Husband of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley smiles at table outside
Missing Shawn

Letter to Shawn

Dear Shawn,

I was watching the news last night, listening to a politician who was speaking about current events in the United States. I was only half listening because I was trying to work on my blog (I’ll get to that in a minute), but it occurred to me that so much has changed since your death almost three years ago. If you arrived in our living room this morning, you might be really surprised at what has transpired over the years since you left.

So here’s my update to you, just in case you can somehow access it.

Let me start with the most surprising things happening in our country. Yes, Donald Trump is still our president (and before you ask, I’ll answer your next question: he was impeached by the House, but acquitted by the Senate earlier this year) and there’s a chance he might be our president for four more years. We’re waiting and watching, but unlike in 2016, we can’t go knocking on the doors of undecided voters. Why? Because we’re living through a global pandemic.

For real. Over 225,000 Americans have died and the kids and I can’t leave the house without wearing masks (it’s the law here in DC.) Claire, Austin and Tommy haven’t been inside a grocery store or an airplane or a school building since March – and there’s no end in sight. And since I’m on the topic of 2020, let me say this: it’s been a year unlike any other. A terrible murder by a police office led America to start confronting racism in a very real way. Fires on the West coast became so intense that my dad couldn’t go outside for weeks because of the air quality. The pandemic seemed to ease for a bit this spring, but now we know that we’re likely to be locked down for the rest of the year and maybe even next year. And if you’d like just a few more details about this year, there was a very real fear that murder hornets could destroy the bee populations by decapitating them, so everyone went nuts trying to eradicate them, and also Kobe Bryant died (though maybe you know that, up there in heaven?) I can’t even remember the rest because it’s just too overwhelming to do so. But suffice to say that this year has been…intense.

So, yes, a lot has happened in the world since you left us on that freezing cold day in January of 2018. But maybe the most surprising part isn’t who our president is or what it feels like to go to the bank wearing a mask over my face. I think you’d be interested in all of those facts, but I know they would matter a whole lot less than hearing about the lives of the four people you loved most in the world.

Claire is in middle school, and though she retains her sunny outlook on life, she has a bit of worldliness in her now, as she knows more about unfairness in her own life and the world. But she sings in the kitchen at lunch and helps me with dinner most nights and sometimes she still lets me braid her hair. Austin is the same level-headed kid he was at two years old, but he’s grown into a thoughtful fourth grader who shows a genuine care towards his younger brother. His hair is long now, and you can’t see those beautiful eyes as well, but he’s always watching the people around him. And Tommy – well, in so many ways, he’s the same ball of fun that he always was. I can still pick him up and ease his pain with a kiss, but he’s not a baby anymore. None of them are.

They are happy, Shawn. They lived through the terrible year of 2018, even with a mother who barely held it together. And then they lived through 2019, as we stitched ourselves back together as a family. When 2020 arrived, I thought things might be easier, but now we live a life that is mostly confined to the house, with school taking place through a video screen. And yet – they are happy. As I type this, the boys are swinging on the hammock together, laughing about something. Claire is singing upstairs with the choir she joined virtually.

There is joy in this house.

And the joy is not just from them. I have also found happiness – first, on my own, as I realized how I was going to face the world without you. I started this blog about being a widow and now I’m writing for other outlets and helping other widows, too. And remember how I stopped cooking when the kids were young, because it was just too much of a pain? Well, I started to do it again. In fact I just pulled a fresh loaf of bread out of the oven, and we’re having roast chicken tonight. I found these new passions after you were gone, which seems a bit strange. How I wish I could have shared them with you, too.

And there is one more thing I have left out. This spring, I let someone new into my life – a for-real new love – and we are truly happy together. He is not exactly like you, which I suppose is the way it should be. But you would like him, that I know for sure.

Is it strange to hear that life continues without you in it? Is it strange to hear that the kids are happy, and that I am happy, without you around? Is it strange that in less than three years, there is so much that is unrecognizable in the world that you once knew?

Sometimes, it’s strange for me, too.

I can’t tell you what is coming next, not in the political world or with the virus that keeps killing people. I can’t tell you when things will go back to normal for our family, and we don’t know how much longer we’ll all be stuck here in this house. I can’t tell you what the future holds for our country or our family. But I can tell you this: we are still here. And we have done what you asked of us:

We have made a happy life without you.

That doesn’t change the fact that we miss you so much. Today and always.

Love, Marjorie

PS – I have always loved this photo of you that I took one day in Germany, on our first trip without the kids. You were so happy in that moment, and it is one I remember vividly, even 5 years later.


  • Dolores Bradley

    What a thorough letter, and a great impulse. I hope it doesn’t scare you to hear that, in year 10 of widowhood, Even though I’ve built a new life, I still miss my husband and cry and wonder what he would do in the here-and-now. And I thank him for the gifts he gave me and the expectations he had of me. And I’m glad he’ll never have to know my new reality

    • M Brimley

      It doesn’t scare me, and in fact I think it’s important to recognize that we can still miss our late husbands even when things have turned out okay. It’s not an either/or choice.

  • Emilee

    Dear friend…
    Too many years have gone by since I have looked to see how life is treating you in DC. Sweet memories of you and wondering what motherhood is like for you now have come to mind more often. I missed one of the worst things anyone can experience.
    I am so glad to know you continue to be surrounded with love and support. You are one of the best people I have ever known, happy, kind, smart, friendly and fun to be with….. (I know you are a great mother.) It is good to hear that even after loosing Shawn you and your kids are living with joy.
    Beautiful letter!

  • Jennifer Shiflett

    Hello, my name is Jennifer, I’m 39 and and the person I thought of as my husband (Michael and I were together almost 23 years and have a son together) passed away on Sept. 21st of this year. He was 48 and his health wasn’t great, but it was still unexpected. He passed away in his sleep, taking a nap. I play this over and over in my mind and I hear our son screaming, no please wake up Daddy 1000 times a day. We wont know the cause of death until December. Merry Christmas right? I just needed to let you know that reading your letter to Shawn was heart breaking, but so uplifting too. Thank you for this shred of hope. It’s hard for me to have much of that right now. We had a lot of hard times in our 22 years, but for most of it, it didnt matter because we were together. He made me whole, kept me sane, ALWAYS made me laugh, and made me the happiest person I knew. He made me feel like I could walk on water, even if we were struggling to pay bills. He was so much more than my everything. Truthfully I dont know how to live in a world that he isn’t in. Most days I dont want to, but I know that’s not what he wants and our son needs me, and I need him. I am so very sorry for loss, (I know how that phrase is so inadequate, I apologize. ) and at the same time so happy to hear how your family is doing! Thank you again!

    • M Brimley

      The early days are so so so hard. They can feel impossible. I know every day right now feels like a YEAR, but I can tell you this: it gets easier. This is the time just to do what you can to get through the days, knowing there will be light ahead. That I promise.

  • Jennifer Shiflett

    Thanks! And thanks for writing me back, it really means a lot. This has been overwhelming. A lot of the time it still doesnt feel real. It’s insane, I saw him, not breathing. Why isnt it real? I still look for him, in a store, walking down the street in other cars… I know hes not coming back, I know. I dont understand why it feels like he will. Good lord I hate this!!

    • M Brimley

      I remember the first time I was in the car, maybe a week after Shawn died, and I saw a runner and I was convinced it was him. It was SHOCKING. Hang in there. The early days are so surreal and hard, but it does get easier.

  • Barry

    I can’t tell you how much this post helped me shift my perspective. My story is a little different- I’m a guy that lost his husband. He was killed in a car accident in October 2019 at the age of 36, I was 38. It was so sudden that it just didn’t feel real for a very long time. The accident happened a week before our sixth anniversary. I have a first date tonight, and I’m not sure how I’m “allowed” to feel. I searched yesterday for “dating as a young widow’ and came across your blog. The parallels are frightening- I didn’t realize how universal the experience is. I have read through several of your entries, but this one just resonated with me. I’ve gotten back into cycling and cooking and doing things that make me happy. Your words that you’ve made a happy life without him allowed me to shift my perspective. I miss him every day, but I’m allowed to build a happy life. I am so sorry for your loss, but thank you for sharing your experience so openly.

    • M Brimley

      Oh, I wish I knew you and I wish there was no covid and I could come and give you a bit hug right now. The first date can be a LOT. I hope it’s lovely for you. (I cried after mine!!) I need to write more about dating. I actively dated for quite a while before Chris came into my life, but I was also very private about it….and I think sharing more about the hard stuff (and the sometimes great stuff!) might be good for my readers. Good luck tonight. And hang in there.

  • Mary Doherty

    So happy I found your blog. Your writing reaches me like nothing I have ever read. Thank you. I am approaching a year and 10 months without my John. We lost him to cancer as well.
    He was never sick a day in his life, and diagnosed stage 4 from the start. I remember saying to his oncologist the day we got such horrific news, how can this be? His answer was, it happens more than you know. Incredibly hard. We had a wonderful life and five kids that are all now young adults. He didn’t get to see his first grandchild, a beautiful girl, and he won’t be at his first son’s wedding in November 2022. We are all struggling. He was our anchor in these choppy waters that we all go through. I love how you write! Thank you! Thank you for sharing your story and thoughts.

    • M Brimley

      Thanks so much for reading. I’m never really sure who is reading (other than people like my awesome Aunt Terry, who reads everything I write!) but I do love that you are getting something out of my blog. I get the struggle – the second year can be really tough. Hang in there. Thanks so much for reading!