DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley holding her three children
Missing Shawn

“I Want Daddy to Come Back”

Earlier this week, I told my kids that I was going to go to the cemetery on the anniversary of their father’s death. “Do any of you want to come?”

Austin and Tommy enthusiastically agreed. “I want to come too,” Claire said softly.

I was happy. A year ago, she refused to go to the cemetery. She thought it would be too sad, and though she couldn’t quite explain it, she worried about re-living the moment her father’s body was put in the ground. But when she finally went, on Shawn’s birthday last summer, she found it to be a place that was calming for her. She still doesn’t go every time I do, but at least the fear is gone.

The anniversary of Shawn’s death arrived on Wednesday and I woke at 4 am, unable to sleep. I cried for an hour before I got out of bed and it didn’t get much better throughout the day. I cried in front of the 9th graders I taught during first period, though I hid that fairly well. Then I openly cried in front of a class of 12th graders who quietly waited for me to finish. At the end of class, a number of them came by my desk to give their condolences. (As a side note, I do not care if my kids earn perfect grades or are great athletes, but I want them to be able to do just what those kids did – give a smile or a kind look or maybe even a hug to someone who is hurting.)

When I finished teaching for the day, I went and picked up my kids. I told the ladies at the front office of their elementary school why I was there. “I can’t believe it’s been a year already,” one of them said.

“I know,” I said, truthfully. “I don’t know how it’s possible.”

My kids were excited to get out early, and a number of staff members hung around them as we gathered their things. It was comforting. So were the hundreds of texts and emails I got throughout the day. I knew that I wasn’t the only one missing Shawn.

On the way to the cemetery, the kids started talking about their dad. “I’m glad we’re going to Guapo’s tonight for dinner,” Claire said. “Dad loved that restaurant. He told me last year that he wanted to have his birthday party there with a lots of friends and huge ice cream sundaes. He wanted to get a helicopter to fly him there and have a tambourine band play music!”

I laughed out loud because that sounded EXACTLY like something Shawn would say to his kids.

“I want to say something!” Tommy yelled. “Did you know that Shawn had a car that would go super duper fast?”

I told him I did remember that car. I also thought about how Tommy always calls his dad “Shawn.” It’s never “Dad” or “Daddy.” It’s always “Shawn.” I correct him every time (“Yes, Daddy had a really fast car”) but he still uses Shawn’s name when he tells stories or recounts memories about his Dad. I figure it’s just a phase. But it always breaks my heart a little bit.

When we arrived at the cemetery, Austin said from the backseat, “mom, what’s happening over there?”

It was a burial. About two dozen people surrounded a plot just a few hundred feet from Shawn’s grave. “Maybe we shouldn’t get out of the car,” Claire said.

“I think we’ll be okay as long as we’re quiet,” I said. “No yelling or running around.”

We went quietly to Shawn’s grave. “It’s sad to be here,” Claire said, looking at the burial going on nearby. “It reminds me of being here a year ago.”

“Me too,” I said. It was hard to be there in that moment. I put my arms around her.

We walked around the cemetery for a bit, playing a game where we tried to avoid all of the goose poop. Then out of the blue, Tommy started screaming. “What is this white stuff?” he yelled, putting out his hands.

“It’s SNOW!” Austin said. The first snow of 2019 – and it was coming down in big, fairytale-like flakes. “Tommy, you know what snow is!” Austin said, laughing.

All three kids started dancing around. The burial was still going on in the distance, but there were my three kids, dancing in the snow. Tommy was spinning around and around and the other two tried to catch the snowflakes on their tongues.

I was crying and I was laughing. I wish that I had taken a photo, but in the moment I just wanted to be right there with them.

We went back to the grave and held hands. “We miss you, Dad,” Claire said.

“We love you, Dad,” Austin said.

“Shawn is there in the ground,” Tommy said, pointing.

I hugged them. I felt such love for them in that moment, and such despair as well.

How is it just me holding hands with my three babies? Just me. He should be here, seeing them grow up and dance in the snow. How is he missing this? How is he gone when Tommy is still so little that he doesn’t understand that snow comes around every winter?

We got back in the car and drove home. The car was quiet. The kids were mesmerized by the snowflakes.

Tommy broke the silence. “I want Daddy to come back,” he said.


I was so shocked, I couldn’t say much. “You want Daddy to come back?” I repeated.

He looked out the window. I tried to catch a glimpse of him in the rearview mirror. “Can Daddy come back?” he asked.

“No, baby,” I answered. “Once you die, you go to heaven and you can’t come back.”

We drove home in silence for the rest of the ride. Everyone was pretty overwhelmed by the trip, I think. It was improbable that the four of us had survived a year together without Shawn, but there we were, together in the car driving home from the cemetery.

I looked back at my baby. He was looking out the window, but he turned and smiled at me at that moment. Then he quietly looked back at the snow without exchanging any words with me. I had no idea what he was thinking.

But he said one thing I’ll never forget that day.

He said, “Daddy.”

Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.


  • Pam McCurry

    That sounds very similar to the Anniversary of my Husbands death, both the first and second. My children are now 11 and 9….they were 8 and 7 when their Dad died unexpectedly. It sounds like your children are able to be open to talking with you about how they feel and I think that is priceless in their moving forward. We have periodically turned to counseling along the way which has it’s place and has been helpful, but there is nothing like your child feeling comfortable enough to crawl in your lap after a difficult day and pour out their feelings about losing their parent. Sometimes it’s dramatic with lots of crying and anger at the situation, but usually it’s more subtle such as you described in your post. Just a few words at the dinner table or in the car, feeling a little body crawling into your bed late at night pressing against you softly saying “I miss Daddy”. Mind you there are times I am doing the same to them.

    • Marjorie

      I love what you wrote here: We have periodically turned to counseling along the way which has it’s place and has been helpful, but there is nothing like your child feeling comfortable enough to crawl in your lap after a difficult day and pour out their feelings about losing their parent.

      So true. I want my kids to always know that they are safe with me, and that they can always come to me. Usually, I feel like they can do it.

  • Dori Sophia

    Marjorie – I just cried and laughed at the same time. thank you for sharing — at the most difficult time, you are helping others through your honesty and wonderful writing. You place the reader right there with you – in the toughest situation a mom could have. Sending love, Dori

  • Melissa

    Thank you for such a bittersweet post which had to have been hard to write. I didn’t know Shawn, but in looking at this photo of Tommy, it seems he has a lot of his dad’s impish, fun loving nature in him. What a sweetheart.

  • Karen

    what a beautiful piece about a beautiful family. my heart goes out to you all. may it get easier with time but may the love stay strong

  • Trish

    My heart breaks for you. Helping your kids walk through this is probably the hardest part. We just went through our first “Daddy’s Heaven Day” a month ago and recently my three year old son has been asking when Daddy will come back….ughhh… definitely caught me off guard the first time 🙁 Since he passed I’ve always said that Daddy is in Heaven and in our hearts which covered the “I want Daddy!!” cries, but actually having to tell them that Daddy isn’t coming back…. awful.
    I’m so sorry. But also happy to hear Tommy’s saying Daddy!! What a rollercoaster of emotions. I hate cancer 🙁

    I know you have no choice to be strong though your loss but to be able to share it with others is amazing. Thank you for helping us feel we are not alone as we figure out our new lives without our loves.

    • Marjorie

      Thanks for writing all of this. It really helps me to know that somehow, my whole experience can have some sort of meaning. If I have to go through this, at least I know that I am connecting with other people and somehow making us all feel that we are not alone. Because we aren’t. Sending love.

  • Nicole

    So many tears reading this. But the beauty of your children and your incredible ability to bring love and comfort into these precious, tender moments always leaves me with hope and warmth. You are incredible and I’m in awe of you. Sending love and hugs.

  • Melissa

    Just read this quote in a comment on a New York Times article about aging and thought of your blog since so many of us come here to find comfort and share our stories.

    “When it seems that our sorrow is
    too great to be borne,
    let us think of the great family of the heavy-hearted
    into which our grief has given us entrance,
    and inevitably, we will feel about us,
    their arms and their understanding ”
    Helen Keller

  • Carmelita

    Yes, It is so important that, as Helen Keller puts it,” and we will feel their understanding “. I think that helps keep us all going, and this blog is a kind of lighthouse , a gathering place for our shared experience and support.
    No matter what society says about how you should mourn and what “the movie “ of your life should look like now or ever!

    • Marjorie

      I love that this blog has become a place where people I don’t know in real life can connect with each other. That means a lot to me.

  • Meagan Howell-Brogan

    Thank you for this. The one year mark for my dear Mike is fast approaching (March) and I find myself kind of hurtling towards it, afraid of the inevitable pain it will bring and clueless as to how best mark the occasion for my three kids (5, 10, 13). I love going to the cemetery – they are for the most part ambivalent – but your description helps remind me that every time we go, it feels good. We last went on Christmas. My husband is buried in a peaceful place, bordering a corn field and some woods- we often have geese poop like experiences there. Thanks for sharing, and for helping me to know I’ll get through that day somehow.

    • Marjorie

      Thanks so much. I’ve written a lot about going to the cemetery (it was really hard at first for my daughter) and I know it can bring on all sorts of complicated emotions. I’m not sure if I did a great job at the one-year mark, but I made it through. The lead-up to that day was the worst part, but once I made it through I felt better.

  • Suzie Muir

    Yes. I understand. After more than three years, for us, the longing, the questions, remain for the children. Not a day goes by that one of our four wonders what it would be like if their Daddy could just come back. Wishing you peace and strength as you move forward with your children xo

    • Marjorie

      In some ways, those questions always will remain – I know they do for me, as someone who lost her mom too early. But I also know that kids are so resilient, and that they can grow in ways that adults find much harder. Thanks so much for commenting.

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  • Robin

    I stumbled upon your blog today as I was searching for some comforting words to keep my grief at bay today on the internet. It was an urgent need as I feel like a ship without an anchor. Today is my Mom’s 27th month heavenly birthday and another trip to her and my late Dad’s resting place. Even though I am an adult well into middle age the loss of both parents (my Mom being second) has just been profound. I am an only child, not married with no children of my own. My parents truly were also my best buddies. It was hard being caregiver to both not because I was their caregiver that was the easy part….(it gave me the extended chance to love on them as much as they loved on me)….It was knowing that one day I would lose one of them and eventually both of them. I learned that life does not stop on its axis because it I felt thrown overboard. Managing my grief even in my middle age has been as hard as I thought it would be to me……not easier as many say…you had them until you were much older. I would not trade on day of my sadness for one day of the joy I felt at having been blessed with such wonderful parents. I truly tried to not take a day with them for granted…..as even in my youth…to young adult….to well into middle age….I knew deep inside I would loose them one day. It is true to say no one around me really understands….although they sometimes say the old “I know how you fee…” Sometimes I say back “no you don’t” ….. “those were my parents”….my Mom often cried out in frustration as she was getting sicker that she did not want me to be alone. …. she would say “your such a good girl, giving girl, good looking girl….why doesn’t God have that one special man for you…” I would reassure her even in my internal hesitation that she might be right….that I would be ok, and there was someone God has picked out just for me..even as I get older. Mom, I still hold out that hope that God has the one just for me. I love you Mom & Dad and miss you each and every day! I am thankful I found your blog…it gave me this chance to write out a few words… may you and your family be forever blessed as you journey forward one day at a time.

    • Marjorie

      Thanks so much for sharing. Losing a parent – and especially both of them as you have – is so incredibly difficult. Of course we know that we will someday lose our parents but it’s still so hard to fathom when it happens. I’m so sorry – and I’m so glad you’ve found something to connect with on my blog.

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    • Amy

      Glad to have found this site. I too lost my husband, almost 3 years ago. I’m still working hard to be a mom and dad to our 6 children, who were 3, 5, 7, 8, 10 and 17 when he died. I’m feeling the pain of his loss every single day. I’m sorry, that you too, are going through the pain that no one at our stage of life should know. Heartbreaking.

      • Marjorie

        As I’ve taken to saying, I’m so sorry that you are here. But if you are going through this, I’m so glad we’ve all found each other. Take care.

  • Tim

    I had to read this blog again. Yesterday was 1 year since my fiancé Julie passed away. It was a hard day. Thankyou for your blogs it has helped me a lot the last few months