Faded beach image like that in dream of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley
Missing Shawn

Wisps of a Dream

I was walking through a cave, and I felt like it was somewhere I’d been before. Other people (tourists, maybe?) were standing and talking softly on the edges of my vision. The cave was cool, but I could hear a dull roar in the distance.

Shawn was next to me. I knew this shouldn’t be true – I knew he was dead – but there he was, standing upright with a slight smile on his face. He didn’t talk much, but then again, Shawn could always be a bit quiet when he was exploring a new space.

We walked through the cave. It smelled of salt, and there was a breeze. I held on to him and felt his thick arm hair. At one point, I touched his face. A trace of a beard remained, and it felt exactly the same as it had when he was healthy. He felt so real, but I knew he wasn’t.

Suddenly, the cave opened to reveal the ocean. Shawn laughed – one of those big belly laughs he always did when he was delighted. He looked at me and squeezed my hand. “This isn’t real,” I said to myself.

There was a crash of the waves, and my eyes opened. I looked at the blank white wall in front of me. It had been a dream, of course, but one in which I knew it was a dream. Still, I didn’t want it to fade. I closed my eyes, and thought about what it looked like on the edge of the cave with the sea on the horizon. I thought about how his hand felt, the one with the funny scar across it.

I knew it wasn’t real. But I could feel him when I was dreaming, and I could still see him in my memory.

And yet. The sun was making my room brighter, and with each passing minute, the dream faded. My closed eyes were filled with the light spilling into the room and the image of Shawn was disappearing in my mind. After a few minutes, only wisps of that dream remained.

I tried to hold on. But he was fading.

I heard the door click, and Tommy crawled into my bed. “Mama,” he said, softly.

I pulled him to me, and he laid his head next to my chest. His breathing was steady and he was warm. He was a living reminder of his father, the man I’d loved for a decade and a half.

I wanted that to be the end of this moment and thus the end of this blog post. I wanted Tommy’s warm body to make me feel a sense of joy and purpose.

But he could not comfort me.

Yes, I am so lucky to have my three wonderful children. Their eyes look like Shawn’s, and I can see him in them every day.

But in these moments, their love is not a substitute for the love I had with Shawn. Having them does not lessen the grief.

I cry less these days, but that morning the tears that fell from my face felt heavy. I cried silently, holding my boy, wishing that Shawn was there.

Suddenly, the sun spurted over the windowsill and into my room. I’d left the shades open. Tommy looked at me, wondering what was happening.

“Tears,” he said.

“Yes, but Mama is okay,” I said, wiping my face. “Let’s get up. It’s time to have breakfast.”


  • ABP

    Circle Broken
    Eros – flickers,
    Philos- daily life,
    Platos- deep longing,
    Precious doe of my life
    Return to me.

  • Karen Joan

    That’s beautiful. I am glad to see “it “captured, because the dreams where I can physically feel my partner have almost disappeared at 6 years out. I try to will them back into existence at the same time I try to be enthusiastic going on dates with people I meet online. I know there is no normal, but there’s not a lot of 48 year old widows, I can’t imagine being younger and going through this.

    • Marjorie

      Oh, trust me, there aren’t a lot of people widowed at 38! But somehow, I’ve found a small community of young widows, which makes me sad (that there are others who exist) and also really reassured. Thanks for reading – and gosh, good luck with online dating!

  • Michael Zoosman


    This is beautiful. May you continue to find inspiration in Shawn’s loving memory, and thank you for sharing this.

    – Mike

  • Carmelita

    Me: I think Shawn was really with you. In a way we don’t understand yet. I love how he enjoyed the surprise of the ocean. And sharing it with you.
    Six years in, I still miss my husband and the special way he loved me so with So much warmth and affection. Nothing has replaced that.
    Hope Shawn visits again soon.

  • Gina Rich

    Marjorie: Thank you for sharing your beautiful writing, and I am so sorry for your loss. I saw your moving essay in the Washington Post, and your words are helping others feel less alone. Dreams are interesting – I often dream about my late mother, and can also only remember snippets upon waking. I wonder if there is a way to recall more details of the dreams we have of our loved ones.

    • Marjorie

      Oh, thank you for reading. Yes, I’m lucky to write for the Post sometimes – they are lovely about publishing really difficult stories. And dreams are so beautiful, aren’t they? I’m often gut-punched by them, but I do love seeing Shawn’s face again.

  • Gabe

    Oh, Marjorie. I like to read your exquisite writing when I have a moment to focus and you know as a mom those moments are few and far between. I’m catching up on lots of your recent posts. I could feel the yearning in this one so deeply. Sending love, always!!!

  • kathy

    I love this, I have had many dreams where my husband has come to me, the first was about 2 months in and in it he cycled up beside me, he looked younger and very fit, i was so happy to see him and told him he looked beautiful, I was rubbing his back as he had bad back pain before he died. I kissed his face and he was smiling at me, he told me he was busy and fine, I thanked him for coming and asked him to come again to me (which he has many times including kissing me). These dreams stay with us forever. On waking I was so happy to have dreamed of him and then the tears flowed!!!