As much as I want to be “done’ with grieving, the realization that I am not hits rapidly and without warning.
Recently, I’ve increased the process of sorting through boxes and treasured items in an effort to attempt to get my house in Arkansas ready to sell. Mainly because I really don’t need two houses. Shocking, I know! Life is weird for everyone right now, so moving to Missouri has also become a little more complicated - even though remote work does solve one problem but not long term. Moving still makes sense but the timeline, a bit shaky?
And there are still many parts of Arkansas I enjoy.
Whatever the time frame, the process of sorting through items and purging is needed because, at some point, a move or change will happen. There are many layers to process even as I come to terms with the fact that this will be the first time I move anywhere without Josh.
Piece by piece, I find myself sorting through paperwork and books from his office, photos of us, mementos and items WE have owned for two-plus decades. What do I keep? I can’t keep everything? Or can I? Should I?
I don’t think so.
So bit by bit I go, trying to process what I should keep or toss. For example, I don’t need to keep every theology book or every note Josh wrote. In the sorting process, though, I continually uncover treasured items like a journal entry or random, “I love you” note. My kitchen still contains cards from people letting us know they were praying for healing and a good treatment plan last year. These are hard to read . . . again.
I even found the original paper where Josh wrote the chapters of the book he hoped to write someday titled, “Memoirs of a No one.” Just the humility even in that reminded me once again of who he was on earth. Of course, I cried upon seeing it. He had sent me a photo of the chapters but not the title. Seeing it fired up the memory of him calling and telling me about this book idea. I encouraged him to do it!
This someday future move isn’t just about filling boxes, but it's also about deciding how much to actually keep of our lives together? I am entering a new season, so what's the best option? This endless processing, slows down the packing speed. It slows down everything really. It’s hard to power through a task when pausing to take emotional breaks.
But I try to give grace and celebrate that I am at least doing something, taking another step in the grief process.
In all honesty I do have to say, it still feels like I am walking through thick mud. Often, I simply want to take a few extra special things and leave the rest behind. As previously mentioned, grief is hard.
So, what have I been doing lately? Clearly not sharing any blog posts. But I have been thinking, a lot. In fact, I've been thinking about SO many things that often my brain seems too full to actually write down the thoughts. I know this may sound silly, but it's true. Today, I decided to tackle it.
As March began, I felt a bit of hope grow in me. I'll preface this by saying, January and February were rough; physically and emotionally it was a low point in the grief journey. Getting into March, my back pain decreased and I could see through the murky sorrow much more clearly. I began to once again tap into hope, curiosity about the future and more – I even started sorting through Josh's clothes (this is a big step).
Then you know what happened?! Covid-19. This has changed so much in such a short time period already. To me, it feels like I'm watching grief on a grand scale occur anew each day. Similar thoughts and feelings connected to isolation, fear, stress and doubt that I experienced personally last year, in what I might call Josh-19 (hopefully not insensitively), are now reflected in our world. Fear and stress are high!
Yet in a juxtaposition, I find myself in a place where I'm discovering hope, joy and peace that until recently has been subdued. How to reconcile the grand grief and hope with the specific grief and concern for today is yet another thing to process.
In a recent church message, "Hope is Contagious" by Craig Groeschel, he offered a challenge to not be carriers of fear during this uncertain time but rather carriers of faith, hope and love. I love this encouragement.
In the hardest times in my grief and care-giving journey, God sustained me and saw me though. Did I face fear, doubt and discouragement? Yes. Do I still believe God came through. Yes. Do I believe he will come through again and again? Mostly Yes - ha! (Sorry have to be honest, always. Trust is always an ongoing process, I really want to say yes without the mostly).
Through it all, I believed in God's faithfulness in 2019 and I believe in it in 2020.
In the end, this verse comes to mind:
"For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline."
- 2 Timothy 1:7
As we tackle these next few weeks (months?), maybe the self-discipline of staying home is what's required, but so is the self-discipline of showing love, hope and encouragement with one another in whatever way possible (in person or digitally).
It's a challenge for me, at times, to look outside my own grief perspective and see others. This might also be a challenge for you while trying to process so many emotions in a shifting season.
Let's try it together. And pray for one another in the process.
I keep staring at it — my empty wedding ring finger. For the past week, I have experimented with not wearing this treasured jewel, a ring I've worn for more than 17 years, my wedding ring. The thoughtful ring, Josh picked out and proposed to me with in February of 2002.
Not wearing this ring makes me sad, but so does wearing it. Even still, the calloused ring marks on my left finger easily gives away the fact that this change is recent.
I am still in test mode with the whole "not wearing a ring" project. And the timeline –– undefined.
This is yet another step within my story as I look to reconcile my identity here and now. I find myself in a new category, not as a married woman but rather a widowed one. This classification is odd.
In the fall, the question sat in my mind as do many questions after loss, "When do I take off my ring?" What I determined since, is that if you are asking that question, maybe it's not time yet. I wasn't ready to experiment until very recently.
Is it time for me? I'm not sure. Again, I am testing this out. I consider putting the ring back on every day. Yet the lingering sad truth remains, my husband isn't coming back. And I'm not betraying him by not wearing it.
I wear his wedding band on my middle finger still, because he's still a big part of my heart and this marker provides a bridge for me.
Clearly, I don't know what God has in store but I continually reflect on the question God often whispers to me, "Do you trust me?" My answer is a weak "yes" or a sarcastic, "of course" and at times just a knowing, sigh.
I share this today as just another element in the grieving spouse process. There's not an official answer to questions like this; it's another piece in the grief puzzle. It all takes time.
Who knows, I may even post later that I put it back on... I do miss wearing it.
This red shirt represents yet another treasured memory.
I have looked at it many times in the past few months, but wasn't ready to embrace wearing it until this week. Yes, it's cute and could have been a good option many times, but each time I considered it, the cascade of memories was too much.
You see, the last time I wore this red flower sweatshirt was on a springtime Josh-n-Jenn adventure to Hot Springs, Arkansas.
It was a fun get-a-way a year ago in March. We explored Hot Springs National Park, ate cupcakes, saw the historic bathhouses and cutely held hands walking the streets of this tourist town. The pups even got to see some sites. Our ultimate goal, which we achieved, was to see the tulips in bloom at Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs - a beautiful place!
It was a relaxing and beautiful weekend, driving the small highways of Arkansas and seeing hundreds of flowers in bloom. We talked about what our future might look like and listened to our favorite tunes. This was about a month before life threw an unexpected turn. I don't like thinking about that but instead, choose to dwell on the memories of our stately adventure.
But yet, I can't stop myself from thinking, "the last time I wore this shirt, Josh and I were trying to get a good selfie by the hot spring." He was also probably jokingly trying to push me in. I, of course, have worn many shirts this past year, many with memories of our time together, but for some reason, this particular one stands out.
It is fascinating how items like clothes, along with our senses (feeling, smell, taste), hold on to our memories – and even enhance them.
As a fan of fashion, I might be more inclined to link an outfit to a memory, but don't expect it is only me. I suspect many do the same. A friend who owns a local boutique once told me that she believes each item of clothing tells a unique story. This is a statement I easily agree with and is probably why it's hard to let go of these treasured articles of both my own and Josh's.
As I reflect on the memories made in this particular shirt, I wonder what future adventures might happen in this same red and teal floral print hoodie. No matter what they may be, I am thankful for the memories already captured on one very special tulip-seeking adventure in the spring of 2019.
Life is different these days, from waking up to going to sleep - it’s all new and different than it was a year or six months ago. I find myself evaluating what the word "new" means. This is a new season, but am I new person or the same person with just a new perspective? All semantics, I know.
I spent all weekend, resting - trying to get my back to relax and mend. It’s still sore, but the rest was good. This is part of a new thing I am still trying to adjust to. I like staying busy, doing things, and a year ago, I probably wouldn’t have had a weekend of resting and instead would have filled it with a few activities.
While I enjoy relaxing, it’s hard to really want to rest right now. It’s a season, where I feel like I should be doing more. But the harder I try to pick up the pace, the more I feel like God keeps saying, “Slow down. There will be time to pick up the pace. Right now, it’s time for rest and recovery.”
No, I don’t think God has intentionally caused my back to hurt, but it is helping me stay grounded, literally. Why? I don’t know. Yet, the message of rest is resounding. Each time, I lean in to listen to what God's saying, the message is consistent.
Living in a new normal means learning what it means to rest in God’s plan truly. To give myself permission, more than expected to take it easy. Six months isn't that long. Grief demands rest. Although, I keep being surprised by this same realization, it might be slowly sinking in.
Taking this thought from idea to life integration is a process of continually being okay with times of what might feel like "nothing." Doing nothing can be healing, because often doing nothing means a whole lot of processing of some things. (Yeah, that's super vague sounding.)
Often I find, we're harder on ourselves with the idea of not wanting to waste time. I know I am hardest on myself - striving to push past this, get better quicker, get moving, plan the next great escape, etc...
/// Hold the brakes.///
Wrapping up my weekend with a March 1 start, I pause by starlight to simply say, “Thanks God, for a weekend of rest.” I don’t fill my head with the list of things I should have done but accept it for what it is (or was).
Trusting that THIS REST was what I needed most, at this time.
Needed rest, for a weary body, heart and soul.
Because . . . grief is weary.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” - Matthew 11:28-30
After writing a post about worrying less and focusing on hope and health only 24 hours before, I found myself at my lowest point last night.
My back pain had drastically increased and I had been prescribed a steroid pack that didn’t seem to help the pain but just heightened my emotions. Returning from a quest to find an easy meal, I pulled back into my garage and lost it. You know the real bad, ugly cry. My back and leg were aching and as I sat for another moment to rest, I looked around the cluttered garage into the sea of boxes and mementos of our lives. You know the stuff that goes in the garage or attic in plastic totes – old pictures of Josh and myself as a kids, lots of theology books from Josh's most recent office, the wedding tote, etc.
All of it made me beyond sad. There I sat as a crumbled mess. I didn’t recover much more from that moment through the rest of the night. A lot of tissues and puppy snuggles helped some; sleep helped more.
Waking up this morning, I still had lingering back pain but felt a bit more emotionally stable. I also went to physical therapy which also provided slight relief and new strategies for the pain. As I walked through my day, I found myself thinking, “What happened yesterday?” That was a really low point. If I was grading myself on grief I might be tempted to say that was "very poor" "D-" – although grades are not allowed in grief (in my opinion).
My grief journey is complex and confusing. No matter how hard I try to figure it out, I often find myself at a loss. I look for patterns, triggers and more but still, at times, it just hits like a big crashing wave out of nowhere or maybe like that piano dropping on someone in the old Bugs Bunny shows. (That's all, folks!)
I do think the mix of physical pain, meds and lack of sleep had a lot to do with yesterday’s incident, but there's also still the baseline fact that here today, nearly five months after losing the love of my life, I am still hurting deeply. The physical pain only amplifies these emotions.
I share this today, as just another attempt at being real and honest with the yucky side of grief. There are times when I don’t know if I am okay or will be okay. I dip into new lows and find more tears – when I thought for sure they had all leaked out.
Now that I have thoroughly analyzed this, what do I do? I lean into prayer, trusting that God's strength is still there, always. I re-listened to one of Josh's sermons today, and in it he encourage me (the listener) to pray the simplest of prayers when at a loss or really low point:
“God, help me be brave in this situation.”
This is from the same message that we used in the opening of Josh’s celebration of life service, where he said.
“It may not feel like good today, in fact today what we’re getting from God it may suck, we may not like it all, we may want to chuck it across the room and say I don’t want this. But our God gives us good and even though it is bad today, I promise it will be good someday." (52:00) - such treasured words!!
I am holding on to that promise of good from both God and my late husband. Yes it is tough but I’m trying. Reading a bit of Hebrews this evening, the reminder of God's presence carried on:
"Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need." - Hebrews 4:16
View Josh's full message here
(teaching begins at 22:00)
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.