Exploring New Trails
I met someone.
For some time, I've wondered what it might be like when I said those words, or even if I would. But recently they floated through my mind as indeed I have met someone interesting, someone unexpected.
Of course, this new interaction is shining a light straight into my grief. Much like a flashlight pointed into a cave opening, it bounces around revealing crevasses, mysterious things and faint markings that highlight a significant backstory.
As a returning reader of my journey, you might be caught by surprise at the first part of this post, so let me backtrack slightly.
A couple of months ago, I decided it would be interesting to dip my toe in the water of dating. To take off the wedding ring and see what it might be like to get to know single people. To talk about my story, see what it felt like and answer questions about who I am, etc. And . . . YES . . . it's complicated for many reasons, with a big one being that I haven't dated someone who wasn't my spouse/serious boyfriend for about two decades. A lot has changed. The world of online dating is new and I am much more seasoned in life and heartache.
Another challenge is how to know if it's the right time? I've read many articles* about when to begin dating again, but it really is such an individual decision. For me, I started to feel the sorrow tide shift out, and with a heart still full of hope and love, I thought it was time to at least explore the concept.
It is a new kind of adventure, filled with the same type of unexpected things you might find in the wilderness - beauty, roots to trip on, slick rocks, confusing trails, "wow" moments, joyful and non-so joyful experiences and, of course, much more.
Within this process, I often run straight into the challenge of reconciling my grief emotions, which rest on top of it all, waiting to be triggered. This can happen with a simple comment or the realization of how someone is similar or very different. I, myself, can even be the cause of the emotional trigger as I seek healthy companionship and try to understand what is actually most healthy. All around, it's tricky (a phrase I tend to often use).
So why try it?
Because I still have a lot of life left (hopefully!) I loved Josh greatly for many years. We had an amazing marriage, partnership and friendship. I can't replace our specific relationship and don't want to, but at the same time that relationship can be treasured for what it was and can coexist even as I grieve onward.
Interestingly though, it's because of this beautiful experience that I am even putting my feet back in the water. I've seen the joy that can be found in a loving relationship. Our story, even though it feels unfairly cut short, provided me an opportunity not to simply witness, but participate in a relationship built on true, self-sacrificing, encouraging love. God allowed me to live out the joy of this commitment on the best of days and hardest of days.
And yes, grief over losing a spouse is way complicated. It's a wound that cuts so deep. For some widows or widowers, navigating to the point of even considering what I am talking about seems impossible. And that's okay too. If that is you, find the joy in learning about yourself and what you enjoy doing in this new season.
For me, I want to keep exploring life and the possibility of loving and being cared about again. It all feels quite risky, I admit. Yet all of it inspires new songs, ideas and creativity. This Shakespeare line captures a little bit of this concept to me, "When griping grief the heart doth wound, and doleful dumps the mind opresses, then music, with her silver sound, with speedy help doth lend redress."
As I enter this new scene, I again inch forward in hopes that God has the perfect plan and timing. That even in this, very bizarre situation, I can trust him to guide me with wisdom. I listened to a sermon on Sunday that really resonated. It does't just pertain to my newfound dating adventures but to life itself. Trusting God daily is part of the story, no matter where it weaves.
"If we follow, God will take us on a great adventure. He will be our good shepherd. If we follow him, he will lead us to beauty and truth. It is about following him today, not just what's going to happen in the next year. "**
I, of course, had to write these words down. I need the reminder.
As I navigate the unknown of what's next, the simplicity of taking a breath and striving to follow God in this wild wilderness offers the trail markers that I need along the way.
P.S. Yes, this is all very scary and weird and I also know that as my friends and family soak in this information it also means processing another layer of grief. But we're all in this together now.
Links for more
* Mark Gungor has a really interesting perspective on his process.
** Link to sermon message
May 18: Words, Songs & Memories
I remember the day well: May 18, 2002. All the planning, dress purchasing, flowers, tulle, candles, song lists, etc. had come together. I felt weird standing on the stage with everyone staring at us but I was excited to finally become Mrs. Josh Brown and the wedding was all that I hoped it would be.
We skipped down the isle to "O Happy Day" at the end, even though Josh's mom told us not to skip down the isle. Our bridesmaids and groomsmen followed suit. It was indeed a happy day. The ceremony was followed by cake, dancing and fun at the cafeteria of what was then the Republic Middle School. Our friends had helped put up thousands of lights, photos and more tulle to try and cover the look. I remember our first dance and many more after before we whisked away in our decorated Honda Civic on our honeymoon. Smiles all around.
I am thankful for these memories. I am thankful for the time and the many years that followed. For the joys and the sorrows.
But today, is a tough one - even with all those great memories. I tried to prepare for today, but the moment I woke up, the tears fell as I thought, "It's our anniversary, 18 years on the 18th."
Over the weekend, I had started working on a song that I finished today, which am sharing - even though it's scary. Music has always meant a lot to me. I talked about the "Come What May" song before, but often the events of my life trigger lyrics and melodies within me. I even a wrote song for Josh that played before I walked down the isle - so maybe in some ways it now seems fitting to write him a song on this anniversary.
And even as I continue grieving on, finding threads of hope and new perspectives on life, love and more, within me sits a lot of emotion. This song captures some of what rests in my heart and mind not just today but many days.
I know there is so much good that God has yet and I also see the great joy that I have had because of Josh and I's love story - what an honor to have lived even a chapter in this saga.
Another Melancholy Love Song
Memories & Highlights
Maybe it was waking up to a memory on social media that had me a little off-kilter today, or maybe it’s just that grief reaches out and snags your heart unexpectedly at times (also true). But throughout my day, I had an unshakable weight that rested on my heart –– much like an elephant sitting on my chest.
My heart still aches. I miss Josh.
Even in acknowledging the maybes listed above, it's clear that this morning's social highlight anchored in my mind as the day wore on. I couldn't help but think about what I was doing last year. The memory that my own media channel presumptively assumed I wanted to see: “We thought you’d like to look back on this post from 1 year ago,” it stated.
My sarcastic response, “Oh really . . . is that what I wanted to see today?”
Yes and no. Of course, I want to remember our last road trip adventure together. A special journey as we made our way north to Mayo in search of hope and answers. We shared music, laughter and tears along the way and embraced the beauty of the upper midwest and even some baseball. Those memories are good and treasured. Yet, along with those memories are also some I’d rather not remember. The look in the doctor's eye as he patted me on the back and said, “I’m sorry.” This memory still brings tears to my eyes. I had hoped for more.
So, today as I sit in my home and reflect on a year ago, the absence of Josh is duly noted. I glance around the room and still wish he was here. Will I miss him forever? I can’t help but think a piece of me always will. Even as I continue to find hope, joy and threads of new, I encounter the weight of grief often. It's part of my ongoing story.
I don’t really like having to navigate these moments but I also know it's part of the healing process. The photo highlights will continue to appear, I might be ready for them, I might not, but they will happen. Some will bring a smile others, will bring tears.
While it's not quite the same, my mind thinks about the stone memorials referenced in the Bible. The ones established to remind the people of God's faithfulness in good times and bad -- and how he cared for them and provided. In my sorrow, I am reminded of God's faithfulness then and now.
And even though I can't completely see the full picture (because there's a grief elephant on my chest), I chose to trust that God is still at work. Hope remains.
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful."
- Hebrews 10:23 (NASB)
Mother's Day Dedication
Grief intertwines itself with Mother's Day in a unique way within my story – with this year having another level of complexity.
This is my 22nd Mother’s Day without my mom here on earth, and it still stings. I miss being able to talk to her still. I'm not sure this sense of loss feels much different than it has for a while, but since I am now navigating the grief of losing a spouse, I can more easily tap into the sorrowful feelings and emotional memories.
Mixed into my grief on Mother's Day is the fact that I don't have kids. It's mostly common knowledge that Josh and I navigated a lot related to infertility and challenges in hopes of growing our family – a process that spanned over a decade. Within this, I am face to face with the acknowledgment that I am also still grieving that unfulfilled part of our story. My heart goes out to many people who have faced or are currently struggling with infertility. I can relate to the heartache that comes with the questions and unfulfilled hope especially on Mother's Day.
Shifting the conversation and narrative, I also can’t help but think about the beauty found in this day. The beauty evident in the many amazing women who are incredible mothers who have experienced their own share of heartache. For me, these women include my family – my grandmother, step-mom and mother-in-law, along with numerous friends who impress me often with the way they love their kids.
This year, specifically, my mind focuses on my mother-in-law, Kim, who probably doesn’t really want me to write a blog about her. But I am (at least a little).
Kim has been my bonus mom officially for nearly 18 years, but I was hanging out at her house way before that and she loved me like her own from day one. This past year, this strong woman sat with me in the hardest of times. We cried together and often tried NOT to cry together, especially in public places like Chuy's (photo). She continually showed up and loved both Josh and I well during each twist and turn.
We will always share an extraordinary bond in the fact that at root, our love for Josh has always been grand. I know this Mother’s Day will also be hard for her.
So, if I could dedicate a Mother’s Day like an old song on the radio, I would dedicate this one to Kim.
Imagine, the DJ Casey Kasem saying, "This one goes out to Kim in Republic, Mo . . ."
You are an amazing Mom and are greatly loved!
Love & Family
There are things I love because of you.
A well cooked burger, the city of Republic and the smell of fresh mowed grass when driving on windy country roads on a Missouri evening.
I can almost hear you saying the words, “I just love that smell...” as I cruise with the windows down. It was phrase you often repeated.
There are other things I love because of us, because our stories collided and became one. These are things we both loved, music, evening drives and more.
Mixed with this, is your family that has also become mine over the years. Without you, I would have never known them to the level I do today. And I can’t imagine my life without them.
Tonight, sitting across the table from my mother-in-law (your mom) and my niece and nephews, the thought hit me that I am able to love them and know them because of you. How very special this is!
Of course, your absence is felt, but even as you are gone, they remain part of my life and heart here and now — and as far as I am concerned, forever.
Your brother, sister, mom and their families are part of me now too. How truly special this is.
As I navigate grief and wonder what the future for me looks like, I am curious to know how new people mixing in could work. There’s a lot of time to process that whole topic - for sure - but I can’t help wonder.
Today, my heart is simply grateful for the things I love because you loved them and for the people I love because my story blended with your story and became grander.
Life, even in its complications and heartache, can be still filled with nights of laughter, love and even bike rides. ❤️
It is wonderful to enjoy the moments that could be described as a blend of joy and sorrow almost perfectly.
Come What May
Come What May
I can’t help but think of these words with the realization of this new month.
May is special for me as within this month lands what would have been our 18th wedding anniversary – on, in fact, the 18th. I expect I’ll write about this again, but even hitting May 1 triggers many thoughts and emotions. One of which, being the words to the epic Moulin Rouge song sung at our wedding. A song that I also can't quite listen to yet (I just tried and only made it 10 seconds in before saying, "Nope."
Yet, even without trying, the lyrics rest in my mind like a brick:
Seasons may change, winter to spring
But I love you until the end of time
Come what may
Come what may
I will love you until my dying day
We both loved this song and movie from the day it was released and sang the duet often to each other. How weird to imagine that in some cinematic twist of real life that I might still be singing this song from the perspective of the writer left behind. (Ugh, yea!)
Yet I am . . .
I can’t fully explain the amount of grief processing and work that has happened this past month, but I can say that April was packed with new layers of grief exploration. Within this processing, I continue to work through the idea of change.
What does my life look like today? Who I am? What do I want? etc., etc. My life and role has changed, even as many things about my character, likes and dislikes, are similar. In this new season, my perspective and how I do life, process relationships, make decisions, etc., is quite different and the change ongoing and active. It's not that Josh won't always be a treasured part of my heart and life but that I am seeing my life now as more independent.
I am still figuring out many things, like houses - that’s more complicated. But one big change I am making is to my online presence, switching from Josh & Jenn Adventures to Jenn Brown Adventures.
I began considering this idea over a week ago but found out quickly that it wasn't so easy to erase the words Josh & Jenn from the title of my website. With my finger on the delete button, I wrestled with the action MANY times before finally hitting the delete key 11 times, then typing in Jenn Brown and pressing the publish button. I know it's simply a webpage title and I could change it back, but to me it represents a lot. Of course, the content is still there but the overall title of the home page today is new.
I will continue writing about my grief journey and adventures in real and honest way because I think there's room for this dialogue in our world. But what you might see is the domain name change and more blogs posted from the Grieving On site (still a work in progress).
As I trust that God is continuing to unveil his beautiful story in my life, I strive to hold onto this faith I have come to know well. I have no idea where I am going, but I know that this chapter is not so much about Josh AND Jenn adventuring together now, but about my adventures. Hopefully, I'm not sounding completely self-absorbed in this thinking (there are a lot of I's in this post).
Of course, I carry Josh with me in many ways and could continue to share hundreds of Josh & Jenn adventure stories. We had many wonderful ones. There are still many creative ideas I am considering. Yet, as I work through my grief, I also want to leave room for what God may have next, and want to continue to hope for the future because God is a God of hope.
My grief work is still very active — an ongoing narrative of self review, some fun experiments, hope, doubt and trust – lots of trust. I share in hopes of helping people see behind the scenes of grief. It can be a lonely process for anyone, no matter who or what you are grieving.
Thank you for following along with our Josh & Jenn story and my continued adventures of Jenn Brown.
Looking back at last year’s MayDay post: I still feel the same need for God’s comfort today but in a whole new way.
“When I am in distress, I call to you, because you answer me.” - Psalm 86:7
I am thankful for a God who answers, come what may.
p.s. You probably should not watch Moulin Rouge if you are sad and grieving. Unless you are just really needing a good cry then go for it and have some tissues nearby.
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.