Grief and time weave together in a unique fashion. Like opposite sides of a teeter-totter, the loss of someone truly loved can feel like it just happened yesterday and then swing to feel like a lifetime ago.
Today, Aug. 2, marks what would have been my mom’s 68th birthday. Simultaneously, as this new month begins, so hits the 11th month since Josh passed away. In the same sentence, I find myself asking how has it been 22 years and how has it already almost been a year -- so much has happened!
To me, grief creates a type of time warp. I can easily travel back to moments and memories and vividly recall the feelings of joy, laughter, sorrow and loss all over again. I can remember the sound of their voices - even as I forget other details in my life story.
Sitting with my aunt Brenda and uncle Dan tonight - on the eve of my aunt’s 60th birthday - we talked about time and thanksgiving. My aunt shared her own thanksgiving for all that she has witnessed here on earth even since my mom passed away. There is beauty in acknowledging God’s continued faithfulness, comfort and care within our families. Even though this beauty, at times, contains great sorrow, it is no less beautiful.
I admit, I often wish my mom and late husband could see me now. Maybe they can? That’s a whole tricky theological conversation that I don’t dare tackle. As people still on earth trying to reconcile grief, we might hope that those who aren’t here would be proud of us. And while I do like this idea, my aim is above the horizon as I strive to honor God.
I strive to do this by continuing to honestly process my grief, not in hopes of making those who have gone on proud, but as a way to be present and active within my unfolding story. My aim: to actively love Christ and others with each new day because each new day is a gift.
As I continue to navigate life as a new (returning) Missouri resident in a new home that is very much Jenn-themed - birds, piano in the living room, etc. There are new stories to tell - some that I really would love to share with my mom and Josh - and some that are just for me and some new and familiar friends on this leg of the journey.
Embarking on so much new lately had me on a quest for verses about “new days” where I soon discovered Psalm 46. There’s a lot of good stuff here. For me, it is some added encouraging fuel for a new month, new week, new day, new job and even new house.
I hope these encourage you also.
Psalm 46: 1- 5 (NASB)
God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change
And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea;
Though its waters roar and foam,
Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
The holy dwelling places of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
(Bonus interesting paraphrase from
The Message of Psalm 46:8-10 that highlights where my focus should truly be.)
Attention, all! See the marvels of God!
He plants flowers and trees all over the earth,
Bans war from pole to pole,
breaks all the weapons across his knee.
“Step out of the traffic! Take a long,
loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.”
Despite the title, this will not be the last time I cry about Josh or moving or heartache but probably the last time on my back porch in Arkansas watching the sunrise.
This good change is happening because something bad happened - at least bad in my earthly-perspective eyes. Trusting that God still has me and that in the grand scheme His bigger story is good is still a fact that I wrestle to accept - although I want to embrace that hope so much.
So here’s to today - move day 2020. The day I officially return to Missouri after about 14 years of being away.
Looking up at the sky right now a whole group of birds - Swifts - are circling. There is action and movement mixed with grace and beauty. Such is the process of grief. It flows seemingly without direction at times but is always active.
This moment of quiet allows me to take another big deep breath as I embrace another big day.
I woke this morning – on what is my last morning waking up alone* in my Arkansas house – with a heart full of thanksgiving.
This feeling is what I see often find in the writings of Psalms - the progression of emotions of hope, fear, doubt, that so often centers back on praise and thanksgiving for our creator and life source.
Today, I am thankful for the provision of this home. I'm thankful that God allowed Josh and I to move back close to family in 2017 and for the opportunity to live in Northwest Arkansas. Here, we met an incredible group of people and served at church that also showed much care and love for our family in the final stretch. I had the opportunity to work with an amazing group of people at the University of Arkansas while also providing care for my spouse in a way that not everyone can.
I am thankful for the days and nights on the back porch, listening to maybe even the same Cardinal that loudly sings its own song of praise to the morning sky today.
And I am thankful for forest Fridays, various hikes and new adventures I had even since last fall. I've been able to see so much beauty within the people I’ve met here and within the natural beauty that is abundant.
There is lingering sorrow that comes with my last few hours here, yet there is even greater praise for God’s faithfulness, provision, strength and guidance as I navigated a wild journey since last April.
In searching for a verse that echoes my thankful heart this morning, I landed in Psalm 29. I can relate to the transitional feeling in the words. There is continued joy arising from my mourning, especially this morning. There are times when my life circumstances still don't quite seem real, yet they are. I can't fathom walking through grief without people - friends and family - who have been with me but my true source of strength comes from Christ - my rock and comforter, now and always.
How I hope to never stop taking time to stop and praise God for each piece of my story.
“Here, O Lord, and be gracious to me.
*Note: My friend Alicia is staying with me on my last night here for some final moving prep and fun of course! How amazing it is to have friends who stay with you in the trenches and on the mountain tops too. Love you Alicia!!!
It’s MOVE week! I am packing. I am saying goodbye to a home and selling various pieces of furniture.
This might be the hardest emotional week yet since February - when I hit a real low emotionally and physically with back pain and grief processing. Thankfully I am physically stronger but the emotional memories are soaring high as I navigate this current reality.
I don’t know how I feel exactly, but everything is a bit sensitive as the reality continues to hit that this is my last week living in our home in Arkansas.
I’m leaving our home to move to my home. The change is fun, exciting. It’s new and different. It’s filled with possibilities. Yet, as I write this, it's almost like I am still trying to convince myself. Maybe I still am. Knowing the truth and accepting the truth is still a challenge no matter the topic.
In this case, perhaps it’s because the lingering battle scars still remain sensitive. The hope for healing and the feelings of angst that filled me so many times as I laid on the couch – that I just sold – on numerous days and nights next to Josh’s hospital bed, have shaped me greatly. This loss has created a chasm of change and a lingering ripple effect that still hurts.
After Josh passed I rearranged the recently sold couches several times in an effort to cover the space where the hospital bed was. Now the space is highlighted as it and the two neighboring couches are also gone. Change is happening visibly once again. Letting go of this whole house will be good and hard.
Truthfully, I am glad the couches are gone because I don’t enjoy dwelling on our sad memories or feeling stuck there. And although there is much hope to embrace today the harder memories reach out like a monster from the shadows of grief. Emotions trigger and I feel a bit lost at times. Thankfully, God knows where I am.
A refrain I often heard Josh say, and one I also repeat is, “Lord help me. Be with me.” Sometimes it’s all there is to say.
It's early in the week, and I can already tell it’s going to be a tricky week to navigate. Lord help me. As I literally move forward my hope is to NOT box up the emotions that go with this transition but to keep acknowledging them honestly.
Grief is hard stuff! And often the movement and changing seasons amplifies every part of it.
For my friends and fellow grievers, this is just a general report of where I am today as I embrace a big move in the year of 2020! Oh boy!
Thanks for your prayers in a week of big transition and letting go in many ways.
You need two cymbals to fully create the abrupt resounding crash at just the right moment within a song.
Inside my ongoing grief medley, the colliding emotions of joy and sorrow - or maybe even more narrowed - excitement and apprehension - clash often as I navigate big transitional moments.
So what's new:
My Arkansas house is officially under contract. This means that soon (in approximately two weeks), I will no longer call this place home. This is exciting news and the process has been going smoothly (Praise God!).
The change propels me forward in many new ways as it also creates an opportunity for me to be in Missouri with dear friends and family and to start a new job at Schweitzer United Methodist Church as the communications director. Beyond this, the change means many new adventures and memories in my new Springfield home that already is fueling my imagination. All great things!
Yet, in contrast, there is an apprehension. There is, at times, a feeling of deep sorrow that brings me to a halt. Leaving Arkansas means saying, "Goodbye" to this home, the last place where I saw Josh’s face. It means letting go of the physical space filled with memories of laughter, joy, tears, deep friendships and so much more. The memories won't disappear, but still the space is uniquely special.
In preparing to list the house, I recalled the first time Josh and I visited this home. It was kind of a stinky, weirdly-painted mess and I immediately reject it. But the home's location and lot size drew us back. We began to see the potential, put in an offer, and soon were fixing up the place in our style, creating the perfect place to host friends, small groups, relax and call home. Part of me is sad that Josh isn't here to cheer with me that we got three offers on the house. It would be fun to cheer with him as we realized that the messy, stinky house that seemed a little risky, worked out just fine. Even with amazing friends and family cheering me on, it is his "yeah!!!" that I miss the most.
Navigating this big transition means navigating the varied emotions that go with it. "How do you do that?" I asked a good friend this very question, and we both determined there isn't a roadmap. The answer: acknowledge it. As some would say, "It is what it is!"
Sometimes within our songs, the emotional cymbals just need to crash and create a jolting moment for recognition. Within this resounding silence, I focus on remembering some truly amazing moments. I take time to thank God for a great life and love story and to trust that God is still actively working and restoring my hope for the next part of my journey. What a year it has been. What a season it has been.
I'm still going to feel all the feels, and at times the clashing emotions might seem a bit too loud – that's okay too, let them ring.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a ringing gong or a clanging cymbal. – 1 Corinthians 13:1"
A few photos from move in to now (yea we got rid of the red and yellow walls)
Do you remember the game Tetris on the computer? It used to be really popular - not so much now, but you can still find it online. I always liked the idea of the game but usually got frustrated as somewhere I made a mistake and the blocks came faster and soon piled up into a mess of colors. Ugh!! Game Over! Try again!
Tonight, on my hike, this silly game came to mind as I thought about several momentous blocks that are currently landing in my grief space. A space that had started to feel a little organized and manageable. But recently, especially this week, things began moving very quickly. Transitional pieces are dropping and I can't quite get them in the right spot. Stressful!
From basic tasks like canceling a phone service, to bigger ones like selling old Ravi (our beloved adventure car), to more significant markers like selling the Brown land and listing my Arkansas house for sale - a lot is happening. In the mix, I am exploring a new relationship and navigating conversations big and small about all the things. There's a lot to think about and process independently and collectively.
Within this, I am expecting my grief Tetris board to end up more messy than orderly, as the odds of all the pieces fitting just right are unlikely. (And yes, I know in God's master plan it all fits just perfectly, but in my limited view it looks a little nuts).
Even last night, when trying to pack another box in the decluttering/cleaning efforts, I hit a wall where I found myself just staring at box of sweaters (my sweaters) thinking, “How did I get here?” “Why am I having to do this!?” Oh yeah . . .
This box of grief was one of those weird Z shaped pieces that I couldn't get turned in time. I tried to stop the pity party from landing uncomfortably but it fell anyway. Thankfully, I have some great cheerleaders around me, who are ready and willing to remind me that these transitions are welcome and are indeed things I want, even if they are hard. "Keep going! You've got this."
There's much maneuvering within my grief process as I acknowledge both the good and the hard in continuing forward. There are many new things I am doing as a single widow. Within this, I can’t just box up my heartache and never look at it again, it’s a continual process of analyzing and trying to better understand my grief, my heart and my mind. And it means saying often, "God! I need you!"
The really amazing thing is that God created each of us, including me, in such a way that our hearts and minds are resilient and flexible. This makes it possible to experience feelings of doubt, sorrow, joy, hope and love all at the same time. It doesn’t seem like that should be possible, yet it is.
So, while my life Tetris game doesn’t look perfect, it’s okay. Honestly, it almost seems fitting. It's a bit of a creative mess - just like me. Here’s a pretty great Bible verse from The Message version for all us messy people (walking in grief or just life)
"And me? I’m a mess.
I’m nothing and have nothing: make something of me.
You can do it; you’ve got what it takes --
but God, don’t put it off." – Psalm 40:17
Hi! It's Jenn Brown, writing my story that is now slightly different as we enter a season of new grief. On September 30, 2019, my dear husband Josh passed away after battling brain cancer.