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.
In a matter of minutes, my eyes blurred. What was the trigger? Surely it couldn’t just be the opening strands of the Wilco song, Impossible Germany, right? I mean the song does have a lamentful tone but . . .
Enter the strange duality of emotions that represent what was and what is.
To recap day, I had just spent time hanging out with my boyfriend (yea- that's the guy appearing in my social media feed and wow that’s weird to say for the first time on a grief blog). Anyway, he had built a nice fire in the fireplace, we ate soup, and watched football - basic stuff on the first real cold fall evening.
In a span of 10 minutes, where I drove back to my home after hanging out, a Wilco song began to play in the car and I thought of Josh (my late husband - also weird to say). The tears rolled out as I recalled how he loved the band and the concert we went to in Dallas. I also thought about how excited he’d be to tease his friend whose team (the Dodgers) made it to the World Series THIS October - wow 2020!
As I navigate grief, I am continually surprised by how my feelings can change so suddenly - where I can go from feeling joyful after a pleasant evening of all things fall. . . to tears. Strands of sorrow so easily swing in with unwelcome vigor. My friend used these words as he encouraged me to embrace my feelings, "Its like every memory is a rock unturned" - this is so true. The memories of Josh and our life together continue to be part of my daily life - these can bring tears or laughter, and they are very much part of who I am today. I can't change this or forget it - nor do I want to.
Today, pieces of Josh - and the things he loved - like Wilco, seem to have a new meaning. Honestly, I never quite understood his fascination with the band and often found the guitar solos annoying and excessive (sorry guitarist friends!).
This now fills me with a desire to analyzing the lyrics and melodies with a fresh perspective. While I probably am personalizing it WAY too much (but that's what you do with music right?), the words of the recently heard song seem to weave perfectly into my grief story as they are beautiful and complex - much like trying to navigate life, gorgeous love and hope while wondering who is listening to my ongoing rambles about grief. Can you talk about it too much? I don't think so - but can a guitar solo be too long?
Alas, I leave the video below and the lyrics that intrigue me most here as I ponder some more.
Thanks for listening.
“This is what love is for
To be out of place
Gorgeous and alone
Face to face
With no larger problems
That need to be erased
Nothing more important
Than to know someone's listening
Now, I know you'll be listening?"
Grief is weird. And there are hundreds of weird moments that happen as you navigate seemingly exhaustive changing emotions throughout the process. At times, the weird lessens and normalcy enters, yet there are still times when the weird takes centerstage. Today, for me, that was the case.
As many of you know, we elected to have my late husband participate in a body donor program that helps with research and advancing medical knowledge of operation procedures. I knew a year ago that the program would last about a year and then, when, as they say, “He completed the program,” they would call to let me know. I got that call today.
The next step is they will ship Josh's ashes to me. Ideally, I should be home because I will need to sign for this extremely special delivery - and I don’t really want to go to the post office to pick it up if I miss it.
For the most part, landing on the year anniversary - and then some - I felt like I had hit all the significant milestones, but alas there is still this significant one to face. Trying not to compare but. . . often as part of the memorial service there is also a burial and this part of the process doesn’t linger. In this case, it feels like I have extended the process - in a very different kind of way.
There is a near sinking, pit of my stomach feeling as I think about Josh’s body being done with the program. And although, I know his personhood, soul, heart, mind and all that is (was) Josh hasn’t been here on earth since last Sept. 30, a part of me still felt like he was here as part of the donor program.
These feelings are probably linked to the part of my heart that is still bargaining and trying to create a different reality overall. Either way, I sit here on this Oct 13 evening - wondering what to do with the overall weirdness that is today’s grief narrative. I cannot help but wish for another hug or another look at Josh’s face. I miss him still and don't expect this will go away.
Yes, my grief stings less this October than last and I have found my footing more -- even when there are moments covered in a fog of weird. There are times when my emotions aren't sure what to do with it all - and I'm figuring out some areas where grief has indeed changed me. It's a continual process of analyzing my own heart and mind that is still very much here. The figuring out process is both hopeful and confusing at times - which again I think can be chalked up to a general feeling of W.E.I.R.D. ---- :)
Truthfully, we are all weird, whether in grief or not. It's really great that people still love us even if our weird slips out! This is something to be very much grateful for - both being loved in our weird and having the opportunity to love another weirdo. :)
A bit restless tonight I sat outside staring at the moon wondering what the view is like from heaven? Where is heaven exactly, anyway? I seem to automatically think it is somewhere up, outside this earth, in the sky - although I don’t know why? So, I gaze at the moon past midnight wondering if Josh (and others in heaven) can see the same moon that I do now.
Theologically, I know heaven is about a lot more than having a cooler view of the moon, but still I grasp for something that would bring those I love, who are no longer here on earth, close to me again.
Wishing for another conversation magically by moonbeam, I wonder what I would ask Josh if we could talk about my current circumstance? As my best friend, I would want to ask how to navigate life here and now? More specifically, I’d ask, “How do I let another person love and care about me in this new reality? How do I open up my heart and mind to care for someone else? Can I love someone the same as you or even more?”
Grief is really complicated and when blending in the idea of new love and relationships - it’s even more so.
So far, during the process of dating as a widow, two questions have caused me to stumble. One, from a friend who asked me months ago, “Do you believe you can be loved again?” And the other, more recent from someone currently navigating a relationship with me, “Can you let me love you?”
Both questions create a tension. Yes, I want to be loved again. And, yes I want to love deeply again. But sometimes the want and the how-to seem quite tricky to navigate. I wonder, “Is love even more complicated than grief?” Perhaps? Maybe, it’s not so much a comparison but an acknowledgement that trying to trust in love (again) as a person still grieving is quite challenging. It's hard to know what is even real and which emotions to trust.
Loving and being loved again is also risky - even as I try and remember that it is also rewarding - that my loss and grief wouldn’t cut so deep if I hadn’t loved so grand in the first place.
Entering the beginning of my second year (post loss), I believe more than anything that my late husband would want me to experience joy, love and relationship again, but as I do consider this, I must create space for this possibility. This means, letting any new relationship have its own story and narrative. This is not a do-over or a duplicate relationship — no matter how similar it may look at times. The new relationship is a very, very different thing with its own set of adventure opportunities as well as challenges.
In grieving on, I’ll keep trying to answer the questions above while trusting that the risk is worth it. Personally, it seems super weird to write about and embrace the emotions that come with it all - but it is also part of the healing process within my grief.
Recently, another blog I follow called Young, Widowed and Dating shared a guide of top questions related to dating. It is so accurate and helpful. For those out there in this season, or curious, here is a link to the e-book, "What the Widowed Community Wants You to Know - Dating Edition.
I made it! One year! I have to admit, in some ways it does feel like I completed something, yet I am not quite sure what it is, exactly.
This October 1 feels very, very different than last year when the grief was so, so near. I was at a loss - months of caretaking had ended and there was a void so large. Some things from that first week I remember, many things are still a blur. This same can be said really of the whole past year. There was a lot of movement and emotional waves.
Here and now, my mind continues to process - all the things. While driving late tonight on my way to Dallas for a quick visit, I encountered a construction zone. The road narrowed, got pretty winding, and then suddenly concrete partitions appeared on both sides - seemingly too close. (To me, this makes driving quite stressful.) As I cautiously navigated this scene in the dark - there came a sign that said, “Use caution, water on the roadway!” I actually said outloud, “What! - like this is not already dangerous enough!” Seriously! Narrow curvy roads, in the dark, with barricades and now water on the roadway?
As I spoke aloud, I thought about how the scene so much parallels the grief process. At times, you can be cruising along the grief highway navigating somewhat ok, but then you encounter a construction (or reconstruction) zone where you have to work hard to get your heart and mind somewhat back in order or stable - then the emotions plow in and amplify everything even more - making for a very tenuous situation. The work keeps going from day one to day 365 and beyond. From my experience, so far, I know the roadway does open up again for easier cruising - but navigating the hard parts still takes patience and grace.
Heading into year 2, there's still a lot of work to be done in my heart, mind and soul. There will be challenges, maybe some set backs, but hopefully a lot of opportunity to grow and trust in what's next. There is a lot of good in this.
If I have learned anything this past year, it is that God is with me - no matter how tricky the road gets at times. At the end of a hard year, I still believe God is faithful. I still wish for a different story at times but I know that God is still at work within this chapter.
Let's keep drivin'!
I intentionally took off work on Sept. 30 because it was a special day and I wasn’t sure what it would feel like. I spent the day kayaking down a beautiful Missouri River (the Niangua) with a friend who lets me be honest with my grief in such a caring way - and then wrapped up the afternoon surrounded with longtime friends on a rooftop patio watching the sunset over Springfield. Even on a day, that has a hard memory tied to it - I found so much peace, joy and hope for my own future and a depth of gratitude for my life here and now.
If I could create one of those "Monday’s be like ..." memes today - it would be one with a very weird, crazy face (maybe even goofy like this photo of Josh, but weirder because this one actually makes me laugh).
I knew going into this week, that it would be tough - as the official date anniversary of Josh’s passing is on Wednesday (Sept. 30). But what I didn’t expect was to get hit early with the realization that indeed it was a Monday when Josh passed away. The last Monday in September one year ago.
The thought hit me early Monday morning as I grabbed coffee at a local cafe, where I also spotted someone dressed in a similar style as Josh - a red puffy vest, brown hair and glasses. I knew it wasn’t him but contextually, the setting and attire still had me doing more than a double-take.
My heart and mind still wants to argue with the reality that he is no longer here on earth.
I know the truth too well. On Sunday, I even watched a banquet video honoring whole body donors, including Josh who participated in this program -- (You can watch it here if interested). Yet still, in grief, we fight to find a way to protect our own hearts from the pain we feel.
The challenge with grief is how easy it can be triggered - with the simplest things, like it being a Monday. Even when someone makes a goofy, seemingly innocent comment like "I'd rather die than ..." it can feel like a dagger to the heart of someone who has lost big. Joking with friends at a work event tonight, I had to step away several times because there were little reminders of what it was like to care for someone at the end of life. It’s complex and challenging in ways that many people don’t see or imagine.
Mixed within this, there IS hope and joy in realizing how truly blessed we are to witness another sunset, moon rising, Andy’s custard bite or even Chiefs' victory. . . but still, some days and weeks are harder than hard.
As I grieve on, there are days when I feel like I am back at day 1 - like I have lost Josh all over again. That IT IS indeed THAT Monday. To be full-out honest, it really sucks. And it hurts, deeply - even still - and comes with a stupid amount of tissues and tears.
This doesn’t mean I am going backwards in my grief process, but that I am still healing. This takes time and grace from others and ourselves (as grievers). It takes support and encouragement from those around that love us unconditionally.
Right in the middle of this healing, is a God and Savior that knows me (us) and with me (us) in my (our) pain. Christ offers grace even in our messy grief and is a source of strength for another messy day (or week, etc...) This is good news, even on a messy, emotive Monday.
The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him." –- Exodus 15:2
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.