• Jason Levine, an NIH oncologist, with his family
    Family & Friends

    Straight to Heaven

    About two hours after Shawn’s colon surgery began, the head surgeon came out to talk with me and my friend Jason about how everything was going. “There were a few complications,” he began. My heart seemed to stop and time slowed down. “After we put in the scope, we encountered pus, indicating an perforated colon,” the surgeon told me, “and so we had to convert to a standard open operation.” I looked at Jason. He looked calm. “Okay,” he said. The surgeon continued to explain what happened, assuring me that even with the changes, everything had gone well. I turned again to Jason, who looked at me and said, “this…

  • Shawn and Marjorie Brimley in love holding hands
    Family & Friends

    I Knew You Before

    Sometimes, when I try to remember my life before Shawn, I draw a blank.  I can remember fun college parties, my awesome job working at a summer camp, and a general warm feeling about childhood.  But right now, everything still seems a bit hazy, and thus my memories aren’t always so clear.  For those memories, I need people from way back when.  I need people like my friend Gabrielle. Gabe and I met in Italy, thrown together as roommates in a city where we didn’t speak the language or know the culture.  It was the spring of 2000, and we were young and stupid and adventurous.  We had a deliriously…

  • Shawn Calling Family After Tommy Was Born at Home
    Family & Friends

    Why I Can’t Call You Back

    I have at least a dozen unanswered voicemails on my phone.  That might not seem like a lot, but I just deleted all of my voicemails a few days ago.  Sure, there’s one from the dentist and another from the cemetery (there’s a phrase I never thought I’d write) but most of the voicemails are from friends and family. I recently got a new phone that actually transcribes my voicemails.  It’s great.  I can tap on the voicemail and see basically what someone said on the phone.  I use this feature all the time, and then if I’m feeling especially grateful for the love, or guilty about not being in…

  • Shawn Brimley and friends on hike near Washington DC
    Family & Friends

    All Kinds of Therapy

    I can’t even remember all of the people who sat in my kitchen and listened to me cry in the first few weeks of Shawn’s diagnosis.  But I do remember them being there, and listening to me, and not usually knowing what to say, but staying nonetheless.  They validated my feelings that things were horrible, that it was unfair, and that everything was impossible.  “Of course you’re overwhelmed/frustrated/terribly sad” said everyone.  No one tried to cheer me up with ridiculous optimism, and almost everyone let me really express my emotions. This was a far cry from how people reacted when my mom died.  Granted, I was only 19, so most people…

  • Marjorie Brimley walking as a single parent with daughter Claire

    First Day Back

    When I went to put on my shoes this morning, I realized they were caked with mud.  For a moment, I was confused.  But then I remembered – the last time I wore these shoes was at Shawn’s burial on that freezing January day. Ugh.  It was the first thing to trigger my grief and it was only 6:30 in the morning.  And today was going to be a big day, because it was my first day back at work since early January.  I actually worked through a lot of Shawn’s hospital stay, because we thought he would eventually be okay and someone needed to make sure to maintain a steady…

  • Shawn Brimley with Claire at Christmas
    What Not to Say

    It’s Not “Better”

    The other day, I was coming out of my house to run an errand and I ran into a neighbor.  I don’t know her well, but she and her husband are always friendly.  The day we moved into our house, they brought over a bottle of wine.  When a hurricane struck DC soon thereafter, her husband came out and helped Shawn as he dug a trench so that our basement wouldn’t flood.  We always waved at them when we’d see them on the street, and they thought our young kids were adorable. When Shawn died, they left a very sweet note on the front porch.  Apparently, they had noticed us…