Children of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley put roses on their father's grave on Father's Day

Father’s Day, Year 2

In the weeks leading up to Father’s Day last year, I had a million people checking in with me. “Do you know what you want to do on Father’s Day?” was a common question I got. Honestly, I didn’t know. I was dreading the day as it marked the first event where I was supposed to be celebrating Shawn, and he wouldn’t be there.

But I made it through. We had a good day, even if it was still a hard day, and my community surrounded me and the kids. We went to the toy store. We talked about Shawn. A zillion people helped me with the kids at the pool and someone made sure I always had a cold beer. Like every event last year, I was proud of myself for surviving it.

But Year 2 is different for all of these holidays. Valentine’s Day was different. My birthday was different. Mother’s Day was different. People aren’t so worried about me anymore, and while that’s mostly good (I think my friends recognize that I’m better able to move through the world on a daily basis without their constant help) it means that there aren’t dozens of people making me plan these big days ahead of time. But this means one very important thing:

Holidays can sneak up on me.

And so can the grief.

As the week ended last week, I felt a familiar dread coming over me. I couldn’t quite put a finger on it, and I ended up leaving a party early on Friday because I just felt sad and wasn’t sure why. But once I took a minute to think about it, I realized that yet another Father’s Day was looming.

Saturday night, I asked the kids what we should do. “Remember what we did last year?” Austin asked, and then without waiting for my answer reminded me, “we went to the diner and the toy store, just like Dad liked to do. Let’s do that again!”

We all agreed. So, yesterday morning, after a long morning run I took to dissipate the anxiety, we set out for our adventure. We decided that we’d go to the cemetery first.

“But we need flowers for Dad’s grave!” Claire said.

So we went to the grocery store. I told the kids to pick out something and they settled on earth-friendly, sustainably harvested red roses. (I mean, really, kids? How about the $3.99 cheap bouquet? It’s not like anyone besides us is going to see them. Even Shawn would think it was ridiculous!)

We drove out to the cemetery. It was alive with people, although our family was the only young family there. The kids took the roses and decorated Shawn’s grave, and Claire made the boys write their names on a sign she made. “Happy Father’s Day,” it read, “We Miss You Daddy.”

They rearranged the roses again and again around the headstone. A ceremony, of sorts.

“Can we go play now?” Austin asked. I said sure, and he and Tommy ran off to play on the praying hands statue.

Claire stayed with me. “I miss Dad,” she said.

“Me too,” I said.

Bagpipes played in the distance. “Do you hear that?” I asked her.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Bagpipes,” I said. “It’s beautiful, I think. Even though it can also sound a bit sad. I guess there’s a lot of things in life that can be both sad and beautiful.”

We sat there like that for a while, but Tommy was yelling so loudly for us to come and play that we eventually joined them. The bagpipes kept playing, and we spent a few minutes trying to find out where the sound was coming from. But the grounds are too big, and it remained a mystery. We talked about other things we didn’t understand for a while, and then out of the blue, Claire looked over at Shawn’s grave and said, “Do you think Dad’s whole body is still in the ground? Or, is it gone into the earth? Or is part of it gone?”

See, here’s the thing about kids. They will ask the question that adults think, but never, ever say out loud.

I actually thought about it. “I don’t know,” I said, truthfully. “But I know that eventually, the earth will break down the box that his body is in and will take his body too. That’s how it works. All of our bodies go back to the earth eventually. But who we are – our spirits – that part isn’t in our bodies after we die. That part goes somewhere else, like maybe Heaven.”

I was trying to answer as best I could, with as much honesty as possible.

“So,” Austin said, “maybe just one toe is gone or something?”

I laughed. Shawn would have laughed too.

“I don’t know,” I said, “but anyway, it’s time for pancakes!”

We got back in the car and drove to the diner. Miraculously, there was a parking spot right in front, and I took a while unloading the kids. They were fighting with each other by this point and we caused a little bit of a scene for all of the patio diners. Somehow, our table was ready and we were seated outside right away.

I ordered immediately. We sat and colored and talked about our upcoming summer travel. The kids entertained me with some stories about their friends, and I listened halfheartedly. I was exhausted and it was only noon. Joyful families surrounded me. I wanted to be happy, but all I felt was the overwhelming sadness of being a single mom on Father’s Day.

I did my best to stay in the moment, and focus on the kids. I told them about my high school job working at a 50s diner and we passed the time. Eventually, some of our food arrived, and the waiter brought over the check. I thought it was strange because I hadn’t asked for the check, but I went to pay it anyway.

When I opened the bill, I found only a receipt. At the bottom were three words, written in loopy handwriting:

“We Got You!”

I stared at the check for a minute, confused. Was someone trying to tell me something?

I flagged down our waiter and asked why there was just a receipt inside. “The bill was paid by someone already,” he said.

“What?” I said.

“Someone paid for your lunch,” he said again.

“My God,” I said to him, “this note – it’s a line from the speech I gave at my students’ graduation a week ago. It must have been someone who heard that speech.”

I looked around. “The person who paid already left,” the waiter said. He was smiling.

“The speech was about how I’ve survived since my husband’s death a year ago,” I said, and I told him the rest of the story. As I told him the story, I started crying.

The kids didn’t fully understand what had happened, so I explained it to them.

As I did, it became clear that many of the waiters and waitresses knew what had happened. They all came by and smiled at me and the kids, and many of the tables near us did the same.

Eventually, we left. We went to the toy store, just like Dad always did, and the kids each picked out a present. Claire got a bow and arrow set (“like Katniss”), Austin got a spy kit, and Tommy got a Spiderman action figure.

Last year, I bought laser-tag guns to play with the kids. But this year I didn’t need to get myself anything at the toy store.

Because this year, I got a much better present.

I got the reminder that I’m not alone.


  • Melissa

    I’m so glad you had this experience at the diner! This is what happened to me and a widow friend of mine when we had lunch together for the first time after my husband died. Someone must have overheard her telling the hostess to bring her the check because I’d just lost my husband. We didn’t find out who paid for both of our lunches either. I mentioned this in another comment on your blog and I remember you saying what a wonderful act that was. Now you’re on the receiving end! Your speech was like a ripple in a pond. The waves of kindness will continue to spread outward, touching more and more people. How great is that?

    • Marjorie

      It is beautiful. Later, when Claire was telling Grandpa Tom about it, I saw the joy in her eyes and I said, “you remember this. Someday you may have the chance to do it for someone else.”

  • Kate

    This made me cry. How special and what a kind gesture and how much of an impact your speech must have had on that person. You should be proud of yourself. Father’s Day is not easy. I almost made it through the entire day without crying. We had a picnic at the cemetery and went for a walk. I cried as I was folding the laundry last night and came across a pair of his socks that my son is now wearing because he fits the size.

    • Marjorie

      Oh, those are always the times I cry the most! It’s the little things, really. The big stuff can be sad but the little stuff – like socks – can really get me. I totally understand how you must have felt. Sending hugs.

  • Marcia

    You do not know me, I have been reading your blog for several months. This post, as have others, leaves me in tears. But here’s the thing: from 3,000 miles away, and from another generation, I can tell you that you, and your children, are going to be ok. Different, but ok. Keep writing and sharing. Even from grief, you are helping others, and passing it forward.

    • Marjorie

      Thanks so much for saying this. It’s funny, but I was with my kids all day today and they fought with each other and whined plenty, but at the end of the day I thought – I think they’re gonna be okay.

  • Henry

    Melissa’s and Laurelie’s comments reminded me of something sent to me two years ago after my wife died by a close friend and colleague of her’s:


    Now that I’m gone, remember me with a smile and laughter,
    And if you need to cry, cry with your brother and sister who walk in grief beside you.

    And when you need me, put your arms around anyone and give to them what you need to give to me.

    I want to leave you something; something much better than words or sounds.
    Look for me in the people I’ve known and loved or helped in some special way.

    Let me live in your eyes as well as in your minds.
    You can love me by letting love live with the circle of your arms, embracing the frightened ones.

    Love does not die, people do.
    So when all that’s left of me is love, give me away as best you can.

    I’ll see you at home, where I’ll be waiting.

    • Melissa

      That’s beautiful, Henry! It’s exactly what my husband would have wanted. He was the most generous person I ever knew, both with money and with his time and encouragement for others. Thank you for sharing this with us. It will be a year for me on the 27th and I needed to hear something like this.

  • Linda

    Marjorie, I never knew you prior to hearing your speech at the 2019 GDS high school commencement on June 9,2019. As I listened to you speak, I watched my son on the front row and I thought of my father who passed away almost thirteen years ago. I shed a few tears and thought about all the things my father had missed in his only grandchild’s life. Your speech spoke volumes. Losing someone is the hardest thing in the world to get past. People always say it will get easier, but it really doesn’t. I still find myself crying at the loss of my father because there are times when it is only him who can answer my question. I cry still in my car, as I’m baking his favorite cake or when I have to have work done to my car because my father instilled in me how to take care of my car. Marjorie, I wanted to come down and just hug you after your beautiful speech and after I read this piece, I wanted to call you up as if you were an old friend and say, let’s go get coffee or a cocktail. So when the person who left you that note this past Sunday, I knew where that was coming from. “We got you”.
    I know longer have a child at GDS, but what GDS has instilled in me is that we are always welcome. Know that you have a shoulder.

    • Marjorie

      Thank you so much for this sweet comment. I am so touched that so many students and parents liked my speech – it was so important to me. I was worried I was going to cry, not so much because of the content (I talk about my loss a lot) but more because I love the students so much and I was worried my emotions might get the best of me. I’m lucky to be teaching where I am.

  • Brittany

    As a regular and captive reader, this one really got me right in the feels! I love the compassion and humanity that you often find in your experiences. Reading your posts makes me feel the real goodness in people. I admire your ability to truly see the kind acts of others and share it with all of us. Thank you!

    • Marjorie

      Thank you so much – what a kind comment! As you know, sometimes I can be really hurt or frustrated by others….but then things like this happen to remind me of the goodness that is everywhere. And this act – well, it was an amazing act of love!

  • Marci

    Crying as I read this at work today. We went to the cemetery a day late, yesterday. It doesn’t get any easier nine months out. This was the first Father’s Day without my husband. My 14 year old is still pretty angry and I find myself just tired. (That’s why we didn’t make it to the cemetery on Sunday!) Marjorie, you are SO LUCKY to have friends and family and a community who’s “got you!” I find myself having to explain to everyone but my son why Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and basically everything is harder this year without him. Thank you, as always, for making me feel less alone in this single mom/widow with a child world.

    • Marjorie

      I’m glad my blog has been at least a tiny bit helpful, but damn, I know it’s still hard. Still so hard. I find myself just needing to congratulate myself on getting through an entire day, sometimes. Thanks for reading. I know it’s not easy.