so much for such a sweet note. I loved reading about your last moments with your husband – as painful as I’m sure they are to write, you too capture the love. It’s a rare and wonderful thing in this world.

  11. Not a day has gone by since then that I have not thought of him, and all he did for me. Ten years younger than me, he was a wise and generous friend. Even when we disagreed, he knew how to make things right. A great man.

    1. And you were a dear friend to him. Thanks so much for all the love, always.

  12. Been thinking of you today, and a lot lately. This was so beautiful to read. I’m so sorry this happened.

    1. Thank you so much. It was a tough day yesterday, but I made it through.

  13. Your kids will be so grateful to have these beautiful words to reflect on someday. They’ll also see the strength it took to share them… what a gift. Sending you love and strength today.

    1. It’s funny, because I read many of the blog posts to them now and sometimes one of them will say, “why do people want to read this?” – it’s not meant to be mean, but because they are actually curious. I think they’ll be happy to have them when they are older!

  14. Hello Marjorie. Again your words have reduced me to silent sobs and rivers of tears. Sending you so much love and so much support across the world, you darling girl. You are so strong, and so brave. I really love and appreciate that you can even think this, let alone commit it to paper. I am with you on this journey. Take care and be very kind to yourself x

    1. Thank you for the love!

  15. This is so open-hearted and beautiful. Thank you for writing it.

    1. Thanks for reading!

  16. Elaine Rector says: Reply

    Marjorie: Your words and love are powerful. Dennis and I are thinking of you and holding you on our hearts.

    1. Wow – thank you so much for reading. I was just telling my government class today about Dennis!

  17. Guillermo Rivera says: Reply

    Dear Teacher Mrs. Brimley,

    In fact life is the path we walk upon this earth and although we find out about hardships, defeats, suffering, struggle and loss; it’s also a wonderful journey of adventure, sovereignty, freedom, and opportunity to dreaming big and reaching far on our own bright star to make the changes that matter in the world for the betterment of all.

    In such dimension your husband has left behind an important and stunning legacy of strong leadership and now, you are his successor. As life resolutely keeps going forward and by his spectacular smile, Mr. Brimley is pointing out you the way in 2019 as a time of beauty, joy, renewal and unfolding miracles into a brand-new start doing all your favorite things and surrounded by the ones you love.

    In such approach make grief your happeneur for growing up not your undertaker for holding you down anymore. So keep the nice memoir and the lesson, and let go the pain that is holding you back. Move ahead, lighter on your feet. Feel beautiful again by being yourself, accepting yourself, and motivating yourself to go after what is your true destiny. Amazingly and absolutely, Mr. Brimley will be proud of you and will cheer you all the time in action, on action and for action. Go for it!

    Of course give voice to your thoughts and emotions that exist this first anniversary, but choose to celebrate life because your husband was a wonderful gift in every sense of the word.
    *
    James 1:2-4
    https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+1%3A2-4&version=NIV
    New International Version (NIV)
    .
    Trials and Temptations
    2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
    Footnotes:
    1. James 1:2 The Greek word for brothers and sisters (adelphoi) refers here to believers, both men and women, as part of God’s family; also in verses 16 and 19; and in 2:1, 5, 14; 3:10, 12; 4:11; 5:7, 9, 10, 12, 19.
    *
    “Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you.” ― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
    *
    “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” – Jesus Christ, in Matthew 5:4
    *
    “Grieving is a journey that teaches us how to love in a new manner now that our loved one is no longer with us. Consciously remembering those who have died is the key that opens the hearts, that allows us to love them in new ways.” – Tom Attig, The Heart of Grief
    *
    Grief never ends… But it changes.
    It’s a passage, not a place to stay.
    Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith…
    It is the price of love because you care.
    *
    “The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.” ―Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
    *
    “Never forget that you are one of a kind. Never forget
    that if there weren’t any need for you in all your
    uniqueness to be on this earth, you wouldn’t be here
    in the first place. And never forget, no matter how
    overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem
    to be, that one person can make a difference in the
    world. In fact, it is always because of one person
    that all the changes that matter in the world come
    about. So be that one person.”
    -Buckminster Fuller

    1. Beautiful – thanks for sharing!

  18. Hi Marjorie. Thank you for this beautiful piece which highlights the depths love can reach. It is a good focal point for beginners like me. Glad for the adorable life you shared with him. I pray God continues to fill any void you may feel.

    1. Thanks so much for reading – I really love when I can engage with new readers!

  19. Marjorie, my story is so close to you that it has been both breathtaking and heartbreaking to read your blog. It has helped me to realize that we are not alone and that even from the other side of the world we can learn from others. As our 1 year approaches I to am glad to have shared a love with my soul mate that was a true love story. It is heartbreaking that cancer ended it so early but I know he is around cheering me and my girls on. Thank you for your words, they have truly helped me through this year. Big hugs from Australia xx

    1. Oh, thank you for reading and connecting with me. I think loss – especially of a spouse – can produce such varied emotions, but I think there’s also a common bond between those of us who’ve experienced it. Thanks for sharing your story.

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