DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley marries Shawn Brimley in 2004
Missing Shawn

Freak-Out Letter #6

Just before Shawn and I got married, I almost backed out.

I mean, not really. I knew I was going to marry him. But I had just turned 25 and I had a little freak-out that we were getting married too young. I had barely graduated from college and neither of us had jobs. We were moving to a city where we had no friends and I had spent the previous 3 years traveling around the world with little more than what I could fit in a backpack.

I can’t remember exactly what brought on the freak-out, but I definitely remember crying to Shawn about how maybe we should postpone the wedding. “We’re so young!” I said.

“Do you love me?” Shawn asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“And I love you,” he said. “And that’s what matters.”

He convinced me. But he was worried I might freak out again, as a few days later he had to return to Canada for a week to get his marriage visa. “I’m going to write you a few notes,” he said, “and when you start to worry about getting married, I need you to open one of them.”

There were 7 letters, one for each day he was gone, I think, and they were titled, “Freak-Out Letter #1” and so on. I opened five of them. But even when I opened them, I knew I was going to marry him.

I kept all of them, including the two unopened ones, in a ziplock bag with all of the other notes that we wrote each other throughout the years. Over the past year, I’ve re-read things from this bag sometimes, and it usually brings me some comfort.

I had forgotten about these specific freak-out notes until the other night when I was feeling really down and decided to look at these old letters. “My God,” I actually said out loud as I thumbed through the “Freak-Out” letters. Two of them were unopened.

I had been crying for an hour when I found the “Freak-Out” letters. As you may have read about on my blog, this month has not been easy for me.

I looked at the letter. There was a funny picture Shawn had drawn on the front (I think it was supposed to be him) with the words “Shawn loves Marjorie 4 ever” coming out of the stick figure’s mouth. The top was labeled “Freak-Out #6.”

“Hell,” I thought, “if there was ever a freak-out, I think what I am going through qualifies.” I was certainly at the darkest point I’d been through in many months.

I opened the letter.

“I am probably in Montreal right now,” it began, “and if all has gone well, I will have my visa all ready to go.”

I sighed at that. God, how I wish he was in Montreal.

He went on and on. “You may be thinking about all the possible problems that could arise as we travel on the road of life together,” he wrote at one point, “but I will always remain loyal and committed to your happiness.”

I bet if I had read that back in 2004, I may have thought, yes, marriage might be hard. We might be too young and we might not have enough money and we could fight about all of that.

I most definitely wouldn’t think that just 15 years later I’d be sitting alone in a bed without him because he would be dead.

But he was alive on that page. “Zoom-out baby,” he wrote, “and you will realize that our upcoming wedding and marriage is coming at the right time in our lives.” He was right, of course. We could have waited a few more years, we could have had more possessions and a lot more money. We could have had jobs. But the fundamental thing in our lives – each other – wouldn’t have been any different.

But now I am alone. Maybe there was a part of me back in 2004 that knew this could happen. I had only lost my mom a few years prior to our wedding, and I worried a lot about bad things happening to the people I loved. I don’t actually remember being worried that Shawn would die, but I certainly was concerned that we might end up getting divorced because we had gotten married too young. And I loved him so much that even thinking about that possibility was terrifying to me.

Would I have changed my mind if I had known? What if instead of opening this letter in 2019, I had opened it in 2004 with the knowledge of what my life would be like fifteen years later? What if I had known that all of those insecurities I had about our future would come true? What if I had known that there was a happy ending for Shawn and me, but it was limited in time and scope?

What if I had known? Would I change my 25-year-old mind?

That’s impossible to say. In my worst moments, I sometimes wish that I had met someone else and built a different life that didn’t end up so broken.

But then I wouldn’t have had Shawn. And it’s impossible to imagine a life as happy as the one I ended up having for many years with him.

“I love you Marjorie,” he wrote, “and no one else on the planet or elsewhere can love you as much as I can.”

I clutched the note as I read the last line:

“I look forward to holding you close to me.”


  • Paula

    “Zoom-out baby” made me laugh and cry at the same time.

    I know you know this and it sounds like a lot of days it’s hard to feel it but without Shawn you wouldn’t have Claire, Austin, and Tommy – at least, not in their current, perfect, half-Brimley forms. I think the world is lucky that you two had those three. Wishing you peace and comfort!

    • Marjorie

      Yes – that’s my favorite line. He used to say it ALL THE TIME during our 13+ year marriage. And yes – I’m so so so lucky to have these three great kids.

  • Pam mccurry

    I reread letters all the time and when I’m really a glutton for punishment I listen to his old voice mails to me. I’ve often thought if I knew then what I know now would I do it all over again and I can say whenever I read his letters or hear his voice I know without a doubt I would. They say the measure of our grief equals the measure of our love and so with that in mind, weren’t we so fortunate to have such such love?

    • Marjorie

      Yes, we were. And yes, people often say to me that the reason my grief is so deep is that my love was so deep. That seems right on point.

  • Elissa

    I’m so sorry that the last few weeks have been so tough. I wish there were a way to ease your path–you’ve been through so much in the last year plus that I think the universe owes you a break! As always your writing is so powerful and honest. Sending love and hopes that this spring brings you some peace and happiness. xoxo

    • Marjorie

      I’m hoping the universe has good things in store for me, but since I can’t know, I’m just going to keep moving forward and making the most I can out of every day. Thanks for the love. I thought of you last weekend when I did some planting!

  • Jillian

    Thank you for sharing. I’m sorry you have been having a hard time the last few weeks. I have too. It’s been over a year and half since the love of my life died suddenly of a cardiac arrest at 42. Some days are harder than others and sometimes even a song or something that our kids say or do makes me emotional. I’ve found love again with another widow and we are planning a wedding and our future together with our blended family. I’m happy and grateful we found each other, but it doesn’t change the love I have for late husband or make things all better. I miss him and the life we created everyday. I love how you are real with your feelings. I hope you know you are helping many other people who know this pain.
    Sending you hugs and love.

    • Marjorie

      Thanks for saying all of this. And I’m so happy you’ve found love again….it’s such a hard thing for me to fathom. But you give me hope!

  • Nancy Clark

    “I could have missed the pain but I would have missed the dance”. I think of that song so very often. The dance was too beautiful to have missed, Marjorie.

  • Sheryll Brimley

    Oh how I love Nancy’s words. We’ve also been told & read that the more you love…the more you grieve. I am so sorry the past few months have been so terrible for you my dear. It’s like a darn tidal wave up here on Greenacres! One never knows when it comes crashing. So glad that you have those notes & letters from my son. Another trait from his father. Love from Canada!

    • Marjorie

      Yes, that’s true. I remember, not soon after Shawn died, crying to a friend and saying, “I wish he had just been a shitty husband, because then I wouldn’t hurt so bad.” Which, of course, I do NOT wish….but the pain was so bad there was a moment when I did. He was a great husband, and that’s why the pain remains so deep, even this far out.

  • Didits

    I read and re-read our text messages to each other. I only stopped texting him a month ago when somebody replied, his old number had been re-used by the telcom. 🙁 I still send him messages on Messenger, though. And I visit our email exchanges often. I lost my fiancé 1 year and 16 days ago, 3 months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He had always been active, surfing and swimming and paddling and playing football, a chef and a craftsman. I imagined us growing old together. We had been together for a decade and we finally decided we’d have our wedding last summer. I always thought if we didn’t end up married to each other, it would be because of many other things, but not because he would die at 43. 🙁 Reading your blog has been a source of comfort. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. You put into writing what I feel and think, and it helps me greatly to read how someone is going through exactly the same thing. Sending you warm thoughts.

    • Marjorie

      And thank you so much for sharing this message. It’s so impossible to understand why some people die young and some don’t. But yes, the digital memories they left us are so valuable. I remember Shawn talking to a friend once about putting up video clips and photos of our kids online. The friend was worried about privacy issues. Shawn said that he was careful, but it was also important to have those digital memories out there for all of us to look back on. How right he was.

  • Kate

    I have a box in the basement that contains all of the letters, postcards, birthday and anniversary cards that my husband gave me during our entire relationship and marriage. Over 28 years…. There are also letters that I wrote to him that he kept. These letters mean the world to me and they provide great comfort. My husband also kept all of the Father’s Day Cards that he received from our son. My son keeps them in a small box in his room and he treasures them so much. I’m glad that you have your husband’s letters for your comfort. It isn’t easy, but they tell your story….

    • Marjorie

      You are right – those letters do tell a story….one that I’m so glad to have. I live a mostly clutter-free life but I’m SO glad I kept the sentimental stuff!