I admit, I am not much of a gardener, nor someone who has say, "a green thumb." I get the general idea and appreciate people who do this well but so far, personally, I have not succeeded in this area. Maybe someday this will captivate me more, but I'd be surprised and for now would rather just go outside and explore places where nature does its thing.
Still, I find myself currently thinking of gardening terms in relation to my grief journey. Specifically, the word that comes to mind this week is "tilling." This is a term for "turning over and breaking up the soil" to prepare for what's next. If looking at a gardening guide, tilling is described as something that is needed when mixing amendments or new things into the soil.
This seems to be what's happening in my life lately. As I near the end of seven months of processing my husband's absence, and a year of living with the fact that he had brain cancer, I find myself digging deeper into my grief journey, processing new layers almost daily.
I am by no means an expert on all things grief, but have explored a lot of the emotional space from feeling lost and alone in my own home, to taking time to recover and enjoy life, to sorting through boxes and closets filled with memories and so much more.
This spring, I find myself exploring new areas of life, friendships and leaning into my "new status" as a widow. It is often a very confusing time - where my emotions and thoughts battle with how to keep moving forward while wanting to hold tight to so much good that has been part of my story. I keep trying to "figure out" how to live in a dual reality of loving what was but considering what could be.
As someone who typically lands in the optimistic camp of life, genuinely acknowledging grief for both the good and very hard, can be a tricky balance. I see the good that God is doing and has done in my life and heart this year and I am thankful for his faithfulness and comfort. Yet, my heart is still hurt - and that healing takes time. It takes time and even a lot of grace as I till through the emotions and messy layers. I don't really like that it takes time. (Patience . . . ugh!)
How long will I be in this tilling process? Who knows, but it's the concept for now. I know there is good that takes root and grows out of these seasons - in both the fun, silly, weird, confusing and hard parts of it.
Life and grief is definitely interesting.
There are many references to soil in the Bible, but for today I find encouragement in the words below which remind me again that God's story is way bigger than my story:
"For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations." – Isaiah 61:11
Purpose & Trust
After months of wrestling, I still find myself confronted with the question of "Why?"
Why did this event have to happen? What is the purpose of this pain? The pain that is in my heart; the pain found within my grief. The pain that is associated with the specific event of losing my spouse, my love.
I've been able to move forward and navigate life gently, I think, somewhat successfully. I still find great joy in the little things: birds flittering in the sky, waterfalls, shoes, adventures, etc. And the big things: deep friendships, writing, my job, what God is doing within me, etc. But even an optimistic person such as myself can still get sideswiped by the pain and hurt that weaves within a grief journey.
Over the past few months, I've learned how to predict the grief patterns within my emotions, much like a seasoned weatherman specializing in grief storms. This makes it easier sometimes, yet still some storms hit with little warning. For example, just yesterday, when sorting through books, I found both a sweet card Josh wrote me years ago and notes to the last sermon he shared in March last year (listen online).
This particular discovery floored me as his hand-written "big idea" stated, "How far will we go?" And although it was from John, it was pasted in Job of all places! Ugh!
Settling in for church online today with a fresh bout of grief lingering still, I laughed slightly at the message that seemed perfectly timed, yet still hard to hear. The title: "There's Purpose in Your Pain."
In my grief processing yesterday, I asked God this very question, "What is the reason for all of this? I just can't see it."
I so badly want to find the purpose, thinking at times if I can identify the purpose, it will help me feel better. But would finding the purpose take away my pain? Probably not, but a piece of me hopes so and therefore strives to solve a problem I can't solve. I am tired of tear-stained pillows and emotional storms blasting into my life. Bleh.
What's the solution? What do I do?
In a way, the answer is: nothing. But really, it isn't nothing; it's everything. The answer is to keep trusting and keep taking steps forward in my relationship with God. Easy right?
As I continued to wrestling with this concept throughout the day. I paused for a few minutes beside a beautiful flowing stream and honestly shared with God that "I want there to be a purpose to this pain."
His response: "It's not your job to find the purpose. It's your job to trust me."
Continuously, in my grief, the theme of trusting God and his timing shows up. I want to buck up against it but at the same time, I cannot move forward without it. If I circle back to the hand-written words from Josh's message, the question of "How far will I go?" lingers.
How far will I go when it comes to trusting that God does indeed have purpose for this pain?
How far am I willing to go with this whole trust thing?
The Audible Sound of Grief
It's hard to talk about our grief.
To REALLY talk about it, to name it. To identify the feelings that layer upon each other so delicately.
Today, I found myself verbalizing my own grief experience at different times with different people in different ways.
It was good to share but also exhausting and even weird feeling. And, at the end of a full day of much grief discussion, I found I wanted ice cream, again. (It's official; I now associate grief and ice cream together – I guess it could be worse.)
This journey of grief discussion covered feelings about this past Easter weekend, the general month of April, and even forward-thinking as I acknowledge what's coming next — what would have been our 18th wedding anniversary in May.
One avenue of grief processing, of course, is thinking about it and processing it internally. Another is processing it externally through journaling or other creative outlets. But often, the hardest way means verbally discussing our grief with others – this is the process of giving voice to our thoughts and emotions. I participated in this activity and even witnessed it as part of our online GriefShare discussion tonight.
It can be hard to label our grief with words or determine the right words to express such deep emotions that reside within. Stating even obvious pieces of our story feels vulnerable and perhaps icky. Yet, there is good that comes from giving an audible voice to these thoughts and feelings – to truly acknowledge them.
I, of course, am still learning how this works. And even though it may seem like I am more comfortable discussing my grief, it's still really tough to speak about it. Yet, I keep practicing this exercise because I believe there is good in it.
Each time I verbalize these thoughts, there is an opportunity to acknowledge more truth in my story - the good, the hard, the complicated. There is an opportunity to trust that God is right here, listening to these very moments when sharing becomes even more vulnerable than expected. There is another opportunity to trust that God sees the complicated layers of this season and, of course, doesn't find them complicated, but instead perfect.
At times, I admit the truth seems a bit murky and I wonder why this is the plan or path God has laid out for me. Why am I even here talking about grief! Isn't this all a bit ridiculous!?
I voice my concerns honestly to God often and therefore often hear his truth echoing back. It's not always the same words, but typically involves something about me trusting him and familiar verses like Jeremiah 29:11:
"For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope."
So if you are still trying to give voice to your grief. Hang in there, start small and see what happens next.
There is good, even in this.
Easter Songs & Stories of Hope
Thoughts flooded my mind a first-light this Easter morning. A quick check of my phone highlighted the date: Sunday, April 12. This triggered memories of April 12, 22 years ago. Visiting my mom in the hospital after church and saying a tearful goodbye a few hours later as a family.
As I reflected, I looked up at the photo of Josh, still hanging by my bed. (I mean what are you supposed to do with an oversized photo of your late husband? I know it won't hang by my bed forever, but today it does.) Seeing it makes me wish all the more that he was not a photo representing a moment in time we shared, but that instead he was the face I could wake up to on this very day. I wish we would tackle Easter 2020 together.
Turning to God's Word for clarity (or something), I read John's account of visiting the empty tomb early Easter morning. I read how Peter and John didn't understand what was happening that morning. Where had Jesus' body gone? They didn't understand the story at that point (much like I don't always understand my story at times now).
It wasn't until much later in the evening that they understood and saw the real truth of the situation – that in fact, Jesus had risen from the dead, changing the course of history.
Today, there will be no sudden reappearance on earth of people I love, who have passed away. Those stories are still the same. Even still, I find hope and peace in knowing that I will see them again. There is a bit of wonder that also swells in me as I think about what heaven might look like on Easter Sunday -- what a gathering and celebration it must be.
There is joy in the morning. There is joy that comes from sorrow. There is joy because of Jesus.
Before my mom passed away, I wrote a song for her that still resonates today. Below are the words and maybe I'll actually record it to share another way, but for today, I'll share it as another piece of my story even though it feels a bit more vulnerable as songwriting captures a different piece of my heart:
Continuing on, as I celebrate Easter 2020 and reflect on SO much, I lift my eyes to Jesus who not only comforts but is the source of hope. A hope that brings joy today within my current, active earthly circumstance and hope that goes beyond explanation.
The Gospel of John ends with what feels like a cliffhanger . . . there's always more to the story.
"Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for books that would be written." - John 21:25
This, in many ways fills me with more wonder and excitement. God is continuing to write stories of hope here today in 2020.
So, Happy Easter friends - may today be filled with moments of wonder and great joy.
The Silent Saturday
But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
On this Saturday, before this Easter, I find myself wondering what the friends, family and disciples of Jesus must have felt as they watched in agony the events of the crucifixion of their beloved friend, brother, son, Savior, Lord and leader.
How did they feel as they went back to their homes together, as they continued to mourn -- wrestling with both the shock and realization of what had happened? I expect they bonded in new ways while collectively wrestling with newfound grief. As readers of the Biblical story now, we know the hope that waited around the corner with Christ's resurrection – yet on that day, they did not see it.
As they wrestled with their grief, did they comfort one another with the words Jesus had used to comfort them before? Did hope remain on that dark day? I imagine there were few moments of silence but perhaps they still happened in between the tears and heart-to-heart conversations. Maybe the silence hit as they rested, exhausted from the grief that felt so heavy.
On the eve of Easter 2020, this day feels a bit more silent. There is a peacefulness within me as I write on the back porch listening to the birds and light rain, but it's a different kind of year. We are all embracing a year of social distancing and mostly online activities, including church. There are less places to hide or be distracted from thoughts of grief that enter my mind. This year, especially as it relates to my own grief journey, Easter seems more complex.
This year, both the holiday of Easter aligns with the anniversary of my mom’s passing. April 12, 1998. Each year the anniversary is hard and even Easter still stings at times. But when both align, it seems to place a magnifying glass on the feelings of grief that I have come to know so well. Layered within this, is the grief of losing my spouse this past year. The person who so often encouraged me on these anniversaries. The person who sat beside me as we looked upon the hope of Easter no matter what life circumstances existed.
It is clear to see that Hope and Easter are aligned. Can the same be true of Grief and Easter?
At times, hope and grief feel like competitors. The tension between them is palpable. How do we live in both? Acknowledging the grief yet still seeing and trusting in the hope.
It’s almost hard to express my thoughts as they are many and they run deep. Yet as I sit here beginning this silent Saturday, I still find I want to lean into the healing that continues to happen because I trust in a God who is always faithful. One who sent His only son, to offer a hope that looked different than anything else before.
This hope offers healing for hurting hearts, grieving hearts and broken hearts.
This hope propels me forward in my own grief even on days when it feels like I might be moving in reverse.
Hallelujah, what a Savior.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." – 1 Peter 1:3
(Warning: Sad post)
Well, it happened today. A Grief Bomb. The extra sad kind.
It struck right in the middle of the afternoon while I was on a work call with other people - thankfully video off and sound muted.
We were chatting casually about obstacles that come with working from home (WFH) – the distractions, the new challenges of communication and conflict resolution with spouses and family members, etc. I even engaged in the conversation when, “Wham!' It hit me, without warning.
The element that is really missing in my life as it relates to this particular conversation is . . . Josh.
How I would love to be facing the challenge of sharing a workspace with my late spouse. What things would be making us crazy or not? What music would we be listening to together? Would we both be sitting at the kitchen table or in separate rooms?
I don’t have answers to these questions. And, that, in fact, IS quite sad. Many times over the past few weeks, I have been thankful that Josh isn’t here right now battling cancer –– with all that’s happening it would have been complicated. Even considering this though, it doesn’t mean that I don’t miss him being here.
I still wish to see his smiling face sitting across this very table from me. I wish for that so very much.
Even as hope for the future and interesting new ideas have filled my mind of late, grief has a tight grip that can so easily probe the heart.
Within grief, loneliness is something that can quickly be activated. At times, it is easy to spot, to prepare for it, maybe even kind-of know what to do with it. Other times, it lurks silently waiting until a conversation or memory brings it to the forefront.
At any level of grief, being isolated from people physically is a challenge. Sometimes, we choose to isolate; other times circumstances require it, but either way from my perspective, isolation often amplifies the emotions. It's good to face the emotions, but hard.
Even with an abundance of digital connections such as text, video and voice calls, the desire to see someone close up for an extended amount of time is still wanted and healthy. I miss connecting with people in person, as many others do because of the situation that’s happening with Covid-19. I understand why we’re keeping the distance, it's needed, but still is a challenge.
Beyond all of it, I miss connecting with the ONE person that I would actually most enjoy being stuck in quarantine with.
So, in an effort to end on a positive note (although not required), please take a moment today to simply enjoy being "stuck" with the person or people you love most dearly who may equally be driving you crazy.
These are treasured times, truly.
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.