Shawn Brimley with a pumpkin on his head for Halloween
Missing Shawn

There’s No Crying at the Swim-Up Bar

It was beautiful – paradise in fact – and there I was, crying at the swim-up bar.

The winter this year was bleak on the east coast, which in some ways was nice because the weather matched my emotional state. But months of grief and ice were getting to me and to my kids and spring break beckoned. So, we packed everything up and headed south, to somewhere that would maybe provide an escape from all the cold and misery and death.

For the first few days, it was bliss, or as close to bliss as I’d felt since early fall. The weather was perfect and the beach was beautiful. I spent mornings having cannonball contests with Claire and afternoons kayaking with Austin. We traveled with our dear friends who had all loved Shawn, and together they helped me with logistics and kid wrangling.

I missed Shawn deeply each day. I missed him when the kids were doing hilarious pool antics and we couldn’t share that moment of laughter. I missed him when the buffet had unlimited fajitas that he would have loved. I missed him at night when we would have whispered for hours so we didn’t wake the kids. I missed him so much every day of our vacation.

But that was true when I was home as well. I always missed him.

Even the way I missed him felt similar on vacation as it did at home. In that, I mean that I missed him in the big ways and in the everyday moments. Grief was all around me, and in the three months since his death, I still felt deep sadness throughout much of every day. Vacation was no different. But I’d learned how to move through the world somewhat “normally” even just in three short months. I could order a pizza without breaking down in tears and I could manage my kids most days. I could, for all intents and purposes, look like I was “getting better.”

About three days in to our vacation, my friend Stefanie prodded me a bit to go and get a drink at the swim-up bar. At that point, the kids were well known to the bartender who delighted in making them all sorts of sugary drinks. It was our turn, she pointed out.

We swam up to the bar. The afternoon sun beat down on us and music was cranking in the background. We ordered a few beers and laughed our kids playing nearby. Everyone around us was happy and the bartender was singing. It was one of those perfect vacation moments.

It was a moment that Shawn lived for. He would have been at the bar much more than I had, ordering drinks and encouraging the other grown-ups to do silly contests or tell the most ridiculous stories. He would have made us all recount the most insane thing we’d ever done at a bar or he would have prodded us into a debate about the greatest band of the 90s. He would have made us all laugh every day, all day.

I started to tell Stefanie all of this, but I could only choke out a sob.

Shawn brought the fun, and he would have loved it there. He pushed us all outside of our comfort zones, and sometimes he was downright inappropriate. But he was hilarious. In the words of another friend of mind, “he was the fun one.”

Yes, I miss Shawn’s ability to fix most anything and I definitely miss how he was with the kids. I miss dancing with him and I miss the way he could be serious too. “But what I miss the most about him,” I told Stefanie as tears streamed down my face, “was that he was just so totally fun.”

I miss how hard I laughed with him. I miss how he never took himself seriously and how he got all of us to do the same. Now, I’m not sure how to seize the moment anymore without him by my side. I feel like I’m trapped in a world where everyone is having a great time, laughing and clinking glasses while I hide my tears behind my sunglasses at the pool.

Stefanie loved my husband too, and she thought he was so damn fun. “Remember when he…” she started.

I did. And it was funny and I laughed.

“You know,” I said to her as we laughed and we cried, “I’m pretty sure I know what Shawn would say to us right now.”

“What’s that?” she asked.

Ladies,” he would say, shaking his head, “there’s definitely no crying at the swim-up bar!”

And then he would do something hilarious.

You know what? That made us laugh. And for a moment – just a short one – I felt him there.


  • Janet

    You are an eloquent writer and you really bring your husband’s personality to light in your writing. I am sorry for your loss.

  • Sheryll Brimley

    Marjorie, your writing leaves me breathless & speechless. The only comment I have is that Shawn’s spirit is with you. Love you.

  • Rebecca

    I can hear the intonation of his voice, see the expression on his face, and only imagine the possible hilarious things he might do. Love you, and miss him.

  • Anna

    Tears are rolling down my face as I read this, also looking up at my husband snoozing on the couch. He’s been having issues with his heart, and we’re trying to get to the bottom of it. After my children, My biggest fear is losing him. This makes me miss Shawn and I didn’t even know him! Your words are amazing. ♡ I’m so very sorry for your loss.