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)
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.