Recently, I pulled up a random photo of “us” and found myself starring at it longingly. In doing so, the thought could not escape me, “I miss you.” The photo was a good one taken after we learned that the next few months held a lot of uncertainty. We were both smiling wonderfully – even as our eyes clued into something more.
The sorrow of losing you lingers in my heart; "I miss you so."
This is the narrative in my mind. As it scrolls, it is easy to dive into analyzing my "status" in the grief journey. “Am I ok?”. . . “How sad am I, still?” . . . “Should I feel like this?”. . . “Is this what 3 years feels like?” "It's thanksgiving shouldn't I be thinking about gratitude?"
As a reader or friend you might be tempted to answer these questions for me, but I’ll save you the time, as this isn’t necessary. I know it is ok to be “whatever.” I say it often. It is “ok” to feel however I am feeling at any point. Yet, even when facing the facts and feelings about grief and fully accepting the various levels of permission, there still remains this humanistic desire to try and fix the piece that doesn’t feel right. To find a solution to the part that we know is just a little out-of-sync with what was or what we imagine should be correct.
This tangled mess of grief that lingers like the lyrics of a song by The Cranberries remains an unsolved mystery. It tears at my heart and seeps into my mind making it hard to navigate the present moments. The shear fact that "I miss him" pops in and out of my mind, even in fun moments, like an ongoing bass line of a song fading in an out. It impacts how I handle various stresses in life and how I navigate the relationships around me. This grief allows me see the immense value of enjoying the big and small moments of each day, and leaves me disappointed at the big and small parts of life in other ways.
This grief badge also provides opportunities to minister to new friends walking in their own heartache. There is joy in this, although I have found that in in doing so, my own feelings of loss can be rekindled and enhanced.
Maybe . . . (and this is me trying to “figure it out again”) . . . this is why I find myself starring at our old photos missing “us” terribly. Of course, it could also be the holiday season – which easily triggers grief, both fresh and tucked away. There are so many memories with family and friends who once sat around a room or table; things change, and there are people to miss who are no longer here – for me, my late husband being a key figure.
These memories are beautiful and hard. Encountering these emotions makes me want to burrow down in my sorrow. Of course, they also serve as a fuel for gratitude. I am thankful for our story. There is a tension and a challenge in it all. A challenge for myself and reminder to keep making those memories worth missing.
This Thanksgiving, I will spend time with friends and family who I love who are still actively part of my life - thanks to God's grace. I want to enjoy these moments and will. I already enjoyed time with friends tonight listening to great local music – a new memory and something I wouldn’t have pictured three years ago. .
Of course, it's fair game to know there will be times when I need to say out loud to the heavens or to family member or friend that indeed, "You are missed." This acknowledgement is a perfectly acceptable part of any holiday season.
One last word of encouragement for my grieving friends. Joy might feel like it is also missing but it is there, it truly is. It is there because God is there with you.
Photo captions: this post contains both that picture of "us" (below) that I looked at for a long time (and still do) and a photo of a fresh bouquet of Thanksgiving flowers bought for me, resting in a cup that was from a few years back (Royal game memories) what a mix of then and now.
Bonus pic of a fun night out listening to local music to bring in the holiday and kicking off Turkey day with a fun run!
A moment of thankfulness today quickly turned to tears as I looked at my sweet baby nieces. Seeing them reminded me of dear friends who were in a small group with my late husband and I over a decade ago in Texas. They also had twin girls and we, as small group buddies, had opportunities to watch their family grow from the start. What a beautiful thing!
I sent my friend a quick message to let her know I was thankful for our friendship and those now seemly “age-old” memories. Almost before hitting that little send arrow, I felt the tears form in my eyes. My thankfulness had led to a beautiful memory, which led to me wishing Josh could see his sister’s babies today. How I miss him. A mix of joy and sorrow all in one.
The sorrow didn’t take away my thankfulness, of course, but it did stir up all the emotions of grief until they boiled over to hot tears for a few moments. Ekkk.
Grief continues to hold in tension remembering the beauty of the past and striving to embrace today. There is much to be thankful for today: health, life, dear friends, creation, hope for the future, and a God who is near.
At the same time, all around us there are significant heartaches happening - ongoing tragedies that seems beyond unfair. In those moments, it is hard to even want to be thankful for anything. Maybe you're just mad.
So what do you do? Personally, I think it is helpful to keep aiming for thanksgiving. This means thanking God for the smallest, simplest things all the way up to the biggest ones. You can make a daily list, if you're that type of person, or you can just say something out loud on your drive to work.
Of course, there are also times when you simply need to give yourself permission (and time) to freely shed tears of Thankfulness. It's ok. You can literally be a Thanksgiving hot mess ... not a turkey.
Psalm 107: 1-2a
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story . . .
p.s. One more extra thankful moment came tonight late after learning my boyfriend, Brad was not majorly injured in a head-on crash.
Waking before dawn today at 3:50 am, my first thought was "on this day three years ago my life changed dramatically." It was the last day I saw Josh’s face and held his hand. It was a ridiculously sad day.
It’s hard to return to sleep after waking to such thoughts. So many more things ran rampant in my mind from there. I did eventually sleep again, waking to a conversation via text from a friend who thoughtfully referred to the day as “Happy Josh’s Day - the day he got to see our Savior face to face” - that is an encouraging thought for sure.
Now hours later, as I am reflecting on this busier-than-expected third anniversary, my mind is still wired up. This week particularly, has been packed with life, work projects, and preparing to share part of my grief story at a women’s retreat this weekend - of all weekends!
It's crazy to look around at life today and realize how many people don’t know what my life looked like three years ago. Sure, there are plenty of dear friends that do, but there are many new friends and acquaintances who don't have any idea. Additionally, there have been many new wonderful unexpected adventures since then.
Often as we experience deep heartache and grief - through the loss of someone dear - it is hard to believe that there could even be a good next adventure or season. Even IF we think it’s possible, we debate if we really want it – the past was so good, can we just stay there a little longer?
Trust me I get it. I’ve had all of these thoughts, but keep trucking along. As I do, I keep finding goodness and beauty. I will never tell you there is a timetable on your grief journey - or a time to stop crying - it varies so much with each person and story. But I do know that hope comes with embracing each new day and seeing what good God might have to share with you. There is hope to be found, there's sun shining on the water, and healing that is in process – even now, within our stories.
For me, on this third September 30, my heartache mended a bit more as I enjoyed God’s creation paddling down a Missouri river soaking in the beauty of this world with a loving friend. And then a little more this evening as I sang out praises at a park and laughed playing goofy games, building friendships with ladies from my church. I wouldn’t have pictured this three years ago, but God did – that’s definitely an interesting thought.
This day, is still special because Josh was/is special, yet I know I can also honor him by continuing to trust God daily and by embracing the day's joys and challenges as much as possible - with honesty.
In preparing for the women's retreat, I found a song that has been echoing through my mind every day this week – on the water, on the road, and as I practiced the guitar outside the “glamping tent” I stayed in yesterday, where I retreated to spend time resting and not ignoring my grief process.
Here are a few lines that seem to perfectly fit this season, words I think Josh and his artistic mind might have also enjoyed. He always talked about God’s goodness. Always.
You make all things work together
For my future and for my good
You make all things work together
For Your glory and for Your name
For my good, for my good
When I doubt it, Lord, remind me
I'm wonderfully made
You're an artist and a potter
I'm the canvas and the clay .... you're not finished with me yet....
Listen to the full song below:
Standing starring out my hotel window near Nashville, the thought crosses my mind, “Would I have ended up moving here with Josh?” It’s not too wild of a thought. You see, before he got sick, we talked about what might be next, a career change, a location change. We talked about many options for our next step in life and ministry. There was a lot happening in our personal conversations related to our future. This all got halted with a brain cancer diagnosis, treatment and the total change of life course direction. In our dreaming stage, Nashville was a place that intrigued us both - even still in my old Google chat there sits a conversation between us about this city.
As I ponder the initial question, I, of course, take it a step further pondering, “Would my life be better if Josh and I could have moved here together?” If we were in fact attending a conference together … if he were still here? My heart screams “Yes, of course!!”
But then clarity and God’s truth echos out. “No.” That’s too short-sighted.
It’s unfair to try and compare the “what ifs” to “what is”because I’ll always sit in deficit and disappointment. And because in doing so, I am missing out on what God is doing here and now. My life couldn’t be better because it is still good today. My life IS good because God is with me. He was with me when we were exploring options of what was next, he was with me in the midst of the hard nights of sickness, grief, loss and the heartache. He is with me now - in my tears that spring up three years later. He is even with me now as I stare somewhat longingly out a hotel window in a “what if” city.
This is not me trying to hopefully wipe away the heartache and missing part of my life, but it is a reality check that I must still see God here in now. In this new part of the story, in the what could be today if I continue to trust him fully. To believe that beauty and blooms can come from what seems like destruction.
I admit a big sigh happens there when I type, “Trust Him Fully” because it’s a challenge after what I consider a “big let down.” It’s a choice to trust. It’s a choice to believe God is with me and still showing up. And yeah… it is challenging but I am willing.
How about you? Are you up for a God trust challenge too?
“Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting And His faithfulness to all generations.”
Have you ever woke from a dream feeling still caught up in the moment? Your heart still racing? This indeed was the start to my day.
The dream, like a movie, felt so real when my alarm sounded cutting the scene that I didn't want to end. The story line . . . Josh had returned from the dead. He was there with my friends Nathan and Alicia, acting different but walking, talking, laughing and wearing his favorite blue cardigan. We were in some apartment and heading to the doctor to figure out how this happened and if he was ok upon his return. On the side, I was trying to stealthily call my boyfriend to let him know about the awkward surprise that had just occurred. Josh knew something was up. I was torn. This wasn't suppose to happen.
Waking from this detailed dream, my heart was pounding and my body tense. I knew it wasn't real, but I still had to take a moment to convince myself. And although, I could almost explain why I had this dream, based on the days' activities* – it was still jarring.
Thinking on this more, I realize that this dream reflects my heart and mind. A heart and mind that is still wounded and torn. A heart that loves my late spouse dearly, but one still working on navigating new parts of life and trusting the process a little more. A heart that wonders if the hurt will ever truly disappear.
Once again, I land on the truth that grief is complicated. It’s not something that can easily be erased or "gotten over." It takes root deep within - even at times causing one to dream the impossible. It stirs up hope for what could never be and at times has you still wishing you could have changed the ending in some way or another.
Sharing this might seem goofy, but I hope in doing so that someone feels encouraged - or slightly less crazy. I am an advocate for talking about grief - even the weird parts. Both our unique tories and grief are layered with complications and even strangeness (for sure!).
It’s been almost 3 years since Josh passed away (on Sept 30, 2019) and here I am still having random emotionally-packed dreams, and the weight of him not being part of my daily story resonates. Yes, I can go about most days without crying, I can sit at a table alone and feel fine. I can even lean into my new surroundings with a bit more confidence, and try new silly things, but the undercurrent remains. Don’t let me fool you with my shenanigans and adventures, just because I’m doing new things doesn’t mean my late love doesn’t cross my mind in someway or another every single day. I both love the fact that he is so woven into my life and hate it as I wish it wasn't so distracting.
As I drift to sleep at the end of this day, the intense feelings of last night's vivid dream have faded and another day comes to a close. I wonder if I'll have another jarring dream tonight or catch a glimpse of the person I once knew so well - who knows.
One thing I do know, is that either way God is with me (and you). That's a comforting thought to rest my head on.
*Things that explain last nights dream (kind of) if I go down the logic track...
- Eating lunch with Josh’s mom and grandma that day, it being September, plus Nathan’s birthday the day before, and last, sitting and watching couples dance when someone sang “The Dance” at open mic (I attended solo) - which reminded me of when Josh and I heard the actual writer of the song, Tony Arata, perform it at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville (picture provided). And the opening lines of that song ...
On the memory of
The dance we shared
'Neath the stars above
For a moment
All the world was right
But how could I have known
That you'd ever say goodbye . . .
Today's a special day. August 2. The day my mom was born 70 years ago. While I thought about her life and legacy much of the day, and all that she represents in my life, there wasn't a big birthday party celebration that I imagine still would have been fun. Instead, the day included simple things like biscuits for breakfast, wearing emerald green - her favorite color, eating mint ice cream with my uncle (her brother) and singing a song that reflected a sixteenth note of her life.
Strangely, this year, I find myself at the exact same year of age she was when she passed away (24 years ago). While I don't like to admit to aging - I'm forever young right!? - it is indeed true, and time passes too quick. It's hard to believe it has been so long since I saw my mom's face, heard her laugh, talked theology, or shopped together, yet all of these memories are still so vibrant in my mind. In one moment, it seems only a day away; in the next, an eternity.
Whether I am talking about the loss of my spouse or my mom, I continue to find as I navigate conversations with people fresh in their grief and those more seasoned, that there's still a need to just talk about it. To ask questions like, "What do you miss most?" "How has this process been for you?" . . . "How did their life change yours?" These questions can feel like prying but surprisingly there's a spark the happens - I think this is because all of us who are grieving still want to remember the people we love so dearly. We don't want them to be gone. Grief is a constant balance of trying to move forward in life and embrace the beauty and hope that is this new chapter or reality, while simultaneously navigating the challenging pieces of deep sorrow, doubt and heartache.
And yes, it's still complicated. It always is.
So . . . my centering moment and prayer at the end of this day is one of gratitude for my mom, Carol, who encouraged me, for this grace-filled woman who prayed for me and many others. Someone who left a legacy that still to this day encourages me to walk in kindness in a way that hopefully makes a difference.
If your heart is grieving and heavy today. Hold on and hold tight to God's great comfort. He's right there too. You might not feel it - trust me I've not always felt it, but I trust in his comfort ever still.
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.