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
This week, a friend asked me if I’d be willing take them for a small outpatient surgery. Easy right? Turns out, just considering the question is tricky when still navigating the waters of grief.
What typically would be an easy, “Sure” turned into a weird, awkward pause as my emotional meter went on high alert. Can I do this? Can I sit in a different but similar space with someone else? Even a good friend that I care about?
I almost find it frustrating that I can’t just say, “Yes!” Yet behind my pause is a whole ocean of doubt. Here I sit in the boat aimlessly considering the reasons behind my hesitation.
From an outside perspective, maybe it’s easy to recognize the “whys,” but I feel there’s much more here to reconcile than the obvious.
The obvious: the memories of last year of the many days and nights spent in hospital rooms, waiting rooms, surgery recovery rooms, etc. The rollercoaster of hope that my heart and mind traveled on for months. And more specifically, the day the word hospice entered the conversation. It was on that day that my hope almost seemed to shipwreck on a new stormy, complex, grief island. That’s not a comfortable place to land or to navigate.
Now months later, I find I’d rather be over on grief recovery island where the future feels much brighter and fun – where the waves of hope and the fresh breeze of adventure capture my attention. I can breath. It's kind of beautiful. I like it.
The contrast of these two places is what sits in my awkward pause - making it hard for me to simply say, “Yes!” to this request. The non-so obvious part is my inner monologue trying to rejuvenate hope.
Does saying, “Yes” put me back on grief island? Have I even left that place? Maybe I am paddling between the islands with my hope anchor fully in tow figuring out where to drop it? If so, I guess that’s good, at least I’m still carrying hope with me. My hope is not completely shattered – which grief can sometimes do – yet my hope is still shaky.
As I keep trying to describe the scene, it’s evident that I still have work to do. And that’s okay. Over the past nine months, I have said many times, grief is hard. It STILL is.
Thankfully, as I navigate the scenario, I am not alone. In surprising and beautiful ways, God still sends out reminders that he sees me - he knows the whole story. There's a fresh wave of assurance on the horizon. The reminder of this becomes even more tangible as I spot friends new and old standing on the shorelines, saying, “It’s okay, we’re with you.” It’s a different kind of “WOW” moment, and I am surprised and encouraged.
After all of this, I still hesitate in answering the question of whether I can be the one in the waiting room, but at least I’m considering paddling in that direction. Maybe that’s something. And it's all part of grieving on.
I met someone.
For some time, I've wondered what it might be like when I said those words, or even if I would. But recently they floated through my mind as indeed I have met someone interesting, someone unexpected.
Of course, this new interaction is shining a light straight into my grief. Much like a flashlight pointed into a cave opening, it bounces around revealing crevasses, mysterious things and faint markings that highlight a significant backstory.
As a returning reader of my journey, you might be caught by surprise at the first part of this post, so let me backtrack slightly.
A couple of months ago, I decided it would be interesting to dip my toe in the water of dating. To take off the wedding ring and see what it might be like to get to know single people. To talk about my story, see what it felt like and answer questions about who I am, etc. And . . . YES . . . it's complicated for many reasons, with a big one being that I haven't dated someone who wasn't my spouse/serious boyfriend for about two decades. A lot has changed. The world of online dating is new and I am much more seasoned in life and heartache.
Another challenge is how to know if it's the right time? I've read many articles* about when to begin dating again, but it really is such an individual decision. For me, I started to feel the sorrow tide shift out, and with a heart still full of hope and love, I thought it was time to at least explore the concept.
It is a new kind of adventure, filled with the same type of unexpected things you might find in the wilderness - beauty, roots to trip on, slick rocks, confusing trails, "wow" moments, joyful and non-so joyful experiences and, of course, much more.
Within this process, I often run straight into the challenge of reconciling my grief emotions, which rest on top of it all, waiting to be triggered. This can happen with a simple comment or the realization of how someone is similar or very different. I, myself, can even be the cause of the emotional trigger as I seek healthy companionship and try to understand what is actually most healthy. All around, it's tricky (a phrase I tend to often use).
So why try it?
Because I still have a lot of life left (hopefully!) I loved Josh greatly for many years. We had an amazing marriage, partnership and friendship. I can't replace our specific relationship and don't want to, but at the same time that relationship can be treasured for what it was and can coexist even as I grieve onward.
Interestingly though, it's because of this beautiful experience that I am even putting my feet back in the water. I've seen the joy that can be found in a loving relationship. Our story, even though it feels unfairly cut short, provided me an opportunity not to simply witness, but participate in a relationship built on true, self-sacrificing, encouraging love. God allowed me to live out the joy of this commitment on the best of days and hardest of days.
And yes, grief over losing a spouse is way complicated. It's a wound that cuts so deep. For some widows or widowers, navigating to the point of even considering what I am talking about seems impossible. And that's okay too. If that is you, find the joy in learning about yourself and what you enjoy doing in this new season.
For me, I want to keep exploring life and the possibility of loving and being cared about again. It all feels quite risky, I admit. Yet all of it inspires new songs, ideas and creativity. This Shakespeare line captures a little bit of this concept to me, "When griping grief the heart doth wound, and doleful dumps the mind opresses, then music, with her silver sound, with speedy help doth lend redress."
As I enter this new scene, I again inch forward in hopes that God has the perfect plan and timing. That even in this, very bizarre situation, I can trust him to guide me with wisdom. I listened to a sermon on Sunday that really resonated. It does't just pertain to my newfound dating adventures but to life itself. Trusting God daily is part of the story, no matter where it weaves.
"If we follow, God will take us on a great adventure. He will be our good shepherd. If we follow him, he will lead us to beauty and truth. It is about following him today, not just what's going to happen in the next year. "**
I, of course, had to write these words down. I need the reminder.
As I navigate the unknown of what's next, the simplicity of taking a breath and striving to follow God in this wild wilderness offers the trail markers that I need along the way.
P.S. Yes, this is all very scary and weird and I also know that as my friends and family soak in this information it also means processing another layer of grief. But we're all in this together now.
Links for more
* Mark Gungor has a really interesting perspective on his process.
** Link to sermon message
I remember the day well: May 18, 2002. All the planning, dress purchasing, flowers, tulle, candles, song lists, etc. had come together. I felt weird standing on the stage with everyone staring at us but I was excited to finally become Mrs. Josh Brown and the wedding was all that I hoped it would be.
We skipped down the isle to "O Happy Day" at the end, even though Josh's mom told us not to skip down the isle. Our bridesmaids and groomsmen followed suit. It was indeed a happy day. The ceremony was followed by cake, dancing and fun at the cafeteria of what was then the Republic Middle School. Our friends had helped put up thousands of lights, photos and more tulle to try and cover the look. I remember our first dance and many more after before we whisked away in our decorated Honda Civic on our honeymoon. Smiles all around.
I am thankful for these memories. I am thankful for the time and the many years that followed. For the joys and the sorrows.
But today, is a tough one - even with all those great memories. I tried to prepare for today, but the moment I woke up, the tears fell as I thought, "It's our anniversary, 18 years on the 18th."
Over the weekend, I had started working on a song that I finished today, which am sharing - even though it's scary. Music has always meant a lot to me. I talked about the "Come What May" song before, but often the events of my life trigger lyrics and melodies within me. I even a wrote song for Josh that played before I walked down the isle - so maybe in some ways it now seems fitting to write him a song on this anniversary.
And even as I continue grieving on, finding threads of hope and new perspectives on life, love and more, within me sits a lot of emotion. This song captures some of what rests in my heart and mind not just today but many days.
I know there is so much good that God has yet and I also see the great joy that I have had because of Josh and I's love story - what an honor to have lived even a chapter in this saga.
Another Melancholy Love Song
Maybe it was waking up to a memory on social media that had me a little off-kilter today, or maybe it’s just that grief reaches out and snags your heart unexpectedly at times (also true). But throughout my day, I had an unshakable weight that rested on my heart –– much like an elephant sitting on my chest.
My heart still aches. I miss Josh.
Even in acknowledging the maybes listed above, it's clear that this morning's social highlight anchored in my mind as the day wore on. I couldn't help but think about what I was doing last year. The memory that my own media channel presumptively assumed I wanted to see: “We thought you’d like to look back on this post from 1 year ago,” it stated.
My sarcastic response, “Oh really . . . is that what I wanted to see today?”
Yes and no. Of course, I want to remember our last road trip adventure together. A special journey as we made our way north to Mayo in search of hope and answers. We shared music, laughter and tears along the way and embraced the beauty of the upper midwest and even some baseball. Those memories are good and treasured. Yet, along with those memories are also some I’d rather not remember. The look in the doctor's eye as he patted me on the back and said, “I’m sorry.” This memory still brings tears to my eyes. I had hoped for more.
So, today as I sit in my home and reflect on a year ago, the absence of Josh is duly noted. I glance around the room and still wish he was here. Will I miss him forever? I can’t help but think a piece of me always will. Even as I continue to find hope, joy and threads of new, I encounter the weight of grief often. It's part of my ongoing story.
I don’t really like having to navigate these moments but I also know it's part of the healing process. The photo highlights will continue to appear, I might be ready for them, I might not, but they will happen. Some will bring a smile others, will bring tears.
While it's not quite the same, my mind thinks about the stone memorials referenced in the Bible. The ones established to remind the people of God's faithfulness in good times and bad -- and how he cared for them and provided. In my sorrow, I am reminded of God's faithfulness then and now.
And even though I can't completely see the full picture (because there's a grief elephant on my chest), I chose to trust that God is still at work. Hope remains.
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful."
- Hebrews 10:23 (NASB)
Grief intertwines itself with Mother's Day in a unique way within my story – with this year having another level of complexity.
This is my 22nd Mother’s Day without my mom here on earth, and it still stings. I miss being able to talk to her still. I'm not sure this sense of loss feels much different than it has for a while, but since I am now navigating the grief of losing a spouse, I can more easily tap into the sorrowful feelings and emotional memories.
Mixed into my grief on Mother's Day is the fact that I don't have kids. It's mostly common knowledge that Josh and I navigated a lot related to infertility and challenges in hopes of growing our family – a process that spanned over a decade. Within this, I am face to face with the acknowledgment that I am also still grieving that unfulfilled part of our story. My heart goes out to many people who have faced or are currently struggling with infertility. I can relate to the heartache that comes with the questions and unfulfilled hope especially on Mother's Day.
Shifting the conversation and narrative, I also can’t help but think about the beauty found in this day. The beauty evident in the many amazing women who are incredible mothers who have experienced their own share of heartache. For me, these women include my family – my grandmother, step-mom and mother-in-law, along with numerous friends who impress me often with the way they love their kids.
This year, specifically, my mind focuses on my mother-in-law, Kim, who probably doesn’t really want me to write a blog about her. But I am (at least a little).
Kim has been my bonus mom officially for nearly 18 years, but I was hanging out at her house way before that and she loved me like her own from day one. This past year, this strong woman sat with me in the hardest of times. We cried together and often tried NOT to cry together, especially in public places like Chuy's (photo). She continually showed up and loved both Josh and I well during each twist and turn.
We will always share an extraordinary bond in the fact that at root, our love for Josh has always been grand. I know this Mother’s Day will also be hard for her.
So, if I could dedicate a Mother’s Day like an old song on the radio, I would dedicate this one to Kim.
Imagine, the DJ Casey Kasem saying, "This one goes out to Kim in Republic, Mo . . ."
You are an amazing Mom and are greatly loved!
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.