Shawn and Marjorie Brimley at their wedding in Oregon
Missing Shawn

Where Should We Begin?

Right now, I’m obsessed with the podcast “Where Should We Begin?” by Esther Perel.  The host is a couples therapist, and the podcast is basically her sitting down with a couple and discussing whatever is going on in their marriage.  I stumbled upon it after listening to Perel on the podcast “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” which is hosted by the Hot Young Widows Club founder, Nora McInerny.  So, oddly, I have spent now countless hours listening to a podcast about couples because of a connection I have through one of my spousal loss groups.

In any case, I love Perel’s podcast.  I’ve listened to couples dealing with infidelity, couples who are working through a serious illness and transgender couples trying to redefine their roles.    The one I listened to most recently was about a couple that was dealing with the loss of all of their savings.  The husband had spent every penny on apps for games he played on his phone (seriously!)  It’s fascinating.

I’m not sure why I keep listening to all of these stories about romantic relationships.  I didn’t listen to the podcast until a few months ago, and so I’ve spent all of this time immersed in the lives of other couples without having a partner myself.  Sometimes I’ll hear a person on the podcast say something and it will make me think of how it was to be married to Shawn.  Even while I’m still listening to the podcast, I can feel my mind drifting to memories of our hilariously fun date nights and weekend playground trips with the kids.

Yesterday while listening to the podcast, I started thinking about our evenings.  Sometimes, we were so tired that we just laid on the bed, looking at our phones or watching Netflix.  But other times, when I was baking something for the next day or Shawn had missed dinner and needed something to eat, we’d find ourselves in the kitchen.  It was where we had many discussions that are now seared in my memory.  We talked about our friends, our careers, our kids, and everything else.  I’d make him sign school forms and he’d make me look at our finances.  But more than anything else, we’d plan.  I don’t mean that we planned for the next day or the weekend, though we did plenty of that.  I mean that we’d plan our lives for the foreseeable future.  What would we be doing personally and professionally in 5, 10, or 25 years?  What trips were were going to take when we were retired?  How many grandchildren did we want?  When would we quit the DC rat-race and just be with each other, growing veggies on a farm and having weekend parties?

God, I miss those talks.

We’d always been planners.  When we were first dating, probably only a few months into our relationship, we already talked about marriage and kids.  Once we got engaged, we actually had a date where we wrote our “life plan” on the back of a napkin.  We would get married when I was 25, have our first kid at 27 and two more kids after that.  Shawn would go to graduate school and I would teach.  We planned about 10 years down the line where Shawn had written “mid-level bureaucrat” and I had “part time teacher and full time mom” written down.  I think we also talked about how we would both write books.  We were young and somewhat ambitious, I guess.  But what I remember about the napkin were the choices we wanted to make about our life as a couple and our future life as a family.

As the years went on we kept planning.  If we were ever bored, we’d start talking about the future.  I could write multiple blog posts on everything Shawn wanted to do when we were retired – it was one of his favorite topics.  But he also had big plans for each year, many of which we actually did.  As planned, we remodeled a house and he helped start a new company.  We had a third kid and we took a vacation without the kids.  But there were so many that we never got to do.  The trip across Russia on the Trans-Siberian railroad will never happen.  The man cave will not be built in our backyard.  We’ll never move in with our kids when they are grown to help raise our grandkids

My life is not over, and so I understand that these things could still happen for me.  But they will not happen for us.

Now, I am planning my life alone, and if I’m being really honest, I’m not actually planning at all anymore.  I don’t know if it’s that I don’t know how to do it anymore or if I can’t face the idea of making those plans knowing that Shawn won’t be doing them with me.  We always had plans, and usually (loosely) stuck to at least the 5-year plans.  Knowing what would happen next, even if I didn’t know every small event, was comforting.  I felt secure in the fact that my life would be a happy one and that we knew what was coming next.

There’s no 5-year plan anymore.  I don’t even really have a 6-month plan.  I guess I have a plan for this week that involves spending as much time outside as possible but that’s really about it.  I wish that a lack of plans made me feel free and unencumbered, but it doesn’t.  It just makes me feel a bit lost, unsure of the future and what it holds for me.


  • catherine

    Just a note to say I appreciated your piece in the Washington Post. My husband died of colon cancer two years ago and I agree, it has been a journey of learning how to parent differently since then (along with just how to live life since then). It’s so unfair. I’m sorry this happened to you and to me. You are a good mom and are doing a good job. We will make it though. Peace be with you.

    • Marjorie

      Catherine, than you so much for sharing this. I hate cancer. Especially colon cancer. It’s all so unfair and I’m so grateful that you shared this with me. We will make it through. Thank you so much for this.

  • Joannie Chandler

    In the craziness of being a widow of almost 10 months I completely forgot that my husband and I had planned on taking a cruise to Alaska, his dream destination. Your article made me remember that! Thank you for sharing! My husband was 30 when he passed and I was 31. We have two children now 4 & 6. Relating to another you widow is very inspiring! I have family and friends supporting me but none of them are in my situation. I feel less crazy reading your blog!

    • Marjorie

      Thanks for letting me know. I think you really captured it – being a young widow can really make you feel crazy at times. (“Am I going crazy?” I asked myself MANY times the first year.) Thanks for sharing about your dream cruise – what a beautiful image.