Shawn and Marjorie Brimley in car after wedding surrounded by family and friends
Missing Shawn

In the Movie Version of My Life

A few weeks ago, I was washing dishes and talking to my friends Becky and Michelle. They had come over with their kids for dinner and we were chatting about our lives. We discussed a blog post of mine that had come out recently – the one about how I need to figure out how to make it in the world without a man. “Not forever, mind you!” I said with a wink.

They knew what I meant. I’m certainly not done with men for the rest of my life. And yet the future of that part of my life seems…difficult to comprehend.

“In the movie version of your life,” Becky said, “you’d be swept off your feet by a handsome stranger right about now.”

I laughed and then the three of us started talking about all of the things that would be different in the movie version of my life.

First off, all of the things that take up so much time in my life – choosing a new health care plan and buying winter clothes for the kids and figuring out how to plan for retirement – that stuff would have to get cut. It would definitely not be in a movie because it is BORING. It might take up 90% of my free time, but no, it could not be part of a movie that anyone would want to watch.

Also, in the movie version of my life, I’d have a number of other dramatic things that would happen to me after my husband died. Because, of course, the death of a spouse wouldn’t be enough to propel the movie forward. Maybe I’d lose my job (only to find a better one!) or one of my children would run away (only to be rescued by me a few hours later!) All of these other significant events would show my determination to overcome my circumstances. Merely surviving the loss of a spouse wouldn’t be enough to show resilience.

Finally, in the movie version of my life, I would not still be sad. There might be a scene with me laying flowers on my late husband’s grave, but I’d be standing next to a new man, and I’d look up from the grave and smile at him. As we walked away, he’d put his arm around me and pull me close as happy music played. That chapter of my life – the one with my late husband – would be over and there would be a whole new chapter unfolding. One without Shawn.

But grief doesn’t work like that, and while I may be far from finding love again, I know that if and when it does happen, I will still miss Shawn. I will still be sad. I will still want my old life back.

That doesn’t happen in the movies. It doesn’t even happen in the novels I’ve read about widows. It doesn’t happen because it doesn’t work for the progression of a plot line. The widow can be torn about her new relationship at first, sure, but once she moves forward with someone new, she closes the door on the earlier chapter of her life.

I won’t be doing that. I don’t know if I’ll always leave Shawn’s jackets in my closet and I don’t know if I’ll forever keep the notes that he wrote me in my nightstand. But I know that I won’t just let our 15 years together fade into the distance, forgotten by time and new experiences. I know that won’t happen because I won’t let it happen.

I know my memories with Shawn will get hazy and that I might forget some of the details. But I will not willingly forget him. I will not willingly forget us.


  • Rachel

    This reminds me of a story my grief therapist told me, about her widowed sister remarrying a man who was a widower. She said they talk of their lost spouses together all the time, and in a very natural way. I thought that was lovely. I also think finding someone new to love after a loss is weirdly similar to having that second child- you might wonder how you can possibly love another as much, and then your heart does, without taking anything away from the first. That’s the wonderful thing about love; we don’t use up an allotted amount and can share it with new and old alike. Sorry this is so long! Just what your post made me think of.

    • Melissa

      Rachel, I really like what you say about there not being an allotted amount of love. My late husband’s brother was married for 50 years when his wife died after undergoing a double lung transplant. He was in his mid-seventies and didn’t expect (or was looking) to find love again. He went on an Alaskan cruise that he’d been on before with his wife, this time at the request of his son-in-law who was playing in a jazz band on the cruise. He kept asking himself “Why am I doing this?” At dinner one night, he was seated next to a lovely lady a few years younger than he. They really hit it off and discovered that her late husband and his late wife were interred in the same tiny cemetery in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California. (His family had owned property there for years and his table mate lived and worked in the nearby town.) Long story somewhat shorter, they are now happily married. Maybe the two deceased spouses got together and arranged it all. Who’s to say? 🙂

        • Melissa

          Marjorie, I don’t want to “commandeer” your blog, but you might enjoy this portion of an email my brother-in-law (the same one in the story above) wrote to the family after his wife died. It really is remarkable, I think.

          “As we spent our last days at the hospital, multiple people including doctors and nurses told me that I would most likely get a sign from her when the time came. They had heard of it many times and because we seemed to be so close it would probably happen for me. I asked what the sign would be and all said “it depends”. “She will pick it and you will know.” So of course I started to ponder what it might be. About two weeks earlier I had gone out the front door in the morning and noticed our front porch light was on. It’s not supposed to be on during the day because it’s controlled by a sunlight sensitive base. I just looked at it and said “I’ll have to fix you later”. On the way to the hospital it occurred to me that maybe it was serving as a “light in the window” hoping she could make it home again. Anyway it stayed on night and day for several weeks.
          At about 6:15 pm on the day Tammy died, I had just finished sending the emails to you folks and I walked back down the hall. I went to the dining room window and it looked like the porch light was off. So I went out on the porch and sure enough it was off. As I watched, it blinked three times and then stopped. I waited a bit and then said “Thank you, Honey, I guess you’re OK”. It blinked one more time and then stayed off. I looked out again after it was dark and the light was back on. P.S. I had not been drinking – yet.
          As of today the light is still on. As I reflected on what had happened, I remembered our taking kids home from our house over the years. Whether it was a Baby-Sitter, Boy/Girl Scout, Job’s Daughter, School Band Member or Dungeons and Dragons player, we would always ask them to blink their porch light three times if they were in OK and everything looked safe. Then we knew it was OK to move on. So I guess she’s in and she’s safe and I’m going to have to figure out how to move on. By the way, after the front porch light blinked, I looked up and saw that the bright sun was shining behind the tree in our front yard and the tree was waving in the breeze. That could scientifically explain why the light blinked, but why just then and what drew me to see it? That part I have to leave to your beliefs.”

          • Melissa

            Marjorie, if you can stand one more story involving a light, I’d like to offer mine.

            My husband died at home around 1:30 am. Later that morning the hospice people came and collected the hospital bed from his bedroom. I think I mentioned once before in another comment that I went into a cleaning frenzy in that room because it looked so bereft and sad with him gone. I couldn’t bear to bring his regular bed back in, but I did bring back the club chair he used to read in. I didn’t like the floor lamp he had, so I brought one down that had a more feminine shade from upstairs. Next to his chair I put his nightstand which had one of those small “touch on, touch off” metal lamps. (A few days before he died, he tried to turn it on but it wouldn’t react to his touch. He wryly said that he must not have any galvanic current running through his body anymore because he was on his way out of this life and that’s why it wouldn’t work for him. It did for me.) So I decided to switch out the light bulb in the floor lamp to one of those new LCD ones we had. It worked fine…and then it went off and I couldn’t get it to turn on again. So I said out loud, “Well, I guess you don’t like that light!” as if he were in the room and could hear me. As I changed the bulb, suddenly the metal lamp on the nightstand came on by itself. I hadn’t knowingly touched it or bumped into it because it was on the other side of the chair. I was flushed from all the activity and lack of sleep at that point so the magnitude of what had just happened didn’t quite register with me until later. I choose to believe that he did hear me and it was his way of letting me know he had his vitality back and he was okay.

    • Marjorie

      I love everything about this. Especially the part about the second child. I remember that feeling when I was pregnant with my second child – the worry that I wouldn’t have enough love to go around. Turns out, the heart can expand.

  • Gabe

    I adore this picture and remember this moment so well, Marjorie! Your adorable dance over who could drive the manual transmission😍😍. It would definitely be in the movie version. Thinking about it now, I know Shawn would have loved to drive you around for life but he knew from the start you were capable of taking the wheel. ❤️

  • David M

    Hi. Never posted on a blog page before but what a beautiful story. One that is far from finished. Thank you for bringing such grace and rawness and honesty to this corner of the web.

    • Marjorie

      I’m so glad I was the first blog where you commented! Thanks for reading. I’m glad you appreciate the rawness.