Shawn and Marjorie Brimley in their house in DC before cancer
Family & Friends

Salsa in my Cup

Two years ago, Shawn and I threw a party that was particularly crazy.

We didn’t really mean for the party to get so wild.  We just wanted to have a few friends over to celebrate the year and toast our successes, failures, and ability to have merely survived.  As I remember, we were still reeling from the 2016 election, because that was the election that was supposed to have meant a big, important job for Shawn and ultimately didn’t pan out that way.  Instead, we threw a party.

Somehow, we all had way too much wine, in the way that you can when you aren’t really trying to have too much wine but someone keeps refilling your glass as you laugh and tell stories and then….you realize too late that you really had just a bit too much.  We let the kids stay up super late (I have a memory of 2-year-old Tommy wandering around just in his diaper at like 10 pm) and we laughed with each other until the wee hours of the night when the kids had all fallen asleep watching movies in the basement.  It was a perfect night.

What I remember most about that night was Shawn, of course.  Shawn telling stories, Shawn laughing so loudly I thought the neighbors could hear us, Shawn trying to get everyone to do even crazier things than usual.  Sitting on his lap that evening, I remember feeling like I was the only girl in that room – or at least feeling like I was definitely the happiest one.  We’d had a hard year (or so we thought!) with a lot of disappointment at the end of it, but there we were, fully living life with our friends.  Despite it all, we were happy.

Last year around this time, I was at a party with some of the same people.  We were trying to keep things normal for the kids, so even though Shawn was in the hospital, I spent a few hours socializing.  My lasting memory from that party was watching my friend Kristin and her husband Shaffer interact with each other across the room.  She was laughing at something he said, and he smiled at her and pulled her close and they kissed.  Then she laughed again.  

I mean, I remember it like it was a damn movie.  I remember it because it was so painful for me to watch.  It was the first time I’d seen a happy couple interact since Shawn had been diagnosed a few weeks prior.  That night, I sobbed on the floor of my bathroom, quietly grieving the physical loss of my husband at parties like these, worried that I might someday be without him.  

I had no idea he’d be gone three weeks later.  If I had, I would never have left his side.  I thought Shawn would live for many more years, and although by that point I knew it wouldn’t be forever, I certainly thought he’d make it to all of the parties in 2018.

I never told Kristin about that moment until it happened again last weekend.  Kristin and Shaffer were at my house, and she was telling a story and somehow flung salsa all over his cup.  He joked with her about being crazy and then wiped off his cup and said something like, “but I love you and you can fling salsa in my cup anytime.”

We all laughed.  And then she smiled at him and kissed him.  And I thought of the moment a year ago when they did the same thing: showed me a simple act of love.  No grandiose gesture, no perfect present.  Just a guy letting a girl fling salsa into his cup and still loving her despite her imperfections.

I tried to explain to her how it had made me feel to see them happy a year ago.  How hard it had been to witness that moment, but how I remained happy for them even if I was sad for me.  I also tried to tell her how this month, finally, I’ve been able to see happiness between couples I know and feel okay.  It’s still hard to watch my friends live in their happy marriages, but for the first time, I’m starting to be able to sit with it and feel something like appreciation.

I’m glad that there are happy couples around me.  It’s not always easy to watch, but it reminds me, just a little, about how things once were for me.  It reminds me of those good times.

I think I appreciated my relationship when Shawn was alive, but I still wish I had done it more often.  I wish I had more moments like the salsa moment when I’d turned to him and said, “you can fling salsa in my cup anytime” with a smile on my face.  So now, when I see simple acts of love between two people, I am glad that I am starting to feel that happiness not as a threat, but more like an invitation.  Maybe I will feel that again someday.

I think it’s a step in the right direction.


  • khara

    i so, so, so, so randomly found your blog. and this little snippet made me cry.

    of course, my first thought was “well, you’re lucky. you’ve found ‘the one’ and even though you lost him you’ll know forever what it’s like to love someone who loves you back. what about us schmucks (well, me; what about me!) who can’t find someone who wants to be with us (me) for ever/eternity/long than two months?” (if you can’t tell i’ve just experienced the demise of, yet another, romantic relationship.

    but then, i realized the point of this story. and it’s that maybe, just maybe, another person’s happiness does not detract from my own happiness because it is not (as i like to think) a “zero-sum” game. it’s not even a game; it’s a choice. and if i don’t want to ruin my non-romantic relationships (i.e., friendships) i need to choose to be happy for them while being sad for myself (for a reasonable amount of time, at least; and then it’s back to the drawing board).

    thank you for the reminder.

    • Marjorie

      Oh, I’m so glad that you are reading my blog! I really appreciate what you’re saying about love not being a “zero-sum” game. That’s so true, and exactly what I was trying to capture here. Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Ian

    I have been thinking of Shawn, and you, and the kids all month in the lead up to Christmas and then the eventual one year anniversary of his loss in January. I worry about how these things will affect you all, and how awful some of these feelings must be that likely wash in like waves, unannounced and unexpected.

    So given that, to read a post like this one – in which you’re finding a footing during a moment that would likely cut me in half were I in the same situation – well … I think it’s great. It’s a good thing and a good sign and that makes me happy for you.

    It may just be a small thing but I also think it’s significant.

    Merry Christmas Marjorie, and please know that I think of you all every day. I hope that the best present you receive next week is some peace of mind, no matter how small or how fleeting it may last.

  • Ian

    PS – That Wayne’s World hat. Gawd … what a classic. The guy was a beauty. I am laughing my ass off as the kids pile back in from recess!

  • Kate

    Reading your blog validates so many of the thoughts and feelings that are running through me every day. Since my loss is still so recent, I often feel a sting when I see my friends sharing a hug or a kiss with their spouse because it is a reminder of what I have lost. It hurts, but it also reminds me of the good times that I shared with my husband over many years. Sometimes, I just want to stay put in my house and never interact with anyone ever again, but then that’s not me. I enjoy being with people and it is something that I have to learn to work through. My friends deserve happiness and it isn’t anyone’s fault that my husband is gone. I don’t know if I will ever experience love or touch like this again. It makes me sad because I’m still relatively young and sometimes I wonder if this is it now for me. Will I only have memories that will have to last a lifetime? Building a relationship takes time and patience. I met my husband when I was very young and we got married young. We basically grew up together and we grew into each other. It wasn’t always easy, but it was a commitment. Sometimes I look at all of the photographs that tell our story and while I have tears streaming down my face, I’m also very grateful that it happened.

    • Marjorie

      I love this. Thanks so much for telling me your story – it mirrors mine in many ways. I grew up with Shawn in many ways, because when you meet when you are 22, you really figure out who you are together. Without him, it’s like I almost don’t know how to be an adult.

  • Melissa

    I like what you say about sitting with your feelings. I’ve encountered the same thing when I see couples my age having fun or just walking by holding hands. It’s been six months (already?) and I think I’m getting to the point where instead of feeling pangs of loss and, yes, jealousy, I’m trying to remind myself of all the years we did have together and appreciate those. It’s not easy for sure but I’m going to keep trying.

    • Marjorie

      Well, if I’m being honest, I still feel a lot of jealousy too! But I’m figuring out a way to also feel happiness for my friends. Love is not zero-sum, as another commenter said.

  • Bastiaan

    The day we found out Shaila had cancer was the day we became envious of all those people with “happy lives”. As we sat on a park bench we watched happy couples, some with their kids and others with their dogs, enjoying their days. Would we ever find joy again? The answer is … we did. Although each day was a struggle, especially for Shaila, we found new meaning in our relationship and love. And if this is possible I am 100% sure that we can find happiness in our lives. You will find that person that will be able to understand your never ending love for Shawn. A person that will love your children but not feel the need to replace their father. It will take time, commitment and understanding. But you know this better than anyone!

    • Marjorie

      I love this so much. Because you’re right – if we could find happiness when our spouses were ill, we can find it now too. That’s a great perspective.