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
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)
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.