Son of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley Hale looks at his dad Chris at wedding

Do You Have Any Memories of Your Dad Shawn?

The music was on in the background – Fleetwood Mac, I think – and Chris bustled around the kitchen getting dishes in the cabinets and napkins for the table. In the living room, Claire and Austin did homework. At the stove, Tommy slowly stirred the pasta as I cooked some salmon next to him. It was just an everyday moment, one where no one was saying much, but we were together.

“I miss Shawn,” Tommy said.

It happens sometimes, that Tommy says something that maybe the rest of us – even Austin and Claire – usually reserve for more reflective times. But Tommy is still young and he says things that just pop into his mind.

I asked him what he missed about his dad Shawn.

“I wish he was here, so he could see me in second grade!” Tommy said.

I smiled. “I know he’d be so surprised at how big you’ve gotten,” I said, because I didn’t quite know what else to say. But I was curious. “Do you have any memories of your dad Shawn?”

Tommy thought for a second. “I remember one,” he said. “I was little and he plopped me on the bed and then wrestled with me and I was laughing.”

It was a moment I remembered too, thought there were many like that. Tommy had always been the most playful of his siblings, and Shawn often used to (sweetly) chuck him onto the bed and wrestle with him in the evenings.

“Anything else?” I asked.

“No….” Tommy said, and he was quiet.

I wasn’t quite sure what to say next. Tommy has now lived through three very distinct parts of his life. The first 3 1/2 years were with Shawn, and then the next 2 1/2 years were with his Grandpa Tom, and then the past (almost) two years have been with his dad Chris. What did it mean to have had so many people who’ve loved him, but also so much change?

Tommy kept stirring his pasta, as I tried to think if I should keep asking questions or just let it go.

“Tommy,” Chris said, stepping closer to the stove, “what do you think your dad Shawn would think was interesting about your life?”

Tommy seemed stumped. “I don’t know,” he said.

“Well, I bet he’d love to hear about how much you like to read manga,” Chris said. “I know he really liked comics.”

Tommy’s eyes lit up. “Ya!” he said, and chuckled.

And that was it. Tommy went back to stirring the pasta and I finished the rest of the meal and we all sat down and said grace and ate dinner. We didn’t talk about it later, but when I was falling asleep that night, I thought about this conversation.

So many people ask me what it’s like for Chris to come into our lives. What it means to parent three kids who’ve lost their dad, what the daily experience is like for him and for me and for the kids. I never quite know how to answer these questions.

Because yes, it’s about the big things – the times we all are at the cemetery and the times we have to discipline the kids and the times we celebrate milestones. Those times matter a lot.

But times like these moments – a few extra questions as we cook dinner – those are the times that I think matter even more.

Image Credit: Sharyn Peavey.