This week, (a week before the one year anniversary) I’ve been sorting through a range of feelings. From remembrance, to freedom to something I can’t quite put my finger on...Is it survivors guilt? I don’t know. But within the last five days, the contrast between this year and last year has magnified.
Last year, at this time, my world was heavy. I slept little, often on the couch next to Josh, checking on him constantly to see if he was ok - did he needed anything. I told him I loved him often and checked in with the hospice nurse about growing concerns. I rarely wanted to leave his side not knowing the time table that life still offered but feeling like there was not much time left.
One year later, as the anniversary approaches, I find that I am filled with peace. I can paddle around an Ozarks' river enjoying every little detail without worrying that I need to get back or do something. I can soak in the beauty of creation and praise God in an even deeper way. I can breath in deep.
Being able to do this, doesn’t erase the fact that I miss Josh’s presence in life greatly, but I know he would be proud that I am continuing on and still being “me” - even if this version of me feels like an alternative version at times.
Would Josh be surprised that I bought a camper or a kayak or a house in Springfield? Maybe, but probably not.
As I glide through this new season, thoughts of self-doubt rise up and I wonder, “Am I really going to make it? Will I fall apart at some moment? Is this a fake it ‘til you make it situation? Am I faking it or actually making it? Where am I making it to? After all, I still am not sure there is a grief finish line.”
Don’t worry, as my fellow reader you don’t have to answer these questions for me - they are merely musings of my mind. (It gets messy in there!)
What I do know is that here today, God is guiding me in the waters of peace. It is beautiful - even if there is some icky stuff in the murky water.
There are new pathways to navigate and still pools of tears that reflect my fragile heart.
As I sense God peace, I am amazed and recognize it truly as a peace that passes all understanding. And in the same way that God was near last year, he is still near today. In good times and bad, God is near - how incredible.
Last year, anxious was focus word in this passage for me, this year it is peace. Transitioning from anxiousness to peacefulness quite the process, maybe much like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon.
“Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." - Philippians 4:5-7 NASB
Like a sudden storm that hits, grief can try and swallow you up at times and create a mess out of things that are seemingly in order .
Life may be ticking along when suddenly a call, conversation or memento triggers a million thoughts.
Today, I opened the jewelry box to find my wedding ring. I put it on. I wore it for several hours.
I hadn't worn it in many months - So why would I put it on now?
Because I love the ring, it’s pretty. It fits my finger perfectly. And I miss wearing it.
Beyond this, I miss being married. I miss how comfortable our relationship was and how I had learn to navigate life with someone I loved greatly, who in turn loved me greatly.
Here and now, it’s really tricky because I want that again. But that specific relationship is not one that I can have exactly. Because, that combo of people is unavailable.
Sure, I can find similar feelings and a similar connection with someone. There is a lot of opportunity for love and relationship still it is going to look different.
Putting on this old ring. I almost want to pretend Josh is just out of town - it’s my heart and mind still bargaining with truth.
However, the truth is still unavoidable.
After a little while, I put this treasured ring back in the box. I take a deep breath and ask for God’s wisdom in trusting him more as I navigate my future next steps - whatever this means.
This month has clicked by day by day like that ticking crocodile in Peter Pan. It started 12 days ago with the realization that it was indeed the first day of September.
This is usually a wonderful month as the seasons change, fall decor appears, new activities and sports begin. The weather dips slightly and the desire for pumpkin spice items increases to a ridiculous level. I actually love fall and especially pumpkin time (my most favorite time!)
However, this year there is a bit of a sting to the word September.
My mind and heart cannot help but feel rattled as I connect to the fact that September was the month Josh died - more specifically the very last day of September one year ago. Ugh! There is not much joy in this realization.
I am rounding the bend, so to speak, to the one year mark and it still seems so surreal. Particularly this month, new waves of grief have hit almost recklessly –– and I am only 12 days in! I admit, I find it almost annoying –– even though I know at root it is because of a great love that I hold in my heart for Josh and our story together.
Still, I wish I wouldn’t spontaneously cry over a new love song I hear or because the Chiefs' season began or because cardigan season is almost here. As much as I want to simply, “move on” to the next phase, there are times when I feel completely stuck, baffled. I wonder if September will always sting a bit?
Looking at the broader picture of grief and widowhood, the new waves of grief serve as a reminder that the process of sorting out all the emotions is still ongoing and there is no real time table on it.
Additionally, this means realizing (and being okay with) the fact that last year's life disruption will create additional waves as I paddle into new and changing grief waters. This means, there will be moments when people encounter my heartache even if I would rather them not see it. (Quick reminder for myself and you: acknowledging the sorrow and the tears, isn't a sign of weakness - it's part of grieving on honestly. But yes it's messy!)
As I strive to be honest with my grief and acknowledge the various patterns and emotions, I still can’t make sense of it all the time. Grief is NOT always logical - and that in itself is also annoying!
An interesting passage sits in the middle of Chapter 3 of Lamentations, a sorrowful book and even chapter that still spotlights hope. For me, it's a great reminder for this challenging fall month. The "Therefore" at the end...is a good one . . . The Lord is my portion.
The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I have hope in Him.”
– Lamentations 3:22-24
Sometimes within the life of a widow/widower you become your own worst enemy. You might think this sounds a bit dramatic but I am beginning to think it is true.
You look at your life and the love you shared with your significant other and a range of thoughts that are not healthy flood the mind and try to take over.
“I could never love or be loved again.”
“I am broken from this event, who would want this in their life!”
“I have suddenly gone crazy - emotionally unstable in all ways, best to just avoid people.”
Of course, when seeing these statements on the page in black and white, it’s clear that they are not the result of rational thinking. Especially, if remembering the ultimate truth that we are loved greatly by God who loves even the messy, sad, and complicated parts of our lives. Yet, when missing our loved one and trying to navigate new spaces, events and relationships, the emotional apple-cart can get disrupted something fierce (so easily I might say!) and it’s kind of annoying really.
Some thoughts could be chalked up to insecurity, sure. But I feel like it is something different - something more along the lines of fear. If I choose to “put myself out there” and possibly like or dare I say love someone other than my late spouse, will I be able to? And if I do go “all in” will something also happen to that person. Will they suddenly realize that I am really crazy and just leave? And I'll be alone again . . .
The “what if” statements for me solidify the concept that this emotional reaction is rooted in fear. I have heard it said that the opposite of love is not hate but rather fear. This really seems to make sense in the context of trying to grieve on as a widow.
Let me share a bit more personally . . .
About three months ago, I began dating someone amazing - and each passing week it’s gotten more serious - turning into a real relationship. This relationship, of course, looks very different and has its own layers of story to navigate. It’s been absolutely wonderful getting to know someone and have adventures alongside them. I've found that even with a bit of a hole in my heart, I still want to embrace the relationship more often than not.
Still, there is a part of me that keeps trying to retreat to a place of illogical fear. The place where I pull out the example statements from above. And I find myself in a spot where I wonder if I can actually share my life and heart again. Surely so, right? Why then do I keep circling the emotional drain? Because grief is complicated. Love, trust and relationships (new and old) are complicated.
Looking back at my own writings, my desire to share life and love again because I have experienced it so beautifully has not changed. Yet when push comes to shove, I honestly am still afraid of my ability to do this.
This leaves me with a lingering question, how does one power through irrational thoughts based in fear and instead return to a reality built on hope, trust and love?
My first thought, “I don’t know.”
The second, God’s love and grace.
Here are a few points I am trying to focus on for my own heart health. I hope they also are an encouragement to fellow widowers (or even those grieving broken relationships)
The question lingered in my mind all night. It was a simple question that caught me off guard and stuck like glue.
“How long has it been?”
My response was delayed as I considered other possible answers. How long has it been since I last drank coffee? Lived in Missouri? Seen you last? . . . Yep, no. None of those answers were the intent and I knew it.
I filled in the blank with my answer . . . “Since Josh passed away?” The gentle head nod, confirmed my instinct.
At the moment of the question, I did not have the exact day count at the tip of my tongue, but merely answered, “It will be a year on September 30, so about 11 months." The conversation continued on as we talked about grief, widowhood and life in this new season. It was a good conversation - even if complex.
From that moment, however, the question remained lodged in my mind. It sounded like an echo . . . “How long has it been?” . . . an echo that grew louder on the drive home and in the quiet of my home. Six hours later, still pondering this question, I determined the specific number of days: 315. (There’s even a website that can tell you the answer to this question precisely: howlongagogo.com. However, I am not sure that this is really helpful or healthy for those grieving.
I digress . . .
In my previous post, I talked about the time warp of grief and how curious it is - as days and years seems to blur together. It has been a while since I specifically counted how many days it has been yet within my story nearly every action and decision within the past 11 months relates to the loss of my spouse. Big decisions, little decisions alike.
During this period, much has happened in the world, friends have had babies, my friends' kids started their senior year and graduated, friends moved, changed jobs and so much more. On top of this our world has encountered a new way of living with Covid-19 dominating everyday conversation. It’s been a wild ride from 2019 into the thick of 2020 and I think we all feel a bit beaten down.
For me, the reality check of grief still happens often. Life is different. Time is still moving forward, my heart still is healing - this still takes a lot of time and thought.
As that question continues to linger in my head I feel the sorrow hit and I think of another answer that feels a bit less technical.
How long has it been?
Grief and time weave together in a unique fashion. Like opposite sides of a teeter-totter, the loss of someone truly loved can feel like it just happened yesterday and then swing to feel like a lifetime ago.
Today, Aug. 2, marks what would have been my mom’s 68th birthday. Simultaneously, as this new month begins, so hits the 11th month since Josh passed away. In the same sentence, I find myself asking how has it been 22 years and how has it already almost been a year -- so much has happened!
To me, grief creates a type of time warp. I can easily travel back to moments and memories and vividly recall the feelings of joy, laughter, sorrow and loss all over again. I can remember the sound of their voices - even as I forget other details in my life story.
Sitting with my aunt Brenda and uncle Dan tonight - on the eve of my aunt’s 60th birthday - we talked about time and thanksgiving. My aunt shared her own thanksgiving for all that she has witnessed here on earth even since my mom passed away. There is beauty in acknowledging God’s continued faithfulness, comfort and care within our families. Even though this beauty, at times, contains great sorrow, it is no less beautiful.
I admit, I often wish my mom and late husband could see me now. Maybe they can? That’s a whole tricky theological conversation that I don’t dare tackle. As people still on earth trying to reconcile grief, we might hope that those who aren’t here would be proud of us. And while I do like this idea, my aim is above the horizon as I strive to honor God.
I strive to do this by continuing to honestly process my grief, not in hopes of making those who have gone on proud, but as a way to be present and active within my unfolding story. My aim: to actively love Christ and others with each new day because each new day is a gift.
As I continue to navigate life as a new (returning) Missouri resident in a new home that is very much Jenn-themed - birds, piano in the living room, etc. There are new stories to tell - some that I really would love to share with my mom and Josh - and some that are just for me and some new and familiar friends on this leg of the journey.
Embarking on so much new lately had me on a quest for verses about “new days” where I soon discovered Psalm 46. There’s a lot of good stuff here. For me, it is some added encouraging fuel for a new month, new week, new day, new job and even new house.
I hope these encourage you also.
Psalm 46: 1- 5 (NASB)
God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change
And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea;
Though its waters roar and foam,
Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
The holy dwelling places of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
(Bonus interesting paraphrase from
The Message of Psalm 46:8-10 that highlights where my focus should truly be.)
Attention, all! See the marvels of God!
He plants flowers and trees all over the earth,
Bans war from pole to pole,
breaks all the weapons across his knee.
“Step out of the traffic! Take a long,
loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.”
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.