Children of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley play at cemetery
Missing Shawn

Ghosts in the Backyard

My children are currently obsessed with ghosts.

They somehow discovered this app for their iPad that lets you “discover” ghosts that are living nearby. You can search for these ghosts and then “talk” to them via the app. They are a tiny bit scared by it all, but mostly it’s a thrilling distraction to our daily boredom.

I have been watching them play this game (is it a game?) for weeks. It never seems to become boring, and all three of them like to play it together. Even better, it’s something they can play outside. So I guess I should like it.

And I do. I think it’s harmless, childhood fun. But I keep thinking: why doesn’t it occur to them that they could be looking for the one ghost that might actually be around their house? I mean, I don’t believe in ghosts. But if I did, wouldn’t it make sense that the ghost in our house would be Shawn?

I tried to ask Claire about this the other day. “Do you think this ghost game could be something I might write about for my blog?” I was trying to give her a hint about her dad, without being too leading.

“Sure!” Claire said, happy to give me ideas. “I mean, Dad used to believe in all this magical stuff. Remember? The fairy tree and ghosts and everything? He really believed it!”

It wasn’t what I was trying to imply, but I loved that she thought such positive things when the terms “ghost” and “Dad” were used together. Shawn did delight in the mysteries of the world, and he loved thinking about all of the ways to keep “magic” alive for our children. I love that it’s what they remember about him.

But in a way, it’s a simplistic remembrance they have of him. He loved magic and mystery and playfulness for sure, but part of why he loved all of that was because they were so young when he was alive. They were babies, really. They all still believed in Santa and thought that fairies came alive on their grandparent’s farm at night. So their memories of him are tinged with this same childlike viewpoint – one that thinks that everything is possible. Their memories of their father are filled with magic, but it is a magic of early childhood.

Those memories are also very simple. They do not remember Shawn’s amazingly complex mind or his sometimes cranky nature when the world was a difficult place. They don’t remember that he could hold a nuanced discussion on politics with the President or the office janitor. They do not remember that he could be the life of the party and also the sober analyst of defense policy.

But they remember that he loved magic. They remember that he believed in magic.

I hope that stays with them forever. I hope they continue to see the magic that’s in the world, even if it’s magic that’s been created by the people who surround them. Even if it’s not “real” in the way they understand it right now.

As I type this, they are out there in the yard, looking for ghosts. They are running from place to place and every once in a while they report that they think they’ve found one. But they aren’t finding their father, because it hasn’t yet occurred to them that he could be a ghost.

Still, they are finding him in a way, aren’t they? They are reconnecting with his spirit as they look for ghosts. They are searching for a bit of mystery and a little bit of a thrill. What they are really searching for is magic, just like their father always was.


  • Michael Zoosman

    Dear Marjorie,
    You know far better than I the magic of childhood – with three angels of your own! Working as a pediatric chaplain in a hospital setting, I have seen time and again that children are naturally much more connected to all things magical/spiritual than old fogies like yours truly (just turned 39 – oy!) That said, don’t be surprised if they do tell you one day that they ran into Shawn ; )

    With every blessing,

    • Marjorie

      I actually keep waiting for them to run into the house and announce that they’ve seen dad! You never know!

  • Amy

    Seems to me that they are playing with their father every time they play with this app. Such a beautiful connection.