DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley is kissed by her husband and hugged by her children in a field


The first party Shawn threw for me was for my 24th birthday.

We’d been dating since the previous fall and it had only taken him a few months to understand the importance I placed on my birthday. As a kid, my mom had always gone all out on our birthdays and I continued to want lots of fun and attention on my birthday. For my birthdays in college I had danced until the wee hours of the morning and really, turning 24 felt like another college birthday. I hadn’t quite yet grown up, even if I did know that I was likely to spend the rest of my life with Shawn.

He planned a surprise party that year. I sort-of knew it was coming, as my girlfriends took me out to dinner and kept looking at their phones to quickly check text messages. But I didn’t care. I didn’t need the big surprise. I just wanted to know that someone cared enough to orchestrate the whole thing.

And he did. They all yelled surprise when I showed up at my apartment, and we ate funny Japanese desserts and drank beer from the beer vending machine in the basement. (For real. Japan is so weird and awesome.)

Shawn threw me many birthday parties over the years. Some years, it was pretty low-key and some years it was a real party. But what I told him each year was that the most important part of my birthday was getting a heartfelt card from him. He always delivered on this, and I have many of them stashed away in my nightstand.

Over the past weekend, I took out a few of those old notes – some from my birthday, some from other holidays and some that were “just because.” I found an old note that I’d written to him in Japan that said only “I love you, baby. xoxo, Marjorie” and I recognized it immediately. It was the first time I’d written that down on paper, and he put it on the fridge where it stayed for the remainder of our time in Japan. Even in those early days – even as a 20-something guy – Shawn was sentimental.

I can’t re-type all of the notes he left me, because there are so many and also because I want some of them to be just for me. But here’s an excerpt from one that I found in that pile that I thought captured a lot of how he always felt about me:

Marjorie, you know that I love you more than anything on this earth. There is nothing…nothing or nobody that is more important to me than you. This means that I take it as my first and greatest priority in life to make you happy, keep you healthy and enjoy all the years of our life together…in love.

Re-reading that one just about broke me. He wrote it in those early years, before careers and kids and a mortgage. But I never felt the sentiment change. I always felt like Shawn loved me, first and foremost, above all others.

And that’s all I ever needed on my birthday. A big party was nice, but knowing that there was someone beside me who said his “greatest priority in life” was to make me happy…well, that was all I ever wanted.

So now I am turning 40, and I am doing it without him. I know that when he wrote me all these letters years ago, he imagined that we’d grow old together. I know I did.

Now it’s just me that’s growing older. I’m not “old,” yet, obviously, but I’m getting older. 40. And someday 50 and 60 and 70, most likely. All without him.

There was one other note I read last weekend that really stayed with me. It was a diary entry of mine that I’d ripped out and given to Shawn at some point. It was from sometime around my 24th birthday, and we were going to Osaka together for a trip. I wrote this:

Shawn is fabulous and makes me feel like the most perfect woman in the world. Which I certainly am not…but it’s nice to be loved that way.

And that – more than the parties, more that the gifts, more than the fact that he’d play the Beatles song “Birthday” for me every year on my birthday – that is what I’m missing today.

Being loved that way.

Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.


  • Sheryll Brimley

    Happy Birthday Marjorie! Shawn got his “sentimental” ways from his Dad. I still have a drawer full of cards & love letters from him (& still saving) Every year when I purge I think about perhaps (?) throwing them out but very quickly decide not to…particularly after reading some of them! Being sentimental is wonderful. I am so glad that Shawn was.

  • Steph

    Happy 40th Birthday, Marjorie. I hope there are moments of sunshine in your day and people who love and know you to remind you of your own growth, achievements and special gifts.

  • Kate

    Happy Birthday! It is wonderful that you have kept the cards and letters. I know how difficult it is to read them because they remind us of a time that we felt alive and so lived. I kept 29 years of cards, notes and letters from my husband. They are in a huge box and they tell the story of our life. BTW, my husband was from Yokohama….

  • Melanie

    It’s plain to see in all of the photos and stories you’ve shared that he adored you, and that you will always adore him. Happy Birthday to you!

  • Diane

    Happy belated birthday, Marjorie!
    I turned 50 and we would have celebrated 20 years of marriage after my hubby died. He said he couldn’t wait to tease me about being old. I never ever thought he’d be gone. It helped to have dear ones remember me and I hope you felt the love too from your family and friends even though it doesn’t replace his. Take care and hugs!