Sitting down to write a reflection of this September 30, and even now – two years later – it still seems unfair that Josh isn’t here. Of course, there's a lot about life that is unfair, so does saying this help? Maybe not, but it is a true statement that represents my feelings and others also.
Navigating grief has been and still is, an ongoing challenge. It’s like walking uphill in an elevation you aren't prepared for. It doesn’t escape me that today’s adventure outing with Erin (Josh’s sister) represents grief so fittingly.
On our moderate hillside Colorado hike, I found myself pausing way more than I wanted to catch my breath. We even deemed the term, " the mountain mosey,” as a way of walking extra slowly up the hill. I debated turning back at one point but powered through to the next level. In my mind, and out loud, I wondered often, “Why is this so hard?” Of course, there are some logical answers to this question, such as the elevation in Missouri is much lower, I haven’t trained for this, I ate a lot of carbs for breakfast, etc . . . but still it was frustrating; so is grief.
While you can gear up and train for a mountain climb - navigating loss is harder because it so often catches you off guard. Even if you have experienced grief before, each time and story is unique. What I have found is that once you are in it, there's work to do. Moving through grief slowly, with honesty and intentionality is helpful.
I still don’t believe our culture shares enough about grief. We tend to shy away from how we really feel, and how a loss can impact us so deeply. We tend to try and bounce back into our busy lives - without making much of a change. We quickly stop talking about how the loss of someone has impacted us or how it’s changed us - because it does change us at some level, always (or should.)
Navigating my own grief process ever still means continuing to step up that mountain. It might be slow at times and might feel selfish at times, but the reminder that self-care is not selfish is always good.
My grief and self-care “training regiment” is still a work in process, but today, it includes pausing for special occasions, writing, and taking time to be outside to explore and wrestle out the various emotions that still come with grief. It means talking with a counselor. And, it means continuing to remember the incredible, beautiful moments Josh and I shared while at the same time investing in friends and family who still surround me today.
This “training regiment” is still a work in progress, but so I am.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” - Phil. 1:6
Within today's grief narrative, I find there is a pit in my stomach as the date of when I last sat beside my loved one living and breathing approaches. Today is Sept 29, 2021, nearly two years before the "tomorrow" when I officially said goodbye to Josh. I recall that weekend not going well and my anxiety was high. It was a Sunday - but not a typical Sunday with church and all the things. In fact, none of the Sundays for the past six months had really been typical. Our life had been flipped upside down. Ugh...brain cancer. I can still feel the weight of anxiety within me as I reflect back.
Fast forward, two years and I am free to travel on a road trip through Kansas to see my sister-in-law. Currently, my dogs are laying at my feet as I type this post with the door is open inside a KOA cabin in Wakeeney - it's glorious outside and the highway noise reminds me that life does indeed go on.
My life that existed two years ago is very different today - yet I am still Jenn Brown. A person who still enjoys life, music, road trips, puppies, shoes, new adventures, relationships, and my ongoing journey with God. How my life displays this day is quite different, with the primary change being that Josh (my husband) is not around to share in these adventures.
On top of all of this, I find myself wrestling with trust - both trusting myself and God with what is happening and what might happen next. I don’t believe I am alone in the challenge of trusting again after loss or change. It would be easy for me to just say, “God is good! Just keep trusting him! All will be fine!” These are true statements. Yet, it is harder to say them, believe them and feel them – often it is REALLY hard to feel them.
There are times when I don’t truly believe I’ll be fine or that it will all "work out," but that is part of the trusting part – believing at core that God has a much, much larger perspective than I ever will. Trusting that there is still so much beauty discover if I keep stepping forward in my grief, in my story, and with the hope and peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.
So with this thought in mind, I make a "toast" . . . here’s to today, where once again I am asking God to be WITH me (both today and tomorrow) in a different way, and as the rest of Philippians 4:7 says to guard [my] heart and [my] mind in Christ Jesus.
Another version of the same passage (below) in The Message version is even stronger. I especially like the last line: "It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life!
Whew! I am not there yet and may not ever be but what a challenging thought.
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.
Grieving is such a personal thing - even when engaging in this process with other friends and family around there is still so much that is tackled independently. This work is a heart issue and a head issue. It takes physical strength and time — so much time, and it can easily become “all about me.”
On a recent trip down memory lane when visiting familiar sites in Arkansas, I found myself really wrestling with all the thoughts. Here are a few questions that filtered through my mind …
“Will I ever get over this”
“Can I move forward?”
“Will I never stop missing you?”
“Why can’t I get this grief door to close a little more?”
“Am I making progress?”
“Am I actually helping anyone else with my experience?”
As you can see there is one recurring item in each question -- I.
With this realization, I started to wonder if at times I am too self-absorbed within my own narrative. How can I turn this around and use my story to encourage someone else. How do I encourage a new widow whose spouse passed away this week, or maybe even today? After a day of moping a bit and trying to figure out what’s happening, a new thought hit me this morning.
I can chose to let my grief define me or refine me.
Looking at the big story of God, I know that He is always trying to work through me to refine me (and us). This process means looking more like Christ than ourselves and it means caring more about other people than ourselves - not always easy!
Don’t get me wrong, self care and honest introspection is important, but while we work on our hearts and minds, there is room and opportunity to see other people and care for them also. This isn’t easy because our own grief really takes a toll and can take over. We can also try to counterbalance too much where we focus on others so much that we fail to do our own grief work - also not good.
Here I am somewhere in the middle, realizing a need to have a little more of a grief strategy - if there is such a thing. Here are a couple things I am going to try to shift the focus in a different way. This means doing two things for others and one for myself (with hopes of it going beyond this week).
This week specifically, I am going to do a random act of kindness for someone whose spouse is in the hospital and send a card (or two) to a fellow widow. For myself, I’m going to focus on truth from God's word that is both a reminder that God has seen the good and hard parts of life and still is with me (us) going forward.
Psalm 42:8 (The Message)
When my soul is in the dumps, I rehearse everything I know of you, From Jordan depths to Hermon heights, including Mount Mizar. Chaos calls to chaos, to the tune of whitewater rapids. Your breaking surf, your thundering breakers crash and crush me.
Then God promises to love me all day, sing songs all through the night!
My life is God’s prayer.
(Sidebar: Interestingly this was the verse of the day when I sat down to write this! I was going to use another one but this seem 100% perfect! This whole chapter wrestles with doubt and hope.)
The scene opens with us parting ways. For some reason, we had to take two different flights to reach our final destination. We’re flexible people so sure, why not? You head to the gate to catch your flight and I head to mine. I don’t recall us even saying, “Goodbye,” but we surely did.
The scene shifts and suddenly I’m rushing around to catch my own plane after learning the departure gate is in another terminal. I run to where it should be and see the gate coming down from the top and do the only logical thing . . . I run faster and try to slide under it like a baseball player trying to slide into home plate. My bag and arms make it but the rest of me – not so much.
On the other side of the gate, a flight attendant shakes their head and says, “Nice try.”
I beg and ask if there is anyway I can get on the flight.
Her response, “No, I’m sorry.” . . . “But I have to meet my husband.”
/// END SCENE ///
Waking from this vivid dream, I can’t help but feel it deeply. Beyond this, I can’t help but see its connection within my own grief narrative. At the time of first composing this post it had been 675 days since our departure from one another.
Much has changed in this time but the ache of the separation still resonates. I have made progress, become stronger, found independence and healing in new ways. I’ve navigated new conversations and relationships, but the emotion of grief still ignites easily.
Sometimes the trigger comes from music, sometimes by sharing a bit of our story - telling a stranger about you and us; it is easy to find the undercurrent. I can even try and justify the dream and emotion with logic (although grief isn’t logical but humor me). Obviously, this dream sprung from singing two songs before bed - “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and another one called “Loving Her (You) Was Easier” by Kris Kristofferson. (Sidebar: in this new season of life, I’ve taken up singing old country songs at a random jamboree and find myself practicing them often).
Anyway . . . singing the final refrain to the Kristofferson song before falling asleep had already filled my heart with emotion . . .
Talking of tomorrow and the money, love and team we’d have to spend.
Loving you was easier than anything I’ll ever do again.
“That’s true.” I said outloud as I set the guitar down.
In the tenure of Josh and I’s relationship that spanned two decades, not every moment was easy. But here today, I can confirm this melodic line was mostly true. Loving Josh was easy because we figured out how to do it along the way in all seasons - good and bad. Loving Josh was easy because we had learned to trust, flex, forgive, adventure and so much more.
Now, Josh has traveled on to his final destination and I am still here trying to figure out what’s the next step in the plan and how it was so easy. Can it be THAT easy again?
This new season feels different than anything I’ve ever experienced - it's far from easy. Often It feels unsettling and I don’t always like it. I still imagine what it might look like when we reunite, and at the same time I want to also learn how to love with ease in the uncomfortable. Is this possible?
I question, "What will it take to sing these words again?" The answer: it will take time God, hope, trust and more.
All I can do with this is pray for God’s help and guidance and remember that I am still on a journey that has not yet been defined. Meanwhile, I can still pause to say a word of thanksgiving for the adventure and love that was shared and know that it was a true gift.
(A few photos of our time in airports and planes included in this post)
Grief stretches you often.
It can feel like a rubber band that continues to stretch one way then another.
The latest movement has me at a baseball game. A beloved KC Royals game to be specific. A team adored by late husband and also my now boyfriend.
Throughout the drive up to the Kansas City many memories flash through my mind of the last time I drove the same highway. Two plus years ago with Josh - on our way to the Mayo Clinic - to see if there were answers.
We didn’t stop for baseball in KC, but had enjoyed a game six months before.
Reality Stretch … Back to present day, tonight the royals are playing the Twins.
The last time I watched the twins, was with Josh in Minnesota at their stadium. It was the last ballgame we attended together and it was special to fit in another stadium on MLB list.
Oh wow!! The Royals just hit a home right at us!! How fun! New first time memories with new friends…I am back to today. It’s good to be here but I have to push myself … “stay in the moment Jenn!”
Living in both realities is challenging. There is good to experience. There was good experience. There is a thread that links - in this case a love of royals baseball - but that isn’t the thing on which to focus.
In an attempt to be here and there, I take a moment to text baseball friends - some who Josh would often message when we visited any stadium. It’s a nod to the what was, who he was.
Grieving on continues to be an acknowledgment of what was and what is.
Sticking with the baseball and rubber band maybe it’s just a big ol’ seventh inning stretch.
If you’ve ever spent time playing in the ocean, you probably know it is unpredictable. One moment you’re having fun jumping the big, yet manageable waves and then suddenly. . . a big one comes along . . . and smashes you right in the face knocking off your sunnies. The water carries you back toward shore or possibly knocks you deeper into the water.
It seems this is such a great example of the grief process, as well.
This week, I am on vacation with my late husband’s family. It’s been a beautiful time in many ways from the scenery to family fun and new memories. Of course there have been moments when I was reminded that the person who connects me to this family officially isn’t present, but these thoughts have been manageable. At one point on the trip, I even thought about how I have gotten somewhat used to the fact that Josh is no longer part of my daily life or the person I call and share stories with - other people get this attention.
Yet, a sneaker wave still hit midway on this trip during family picture time. I was doing fine for the initial large group shots by the back-porch pool, but then something changed inside me when the smaller group pictures involving Josh's brother and sister started -- and it must have shown.
My sister-in-law spotted the change, and asked the simple question, “You doing ok?” I immediately choked up and couldn’t speak. We left the scene, trying to find a distraction. A few moments later I landed on the front porch sharing more tears with a brother-in-law, along with the acknowledgment that, “Yeah, this is still tough at times. He is still missing.”
I miss him. We miss him. And our family photos will look different this year and every year from now on. Life in general will look different. (Even though I technically already know that!)
As I take strides toward health and healing, and feel stronger with each milestone, grief still follows me and hurts. There are times when I wonder if I will ever fully recover. Maybe not - but I’ll keep grieving on and enjoying life, knowing that there will be times when grief hits without warning. It might annoy me, but it is also a reminder of something beautiful.
The beauty that comes with the encouraging hugs and reminders that love is both deep and wide and is past and future. I also am not alone in my grief. And just like the spectacular sunset view that concluded this evening, there are new scenes being painted.
The final hours of my night conclude with me writing this in my solo oversized bunk-bed room - still feeling rattled by this grief wave. I know I’ll be ok, but am not feeling "top-notch!" Tomorrow's a new day. And God is still good.
I am thankful for this dear family that still sees me in the hard moments, hugs me, and makes sure I'm not wandering alone. Family that walks to see the sunset with me (sometimes literally and sometimes metaphorically).
It is a special thing when two families come together, sometimes complicated and layered but still special.
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.