Food on table for blog by DC widow writer Marjorie Brimley

Highs and Lows

Every night at dinner, we go around the table and share our highs and lows. Usually, Claire’s highs revolve around some sort of fun activity (“baking cakes with mom!”) and Austin’s highs are often about the food we are eating (he is my child who really loves my cooking, bless him.)

Tommy is more of a wild card. With less ability to carefully reflect on his day, he often copies Austin or says something nonsensical. But over the past week he’s had a theme: his father.

Tommy still calls Shawn by his name, something I’ve tried long and hard to change but I’ve come to accept. The thing is, Tommy remembers very little about his father (and yes, I want him to remember things, but he was three when Shawn left this world) though he knows all of the stories we tell. And as a natural storyteller, he loves to embellish and re-tell those stories, which may be his way of making them his own.

Anyway, lately when we get to Tommy, he says his high and his low is Shawn. “I’ve been thinking about Shawn today,” he said last night at dinner, “and it’s a high because he’s my dad but it’s a low because he’s dead.”

“What have you been thinking about?” I asked him.

“Shawn is in heaven. I think he likes heaven!”

“I hope he does,” I said. “What do you think he’s doing up there?”

“Well, he’s probably listening to Bon Jovi and eating ice cream and flying around, because that’s what you do in heaven. It’s so fun!”

Austin and Claire quietly chuckled. Tommy grinned at all of us.

Austin chimed in. “Is heaven real?” he asked me, as though he was asking about Santa or gravity or something I could actually answer.

“I don’t know,” I said, “but I’d like to think so.”

“Well, if it is real, I bet dad is happy up there,” Austin said. “He gets to see Fred and Grandma Susan and now he gets to see Grandpa Bill. I bet he’s showing him around because Grandpa Bill is new to heaven.”

I smiled, because I didn’t want to cry. “I bet,” I said.

“I also think he’s happy because you have Chris,” Austin added. I paused as Austin took his time to think through what he was going to say. Then he looked right at me. “You told us that when dad was dying, he said that you should get remarried. He would be happy you have a new boyfriend, because that’s what he wanted.”

“Yep!” Tommy said.

I agreed with him, but I noticed that Claire stayed a bit quiet. She loves Chris, and she is really happy he is in our lives. She also loves her dad. Like her brothers, she can embrace the love she feels for both of these men. But unlike her brothers, she understands that there are other emotions surrounding love, like jealousy. She looked at me to try and gauge my response. I smiled at her, and she quickly smiled back. I think she just wanted a little reassurance that this discussion wasn’t making me feel strange.

The three of them finished her dinner with little fanfare. They asked to be excused and took their dishes to the dishwasher and I sat alone with my thoughts. Would Shawn actually be happy for me, if there was such a thing as heaven and if that place allowed him to peer into my life today?

Gosh, I hope so.

I think Shawn would like Chris. They’re different in many ways, but they would have appreciated each other’s can-do attitude about fixing things in the house and they would have enjoyed drinking beers together in the backyard. They’d probably share a knowing glance when the subject of my lacking tech skills came up.

But of course being with someone else means that you accept that someone new is sleeping next to the woman you loved for many years. That seems harder to fathom Shawn accepting.

And yet.

That’s what real love is, isn’t it? If you know you have to leave your loved one, you want them to continue to live a life that is full. And fullness means not just fixing the broken dishwasher but also reading bedtime stories and kissing me in the kitchen. It means really, truly, allowing someone new in.

And you know what? I think Shawn was a big enough man to let that happen.

Because I’ll tell you this: if I die first, I want Chris to find someone else. Yes, he will need a push to do that, and no, neither of us can really imagine it at this current moment. But because I love him, I would want him to be happy when I was gone. And if being happy means he finds someone new, I hope he doesn’t just stop by for a chat once a week with the pretty lady down the street.

I hope he finds a real second love. Whether he’s 50 or 80. And I hope she makes him truly happy, in every possible way.

Still, it’s a crazy thing to think about. It feels impossible even though I’m currently living a similar reality.

So, maybe Tommy is right. Maybe Shawn is up in his crazy Disneyland-like heaven, eating ice cream and flying around and having a beer with his dad. Maybe Austin is also right, and Shawn is happy for me and Chris. And maybe Claire is right too – that’s it’s all pretty complicated to think about from our earthly point of view.


  • Sarah C

    I’ve been thinking about this very thing lately. I really do hope my husband can look down on us and see how we are doing. But I don’t know. I know my husband would want me to find love again. He wouldn’t want me to spend the next 40-50 years alone (I’m a young widow). It’s only been 7.5 months. I’m not anywhere near ready to let someone else in. The thought of it just upsets me. But, I think it’s a possibility in the future. However, what I really struggle with is potentially letting a new man be the step-father to our child. My husband only got to be a father for 1 year. It breaks my heart thinking that another man would get to raise our son. That’s the part I struggle with. That’s the part that makes me want to stay single forever, or at least until my son is grown. I struggle with how unfair that would be to my husband…that fatherhood was taken from him and was then given to someone else. I don’t know if I’ll ever overcome those emotions.

    • M Brimley

      I totally understand where you are, emotionally. I was there too. I think it’s impossible to understand the future when you’re newly grieving because it’s impossible to think that you can be happy again. You can, of course, but everyone follows their own path, and you shouldn’t feel like you have to rush it. Hang in there.

  • Evelyn

    Dear Marjorie, what a beautiful blog post! I love the way you really captured your kids’ different personalities in one thoughtful, meaningful (yet such a quietly everyday) anecdote! Don’t have any words of wisdom to share or add, but just wanted to drop a note to say I was thinking of you and your family. Tommy sounds like such a hoot! PS: sidenote: if the picture accompanying your post is your dinner, I’d be on Austin’s side too! 🙂 hoping you are all hanging in there during this crazy time. – Evelyn Schwartz

    • M Brimley

      Thanks, friend! (And no…that image is a stock photo but I do love to cook.) Love that you read my blog. Take care!

  • Michael Zoosman

    Thank you for sharing this most meaningful, and spiritually loaded, moment, Marjorie. If I may, I agree with you and your family wholeheartedly that Shawn is grateful to know that you are finding joy again in a new way.

    • M Brimley

      Thank you my friend. I love that you knew him at the end, and have been so lovingly supportive of my family for years after.