Oh the places widowhood might take you. Today I found myself encountering two different topics within my grief journey.
Grief Takes Bravery
As a naturally independent person - on the introvert side - I don't mind doing things solo. It's easier to hike, explore or even kayak without feeling awkward but eating out or grabbing a drink solo takes a uncomfortable step of bravery.
For some it might be easy to go out but for me it's different and I'm still exploring it. So tonight, I had a few moments and thought why not go out and have a beer. The funny thing is I am not really a beer drinker but in the past year I have been trying out doing things as a independent person.
It’s not that I am out there hanging at a bar hoping to meet anyone but more the fact that I am taking a step to do something that pushes me to be confident sitting in a space solo.
It’s different from hiking, exploring or kayaking and feels a bit more uncomfortable. It also not that I don’t have friends who could go with me but it’s just that it’s a step.
As sit at the table for 2-3, I can’t help but imagine Josh’s smile face across from me. We went out to many meals of the years, sometimes with drinks but really rarely at a pub - not typically the go to place for someone in a pastoral position (and yes there’s a whole lot of conversation that could happen on that subject but it’s not the point of this post). A couple times my eyes started to tear up as I imagined having my spouse, my friend sitting across from me smiling recounting his stay or latest success of woe of life. I blinked them away, trying to focus on the jazz music playing.
Sitting in this space solo, with no agenda except to try and live in the fact that I am in a new chapter takes bravery. Maybe I am bragging about this fact but it’s really just an acknowledgement. It definitely would be easier to be at home but it also wouldn’t have been as interesting. I enjoyed the live band, the coffee stout beer and watching the crowd around me. I didn’t enjoy the fact that my bestie wasn’t there but did also think about who might be there next time with me (probably a good friend who has been there with me recently also!)
Grief Takes Grace
My brave outing tonight did finish with an interesting grace challenge. Just as I was about the leave I spotted a long-time friend sitting across the room. He was a good friend of myself and my late spouse now almost 20 years ago. We shared many memories together, he was even in our wedding. I hadn’t seen him in a while and I knew that the distance of friendship was something that hurt my late spouse much.
I had expected to hear from this friend after Josh passed but never did. But he was a friend so why not go say hi tonight. I did and yea it was a little weird. He said, “Great to see you, thanks for saying hi!” Oh do you live here now. And we chatted briefly about him having a kid. He asked how I was doing a couple times and that was it.
I walked away feeling so frustrated.
I had placed the nice card that offered grace but really I wanted to say -“Why!?” Why didn’t you ever reach out again? You were a great friend who disappeared. And even now - you don’t even acknowledge the fact that you new my beloved? Almost like he never existed to you.
Now to give credit, my new friend - who doesn’t know these people - did say, “Maybe he just doesn’t know what to say so he doesn’t acknowledge it.” Maybe. But I don’t buy it. My grace is so challenged in all of this because I want so bad to define my last love. I want this friend to acknowledge that he indeed did miss him and that he was sorry he isn’t here any more.
This is part of my own grief process and I know it is a “thing” to want to almost avenge your lost love.
So how do I walk away In grace? Well I did walk away but I know I can’t harbor these feelings. I have to let them go and know that I make step to say hello. And that step is something my late spouse would have wanted to. The time lost over the years between this friend and me (and us) would have felt weird, even if Josh had been in the room.
And that still is the big challenge. My grief has changed my reality - it has changed so much.
With God’s grace, I am able to continue forward and open my heart to try and understand that grief impacts everyone differently. Some can’t even put one word out to address it and even if I don’t like that fact - I can as gracefully as possible accept it.
It’s #nationalwidowsday. Something I didn’t realize last year when May 3 passed or really any of the years before.
But today, the declaration caught my attention. It still seems so strange to identify myself as a widow. Yet, it is my reality. Now, of course, I know this is not the only defining statement of who I am — many characteristics describe me, I even have a list I keep as a reminder — but it is a powerful one.
So, what does it mean to me to hold the label of widow? (Now 18ish months in this category.)
It means that every day I think about my late spouse and I miss him in some capacity.
It means that each day I intentionally choose to keep moving forward, enjoying the gift of life that is front of me. This could be pausing or escaping to enjoy nature, sharing silly pictures of shoes, adventuring with someone new, or hoping to be there for someone else.
It means I have the opportunity to share my story with others who are navigating life as widows and widowers. To say, yea, it stings!
It means it’s easy to drift into wanting to be self- protective for fear of getting hurt for whatever reason.
I means I have experienced great love! A love and friendship that can still be celebrated and talked about - there’s no secret or shame in it.
And, it means that even as I strive to enjoy each God-given day, a part of my heart lingers in a world of sorrow that is hard to explain and at times escape.
National Widows’ day is not a day you put “happy” in front of, but is one that can be used to say “I see you” to fellow widows.
To say, “You matter so very much!”
My post here was inspired by one the group Young, Widowed and Dating, shared earlier today, talking about the ways we are different. It ended with these powerful words
“It doesn’t matter if you’re grieving the person your spouse was,
Or the person they had yet to become…
Your loss matters.
Your loss is significant.
Your loss should be expressed.
Your loss should be acknowledged.
Your grief is real.
Your grief is valid.
Your grief should be accepted.
Your grief should be supported. “
Yes, it’s a goofy thing to proclaim. Mowing is a basic chore that many men and women do frequently. However, today’s task of mowing my own lawn represents much and feels like a victory.
While plowing over the way too long strands of grass (and many wild onions), I, of course, had time to ponder life. The last time I remember mowing the lawn was in 2003 or 2004 – just few years ago - ha! I think we even had a riding lawnmower, and I might have been mowing because Josh was undergoing chemotherapy - but I’m not sure.
For the most part, our general marriage agreement was that he took care of outside chores and I did the inside ones (with some caveats). Josh loved mowing, making all the fancy lines and getting it all just right. He took great pride in a fresh-manicured space. While I enjoyed seeing today's lawn tidied up, I didn’t tap into that same sense of joy upon completion. I did, however, feel a new sense of accomplishment.
You see, this task represents yet another marker in my story. An activity to add to the list of activities I’ve done since my spouse passed away - now a year and seven months ago and over two years since his brain tumor diagnosis.
Today's mow had me thinking about basic things I've navigated as a widow, including getting a new job, buying and selling houses, paying taxes as a designated “single” person and allowing many friends help mow my lawn. There are also a few, more fun activities like joining a marble-hunting group (today's marble find below), taking up kayaking, buying a camper, and even dating. So many things – not too many, but still many.
The thought crosses my mind that this is another thing I'm doing without Josh, but I don't linger in that space. Yes, the heartache of losing him still stings at times and I miss seeing him do simple things like mow the lawn. Yet, life continues forward and there is joy to discover in big moments, in new moments, and in realizing that after everything, I am still “making it!”
I know God is still by my side and so are many others.
There are moments when I wish the story was different, but I am genuinely intrigued by the story God is writing now. I guess I could say, the grass is a bit greener, but I still really haven’t found the “other side” of grief and don’t expect I will.
Grief is a continual process of hard work and self-reflection while navigating hope and healing.
For my fellow grievers out there, hold on. God's got you and you can do much more than you even imagine. You probably can even mow your own lawn or find someone who loves doing it more than you (that's okay too!! :)
There is no timetable on grief and it’s impact on your life. How we process and feel it fluctuates over time but it is still not something that disappears.
Today, I took a walk in the misty rain where I discovered a very old cemetery with date markers in the 1800s. Maybe it was the reflective nature of my own grief - of late and always, but a question entered my mind. I wondered how the people around them felt when this person died - how did grief impact their life? How did their heartache present itself? If I talked to them today would they still acknowledge its sharpness?
Grief is different for each of us, but a friend recently reminded me that even though it is different, there is a thread that allows us to relate and comfort one another. This could be called empathy - but it is also part of being human. Because of our experience we can feel the depth of that emotion.
Interestingly, the Lenten devotional I read today was titled, Godly Grief. What does this mean? It means that even in our grief and heartache, God is with us. He walks with us and comforts us. This comfort last through many seasons, decades and generations.
What an encouraging reminder for this day.
No matter how fresh or distant your grief is today, God is with you. You are not alone in this experience and it still takes time.
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.”
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.