• Shawn Brimley backpacking before cancer

    Michele Flournoy’s Eulogy of Shawn

    Below is the eulogy that Michele Flournoy gave at Shawn’s funeral. Shawn Brimley was an extraordinary human being. A devoted husband and father. One of the country’s most brilliant and respected defense intellectuals. An innovator and institution builder. A truly beloved colleague, mentor and friend. And an example for us all. He was in his prime, his sun still rising in what seemed like a bright blue sky. He died too young and too suddenly, and we – those who loved him — are left behind in shock, heartbroken, bereft. But if Shawn were here, he would want us to complement our grief with a celebration of his life. For…

  • Marjorie Brimley and children with Shawn's guitar after his death
    Missing Shawn

    Family photos

    The night before we took family photos this year, I picked up Shawn’s guitar and put it by the front door. I didn’t want to forget it. I’d already laid out the kids’ clothes and made sure we looked somewhat pulled together. But I felt like something was missing, so I went down and sat in Shawn’s recliner and thought about how I wanted to take family photos this year. We’re a family of four now, but we were always a party of five. Could I even take “family” photos if a critical member of our family was missing? How would I pose with the kids? How would we manage…

  • Two photos of Marjorie Brimley's parents and husband before the death of her mom and Shawn
    Things That Suck

    20 Years

    Two decades ago, a woman I barely knew shook me awake. I was staying with a friend on one of my days off as a camp counselor, and I had gone to bed early only to be awoken at dawn by my friend’s mother. “Your father is on the phone,” she said to me. I was disoriented, but went to the kitchen to pick up the phone. “Hello?” “Marjorie,” my dad said.  I knew something was wrong immediately by the tone of his voice.  And then he said the words that would change my life forever. “Your mother killed herself last night.” “No,” I said, “no, no, no!” I fell…

  • Austin in church in Washington DC
    Family & Friends

    Talking to My Kids About Death, Again

    Many years ago, when Claire was about 5, she was just starting to understand the concept of death. One day at school she learned from a friend that people can die of all sorts of diseases. This peaked her curiosity and she asked me about a dozen questions that night. “But how do people get sick in the first place? Why do some people get so sick they die? What happens when you die?” I answered her questions the best I could. At the end of our conversation, she asked me one last question. “Mom, is it possible that a kid could get sick and die?” I froze. I hadn’t…

  • Claire Brimley working on paperwork in DC house
    New Perspectives

    Promises I Can’t Keep

    Four days. That’s how long Shawn and I had to plan. I knew late Friday night that things were going badly, but it wasn’t until Saturday morning, January 6th, that the doctor told us that Shawn had “weeks, not months” to live. We thought we had at least a few weeks to get things together, but really, we ended up with only a few days. After we got the news, we cried. Well, mostly I cried. Shawn seemed to take it all in stride. He wanted to know how hospice worked and how we would make sure that he got all of his medicine. And then he wanted to plan…

  • Brimley children and Grant sitting on steps in Washington DC

    The First Day of School

    I missed my kids’ first day of school last year.  My hometown of Albany, Oregon was one of the best places to see the total solar eclipse of 2017 and so instead of walking my kids to their first day of school, I watched the eclipse with my dad and sister.  I don’t regret it, because it was amazing.  But it meant that Shawn did the first day of school by himself.  He was a capable father, so this wasn’t a huge deal, and he texted me photos of the kids walking to school with their friends that morning. I don’t have our text exchange saved, but I do remember…