Photos of Marjorie and Shawn Brimley in photos just before and after their marriage
Missing Shawn

Stories for My Daughter

One of my favorite parts of my day is after my boys fall asleep and I go into Claire’s room and sit on her bed. Sometimes we both read silently, and other times she tells me about the dramas of fourth grade or other things that are on her mind. One day last week, when we were quietly reading, she looked up from her book and said, “Mama, tell me about the day that Daddy asked you to marry him.”

I smiled. I have told her the story many times, but she loves to hear it.

“Well, baby, we were in Costa Rica, where we were living at the time,” I said. “We were staying in a little hotel on the beach.”

“Is that where you lived?” she asked.

“No,” I told her, “we lived in the mountains, but we were at the beach on a vacation. Daddy was acting a bit funny on that trip, and I found out later it was because he was nervous about asking me to marry him.”

“How did he ask you?” Claire looked at me earnestly. She knew this part of the story, but I smiled and indulged her.

“Well, we woke up really early to watch the sunrise. We never did that, because Daddy wasn’t a morning person. But he said he really wanted to see it. So we walked out on the beach and he wasn’t talking very much. Then he took both my hands in his and took a big breath.”

Claire’s eyes were shining. I could see her picturing it in her mind.

I was picturing it in my mind too. “Then he got down on one knee and told me that he loved me and wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. And then he said, ‘will you be my wife?'”

I looked at Claire. “And I said yes!” I said with a smile. I loved this part of the story. She knew what was coming next.

“And then he gave you a ring!” she said.

“Well, it wasn’t just any ring,” I said. “Dad couldn’t get the real ring down to Costa Rica, so he bought a ring on the side of the road for $1.25. It was made out of a coconut shell.”

She laughed. “A coconut!?”

“Yep,” I said, “and I loved it. I wore it for a long time. It was special to me because it stood for what really mattered – that Daddy wanted to marry me and I wanted to marry him.”

She laughed a little longer about the fact that I wore around a coconut ring and we talked about what it feels like when you decide to get married. Then she looked at me with big eyes and asked, “Did Dad cry too when he asked you to marry him?”

I paused. I saw the scene in my mind – the one from my life more than a decade and a half ago – and I thought about what Shawn’s face looked like. I could see his expression, earnest, looking at me. I could feel his sweaty hands holding mine.

But I did not know if he was crying.

“I don’t know,” I told Claire, “I can’t remember.”

She let it go. But I couldn’t. I left her room that night and thought again about that moment on the beach in Costa Rica. Had he been crying? Had I been crying? Or were we both just smiling and giddy?

I’m a bit more emotional than usual this month, so it sent me into a tailspin that night. I started to cry thinking about that night on the beach and then the haziness that surrounded the memory. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I remember this anymore? Why didn’t I relive this moment more often with Shawn, in the way that we relived the births of our children or the first night we did karaoke together?

Try as I could, I didn’t remember.

I felt terrible. Because here’s the thing – if I forget, it’s gone. There was no one else there, except him. If I lose that day in my mind, I lose another piece of him.

So I sat in my bed and I replayed the moment that he got down on one knee. I did it again and again and again.

You know what?

I realized I really, truly couldn’t remember. That tiny detail – that small piece of the story – it is gone. Maybe forever.


  • larry

    A beautiful honest reflection. Thank you for sharing. I am a very emotional person with a exceptional memory and i May assume i cried when i proposed to Diane but i cannot remember, but it was a beautiful moment.

    • Marjorie

      I love that you wrote this – maybe it’s not whether Shawn cried or not, but how we both felt in the moment.

  • Melissa

    Maybe it’s all those moments after the proposal that count. I don’t even think there was an official proposal in my case. We’d both been married before and just knew we wanted to be together. What I’m afraid of losing is the memory of my husband’s voice. He had been a college instructor in the health sciences and that’s where I met him in one of his classes. His resonant voice, along with his intelligence, was one of the things that attracted me to him. I miss it.

    • Marjorie

      Yes – I think you’re right. It’s all the pieces of them that we miss, not just one singular moment.

  • Tracy

    I was widowed, shockingly and unexpectedly five years ago. I was 45 and like you too young to spend the rest of my years alone. Being a widow is a strange status, we are unusual and death is a difficult subject for most people to grasp, particularly in middle age. I wish you luck and appreciate your honesty and your genuine insight to our ‘condition’, I wish you well there is a life and a new chapter out there.

    • Marjorie

      I hope so too. But I also am learning how to sit with the uncertainty of my life ahead of me. Or at least try. It’s a constant issue that I struggle with, but I’ve been getting better about just trying to live with not knowing what the future will bring.

  • Ricky

    I still can smell wife ,I sometimes have hard time remembering her voice
    Trying to get back out there is lose part of your one seems to understand that except people like us

    • Marjorie

      I really think it’s hard for others to know how it feels to be widowed, unless they’ve experienced it themselves.

  • Sheila

    Hi, I’m also a widow my husband died when he was just 38 & me well I was 40. It’ll be 18 years next February, I remember standing in the relatives room at the hospital with our then aged 9 & 16 year old daughters just thinking “I’ve got no job, what do I do now” strange thoughts to have really I know. But you just learn to brush yourself off & keep going for their sake (my girls). I’m currently on a date sight or 2 & believe me I’ve had some hilarious “dates” but they are another story completely. Now nearly 18 years on I still miss him & even still wear my wedding ring it’s not left my finger since the day we got married. Anyway my daughters have grown into 2 beautiful young ladies who he would be so proud of as for me well I work full time for the NHS nothing medical but I do perform a vital role behind the scenes of the trust I work for. So for all widows you hang on in ther your doing a fantastic job

    • Marjorie

      Thank you for such an inspiring comment and for sharing your story. It is always good to hear from other people who have survived this hell. Because that’s certainly what it feels like right now. But knowing other stories is truly helpful. Thanks for reading.

  • Melanie

    It’s strange the things we forget and those we remember. A lot of memories surfaced when Philip died, mostly about when we were dating and how wonderful it felt. I would listen to the songs we drove around to in his crazy sports car back then over and over again and cry. I cry less to them now and find myself smiling more when I hear them which is probably progress. You have so many lovely memories of your husband, Marjorie, so focus on them. You’ll never lose your husband.
    As for forgetting voices as a few people mentioned, I exported several voicemails he had left me using an app called iExplorer. The messages are saved forever in a cloud and I can listen to his voice whenever I want to. One message is very cheery and he sounds great; in one you can hear a change because it was two weeks before he died, and in the third one his voice sounds tired, but it’s the one message I have in which he says, in his own gorgeous, deep voice “I love you.”