Share Your Valentine Story . . . ___________________________
Yep, that blank line is intentionally there. In fact, I wish I could put those blinking text dots that happen when someone is messaging, because my first response is that - an empty blank or thinking bubbles. It's hard to know where to start or which answers to give.
My valentine story is both past and present.
It is what was and what is.
It is absolutely amazing, yet tragic and tinder.
It is fun and adventuresome, yet new and complex.
As I write this post, two items are visible, a homemade Valentine Card from 2014 and silly valentine windows stickers gifted to me in 2021. It strikes me as funny in a way that these very different valentine treasures come seven years apart. Although it has not yet been two years since my first valentine passed - we did typically celebrate sevens because we dated for seven years before getting married.
In 2014 - Josh and I lived in Nevada and I could not have imagined what 2021 would look like. I definitely would not have pictured myself with another guy in my life. I would not have pictured it without Josh.
This is my reality. And while I do indeed still miss my first valentine, I hope to not focus on this so much that I miss out on my present valentine. Balancing these emotions is no cupcake. Even with the joys that come with enjoying the good moments, plus trusting, hoping and believing in today’s storyline and valentine - the dull ache in my heart still causes worry and doubt. Sorrow creeps in, a sorrow than can try and sideswipe my happiness.
I have to choose to take the next step - to believe that love can be rich and full once again. I have to remind myself that a new relationship doesn’t need to be compared to the last. It’s not a replacement. It is indeed its own thing. There are pieces and parts I enjoy more, there are pieces and parts that make me crazy and are hard to navigate.
I recently read a post from the Young, Widowed and Dating site that seemed perfectly timed. Author, Kerry Phillips, shared this of her own experience as a 32-year-old widow:
“The truth is, we’ve changed. That’s not necessarily a bad thing either. Our new guy is perfect for who we currently are and might not have been the right match for us pre-loss. . . . It’s truly an insult to refer to the man we’ve chosen for this phase of our life as a replacement. It dishonors our late spouses as well. Our new guy – who some lovingly refer to as “Chapter 2”– comes with his own set of unique qualifications.”
Yes, this year’s valentine, is quite different - and holds many unique qualifications, including having the grace to let me talk about all of this openly and be a bit messy - and the one who cries most.*
Last year, I bought a house on Valentine’s Day and celebrated with friends. Little did I know that this year my valentine would live only 10 minutes from this home.
On this Valentine’s Day 2021, my heart is a bit like one of those heart-shaped cactus plants. Different, maybe a little sticky but still lovely.
So, here’s to the both of my valentine’s - who each hold delicately my heart. ❤️
And for fun, here are a few answers for the new chapter:
Where's we meet: On a dating app
First Date: A waterfall adventure (photo below)
Most Stubborn: Both
Did you go to the same college: Yes
Who cries more: Me**
Who is taller: Him (by a lot!)
Photos below include a snowy 2021 Valentine's Day and my house on the year anniversary
And a photo from our first date and a most recent one.
I could blame the dip in emotions on a football team loss, but admit I don’t get that emotionally invested in football. I cheer for KC, of course, but basketball is really my sport.
Therefore, I can’t really blame this week's funky feelings on a Sunday night game result, but rather outlying issues. These include great memories of cheering on or lamenting the Chiefs seasons with Josh, friends and family over many years, new efforts at unboxing, and recent convos about Josh's life.
This week, especially, I’ve been resorting boxes of clothes and books that were set aside but not gotten rid of when I moved. The time has come to start really figuring out space and sorting forgotten boxes that have made their way to the surface. It’s still hard to look at these and to know what to do.
Items bring a smile and a sting and I find myself at a loss of what to do or how to feel about it all. So instead, I’m in a funky mood, sad, downtrodden seems like a good word. Is it a season of lament surfacing again?
Even as I give myself permission to feel this - I don’t like it. Should I like feeling sad though? No.
I acknowledge it. I share it and I continue on living in the knowledge.
For some reason the line from Moulin Rouge pops in my mind and even in the sorrow I smile, because it’s true and life giving.
“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return.”
It was most ironic that my grief moment struck only moments after wondering if I still had words to write about grief.
My blog posts have drifted further apart - even though topics still swim through my mind often. You see of late, many of my thoughts have about new adventurers, work strategy, camper remodels, where I might travel, and navigating new relationships well.
It’s not that I don’t still miss my late husband, Josh, but life in this season provides new routines and areas of focus. In fact, I recently sold my teardrop camper, that I bought six months after Josh passed away - perfect for the independent explorer. I spent nearly a year playing, adventuring and camping it in, and all of the memories I had existed without Josh’s physical presence being part of the photo gallery. I was sad to sell it because it was cute, but also because it represented special memories of healing and joy intertwined. My new camper that’s bigger will have even more stories.
Back to today’s moment . . . the realization that I do in fact still have grief to navigate, to share about. A realization that stemmed from a Coke bottle.
Even though the bottles with names have been around a while, I still enjoy hunting for my name or a special friend’s name when I see them. I almost always casually glance at the first few rows to see if there is one I need - especially if Jennifer is on it.
My most recent light-hearted hunt suddenly became heavy as I put the four letters together - Share a Coke with J O S H - Ugh!
My eyes watered and the thought blasted in my mind, “I’ll never share a coke with MY Josh” - even though he didn’t even like drinking coke and wouldn’t have anyway. It was in that moment I realized, I still have more to write about grief.
Grief is part of my story and will continue to be. Even as good and wonderful things happen, even as new adventures and relationships deepen - my loss and love mix.
These moments put me in funk, but thankfully don’t completely wreck me like they once did. I see this as God’s grace. His loving, steady hand remains my rock. His eternal hope my victory. His gentle spirit my coach and guide.
No matter the season or how long it’s been, grief still has a way of melting you – melting your heart, causing your eyes to puddle.
I started the month talking about how this Christmas season felt different - lighter more spirited. I wanted to celebrate this year - put up decorations, watch silly movies and more. I still do, but recently have felt the sorrow of Christmas’ past drifting in at times.
The cool breeze of loss hits me most in ministry settings - a special church event or activity. I expect it is because for over a decade, Josh and I did ministry life together. We often would do separate things within a service, but at the end of the event or night I knew, at some point, I’d look up and see his smiling face across the way. We’d wrap up the night talking about how things went, the highlights, challenges or conversations we had. It was a shared moment and over the years it was hundreds of shared moments - especially at Christmas.
Today, in this next chapter, I'm creating new memories with people who didn't know Josh - they never even met him. It’s very weird, it’s sad, and feels a bit like a grief speed bump. There are many things I'd love for my new friends to know about him, but even my descriptions fall flat (in my own mind).
Navigating all the feelings of Christmas, changing seasons, the new with the old and familiar is complex. I often try to figure it out but there's not a perfect strategy. As much as I would like to place my various emotions in nice little organized Christmas boxes with bows, they doesn't really fit - grief is messy and can't be boxed up.
So, I continue to work out my grief, knowing I have to feel it -- yet again. I have to leave space to acknowledge that it is still painful. And that in this second year of Christmas grief, there’s still a lot to feel. There are new joys, friendships and memories occurring, yet even these bring new avenues of grief to navigate and ponder.
If you are entering Christmas season with fresh or even lingering grief, know that God is with you. You are not alone in this and you aren't crazy - there is a lot more stirring at Christmas than mice - especially when it comes to our hearts that are heavy because of the great love we have both experienced and lost.
Merry Christmas Friends!
It’s still there . . .this thing called grief. Over a year into my reality of being a widow - ripples of grief still hit. I imagine it like a thin rock skipping across the surface of water disrupting ever so slightly along the way.
At this point, I’ve hit many major milestones - holidays, anniversaries, birthdays - and now I am going through round 2. And without fail I still encounter disruptive moments. Sitting in a church meeting, my eyes tear up and I get a pit in my stomach hits as I realize this is the type of thing Josh and I did hundreds of times so casually. It was part of us doing life in ministry together for over a decade. Now that duet is missing.
The grief ripple hits again as I remember goofy things, inside jokes and whether or not he liked a certain restaurant.
As much as I keep trudging along creating new, fun memories that don’t include Josh - I still miss him.
I know it’s okay and that sorrow will linger - whatever I do. It doesn’t dominate my every thought but often the thought still flashes through my mind like a digital sign. I . . . miss . . . Josh.
It’s been a while since I even wrote about my grief feelings as I seemed to be almost at a loss of words of late. My last post was about receiving his ashes, which I still don't know what to do with and now they are kind of oddly placed mixed into my Christmas decor. How weird is that?
Even with that weirdness, this Christmas I do feel like celebrating. I have a big tree and lots of decorations up. I've been watching Christmas movies and leaning into the love, joy and cheer of the season. It's a big contrast to last year when I didn't even want to put up a tree - I felt like a robot. It was a true blue Christmas.
Today, my grief still takes a lot of time and energy. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. I find myself analyzing new angles of my emotions that still spike up and down and I find myself asking many questions
- What are these scattered emotions all about?
- What does my grief look like from a slightly different angle?
- What does it look like to mix in new people, places and perspectives?
I don't have answers, which is very annoying. So far I have only reaffirmed the fact that grief is complicated and really different for each person. I know God continues to work in me and through this story. I don't want to forget Josh and our life together but hope to use those experiences and memories for good in the future. How does that work? I am not sure but I'll keep trying.
I know God doesn't waste our experiences and I know my story is still unfolding. There is joy in that. Joy for more than just the Christmas season.
The package arrived. It was clearly marked, “cremated remains” (actually with six labels!)
I am pretty sure the mailman was very much ready to not have this in his possession another day. I said, ‘Thank you” and gingerly carried it inside and stared at it for a while before calling Josh’s sister to experience the box opening with me.
Now, the box inside the box sits on my kitchen table with the label, “Mr. Joshua Paul Brown.” Weird. What do I do with this?
To my own surprise - tears haven't flowed today. It just seems all-around strange and surreal. The Bible verse about returning to dust, Ephesians 3:20 comes to mind. “All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust.”
And I think, so this is it. This is what remains. Huh.
While this is quite sad, even as it is, for me it would be feel much more deflating without the hope I have that there is an eternity. The hope that Jesus is real, that Josh is in heaven in some form or fashion, and that there is, indeed more to the story than what is inside this dense black box.
Of course, today still was another significant milestone. It didn't feel like a victory but more of a “It is what it is” moment.
The timing of the delivery and the crazy amount of orange labels indicating what was inside the box did give me a bit of a chuckle I have to say - and I think Josh would have been entertained by it. I could hear him saying, "You know what this box really needs .... an oversized label that says..." - ha!
It is these memories of Josh - especially his sarcastic sense of humor and imagining what he would have said that helped me process the day. Even with elevated weirdness, I find rest in a root of thanksgiving for the many great years of laughter, jokes, adventure and doing life together.
So yes, at the end of the day - it's a lot more than a black box.
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.