After writing a post about worrying less and focusing on hope and health only 24 hours before, I found myself at my lowest point last night.
My back pain had drastically increased and I had been prescribed a steroid pack that didn’t seem to help the pain but just heightened my emotions. Returning from a quest to find an easy meal, I pulled back into my garage and lost it. You know the real bad, ugly cry. My back and leg were aching and as I sat for another moment to rest, I looked around the cluttered garage into the sea of boxes and mementos of our lives. You know the stuff that goes in the garage or attic in plastic totes – old pictures of Josh and myself as a kids, lots of theology books from Josh's most recent office, the wedding tote, etc.
All of it made me beyond sad. There I sat as a crumbled mess. I didn’t recover much more from that moment through the rest of the night. A lot of tissues and puppy snuggles helped some; sleep helped more.
Waking up this morning, I still had lingering back pain but felt a bit more emotionally stable. I also went to physical therapy which also provided slight relief and new strategies for the pain. As I walked through my day, I found myself thinking, “What happened yesterday?” That was a really low point. If I was grading myself on grief I might be tempted to say that was "very poor" "D-" – although grades are not allowed in grief (in my opinion).
My grief journey is complex and confusing. No matter how hard I try to figure it out, I often find myself at a loss. I look for patterns, triggers and more but still, at times, it just hits like a big crashing wave out of nowhere or maybe like that piano dropping on someone in the old Bugs Bunny shows. (That's all, folks!)
I do think the mix of physical pain, meds and lack of sleep had a lot to do with yesterday’s incident, but there's also still the baseline fact that here today, nearly five months after losing the love of my life, I am still hurting deeply. The physical pain only amplifies these emotions.
I share this today, as just another attempt at being real and honest with the yucky side of grief. There are times when I don’t know if I am okay or will be okay. I dip into new lows and find more tears – when I thought for sure they had all leaked out.
Now that I have thoroughly analyzed this, what do I do? I lean into prayer, trusting that God's strength is still there, always. I re-listened to one of Josh's sermons today, and in it he encourage me (the listener) to pray the simplest of prayers when at a loss or really low point:
“God, help me be brave in this situation.”
This is from the same message that we used in the opening of Josh’s celebration of life service, where he said.
“It may not feel like good today, in fact today what we’re getting from God it may suck, we may not like it all, we may want to chuck it across the room and say I don’t want this. But our God gives us good and even though it is bad today, I promise it will be good someday." (52:00) - such treasured words!!
I am holding on to that promise of good from both God and my late husband. Yes it is tough but I’m trying. Reading a bit of Hebrews this evening, the reminder of God's presence carried on:
"Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need." - Hebrews 4:16
View Josh's full message here
(teaching begins at 22:00)
What does it look like to enter Lent with a grieving heart? Challenging. 💜
Lent is a season of reflection and preparation – which is what I already feel like I am in and have been in for many, many months.
There is a bit more sorrow in lent, thinking specifically about the sacrifice Christ made for us all on the cross. But do I want to take on more sorrowful thoughts right now? No. Yet at the same time, I still want to reflect on and remember what Christ had done for us all!
So, back to the Lent and grief blending together bit:
As I thought about what God would really want from me in the next 40 days of reflection and preparation, I began to wonder what it might look like to give up some of the worries that have been consuming my mind of late. Thoughts like: when will I actually move to my new house in Missouri, what I am supposed to do with my career, my writings, my house in Arkansas. What will future relationships look like - or will there be any, etc? The thoughts pile up so easily.
Instead of letting the list of worries grow, I offered up this question to God and myself, “What if I tried to surrender these worries for a whole 40 days?” What if I didn't just "try" but actually surrendered these worries.
Is this possible? Giving up coffee would probably be easier.
It’s not like I can take all of these concerns and put them in a closet and hide them from my mind for 40 days; they will probably still creep in. But I could counter these with focusing on hope, rest, healing and health within my daily life and activities. Even with some challenges (like back pain currently and a heavy heart), I do believe there’s room and opportunity for all of these things to happen and for strength to grow.
I would be nice, in many ways, if I could give up grief altogether, but one: that wouldn’t be completely healthy, and two: it is part of me and my story here and now, so it travels with me in each new season.
I am still marinating on what God is saying to me in this process. And as I take steps to listen more intentionally and worry less, between now and Easter – a date which happens to fall on the 21st anniversary of my own mother’s passing – I hope God will reveal some additional truth and wisdom for the months to follow.
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” - Matthew 11:28
I pray God will also reveal some good focus points for you this year as we shift our gaze to Easter 2020.
A friend also sent me this article that walks through grief and lent, offering such beautiful words and a challenge for Ash Wednesday too.
One of the challenges of grief after a labor of love of caretaking is the physical impact that can hit after. For me, this has led to some increasing back issues, causing pain and making it hard for me to do a lot of things I would rather be doing. I power through many days but this weekend, the pain hit me hard and I was so sad to cancel plans to attend the MU/Arkansas basketball game I was so looking forward. To top it off, my guest was to be the amazing Julie Brown. Double sad!!
Instead, I rested at my home in Springfield* part of the day, watching some of this game and KU/Baylor with friends over pizza. I eventually drove home in the afternoon still in pain.
As I headed west(ish), a small rainbow appeared in the clouds. You know the one, not like a regular rainbow, but a small shaft of one uniquely placed in the sky - a floating prism!
This sky surprise lifted my spirit, fueling my love of rainbows even more. To me, rainbows are still a sign of God’s presence and promise. Whenever they appear, I take notice. Today’s rainbow prism stayed with me for at least an hour of the drove back to AR. I couldn’t help but think this was God saying:
“I am here, I am with you.
I am with you in your emotional pain and even this physical pain. I see you.”
These reminders are what I desperately need, especially when I feel like I am at the end of my own strength –which I am. I want to be stronger all around, and know I am in a lot of ways, but new physical challenges, and layers of grief heartache continually bring me back to my knees as I am reminded of my desperate need for God and HIS strength to carry on.
As I look ahead, even short term, I ask for your prayers for my back and body, to know the best treatment and to find lasting relief so I can do more of the activities I enjoy and need to do as part of the grieving process.
“God said this once and for all; how many times Have I heard it repeated? “Strength comes Straight from God.” - Psalm 62:11 (The Message)
* my quick trip to Mo was to celebrate senior night for the daughter of some great friends!
It was worth the pain, last night, but today I couldn't push much harder (I'm still learning my limits).
Today, my black pointy shoes reminded me you. This sounds like a poem.
Let me think . . . yes, a poem.
A poem to commemorate one of our stories:
My pointy shoes
Remind me of you
Of the time we made our way
To the San Francisco Bay
In Palo Alto we stopped to take a look
Snapping pictures at the headquarters of Facebook
Visiting shops at the outdoor mall
Grabbing lunch and as always, having a ball
Before departing, we made one quick stop
You waited patiently as I ventured into yet another shop
Imagine my great delight
Upon finding shoes that fit just right
A bargain buy on a fancy brand
To remember an adventure, oh so grand.
This recap poem challenged my mind and brought a smile to my face today, as I reflected on one of our many trips.
It’s interesting how easily something simple, like a pair of shoes, can trigger an avalanche of memories.
When living in Nevada, Josh and I decided to take a quick weekend get-a-way to a new part of California. We even fit in a ballgame to see the Royals at the Oakland A’s stadium, visited John Ortberg’s church in Menlow Park and explored Palo Alto. On this trip, we also discovered a new dog breed - a Bernedoodle - and WOW, they are cute!! (I might want one still). Such fun memories from four years ago.
While I miss my adventure buddy greatly, I am glad we took time for little mini adventures here and there whenever possible. Adventures with no real agenda – the main goal, to spend time together. These are part of the collection of special, treasured things that carry into today’s story.
Memories that somehow still lighten my grieving heart as I reflect on special times with my spouse.
"I thank my God in all my remembrance of you." - Philippians 1:3
The first thought that hit my mind as I left the parking lot was,
“I hate going to GriefShare.”
As I began the drive home, I start the process of self-analyzing.
“Why do I hate this? It’s a good thing, right?
People are sharing, doing life together - that's good.
I am taking a step and attending. Also good.
The content in the video is relatable and helpful – I mean, I did take a lot of notes.”
And on and on my thoughts go. I don’t have all the answers for this growing dislike, but have a few ideas.
1. I think I hate it most because I don’t want to be there. AT ALL!
I don’t want to be attending a group because my husband died. Being there maybe helpful in some ways, of course, but it also feels so strange – like an alternate ridiculous universe – highlighting the part of my story I don't like the most.
2. Maybe I hate it because the tension in the room adds to my tension of being there.
This group is a mix of people grieving different losses in their life - not just spouses. This make it all a bit more weird for me. As I am there looking at my most recent loss but also have lost a parent, sibling, grandparents and friends. But am here now for a different reason. I participate and try to be open with my thoughts and feelings - much like I have been in my video and blog posts, but it just still feels uncomfortable still often.
Bright lights in a small room, where some people take too much, others not enough. Where discussion groups are split in two but side by side in said room. One group might be laughing the other sadly sharing – there’s a tension. I feel it in my body, in the group and in the room.
3. I also hate it because this is yet another situation where it seems Josh SHOULD be there.
We've been together in small group situations for the past 10 or more years, we've led, hosted, shared life or, at minimum, been able to discuss our small group dynamics together later. I can’t share this with him. This makes me hate it more.
4. Maybe I hate it today, simply because today was weird, sad feeling day.
In the continuous rollercoaster of up and down emotions - today felt lower. I expect that doesn’t help my perspective of tonight’s gathering. I really, really missed Josh today.
Now, I realize this post has really taken a negative turn, and I am scrambling to find the bright spot. It’s there, but not always as easy to see. Today's positivity is hidden in the fog.
Tonight, I share my grouchy GriefShare feelings because I expect other people have wondered about a grief group, wanted to skip it or had mixed feelings about it. Perhaps it's harder because the grief is so fresh? Maybe not? Lingering grief that has not been discussed could feel the same. Even though, I don’t like going (clearly), I plan to return - knowing there is good in going and finding ways to look at my grief from other angles along with others.
Alternatively, your experience may have been amazing - and that's great. I’m not there at the moment - and as I like to say to myself and others often:
It’s okay! We don't have to feel the same. Grief is such an individualize process.
Plus, God still likes me, even when I am grouchy – that goes for you too.
Today every single thing reminded me of you (Josh). The sun shining through the clouds on my way to work; the chair I bought that we would have debated about it’s level of ridiculousness and need. My dinner choice and even how a bit of sun peaked through the clouds on my drive home and realizing your Jeep wasn’t in the driveway for the first time in months.
It’s interesting how I can travel through one day (like last Friday) thinking less about you only to find my mind completely filled with thoughts and memories a day or two later.
Once again, it is dipping into my sorrow. In many ways, I have learned to expect the dip. A good weekend of fun activities, then a dip, the week grinds on, then another uplifting activity, dip...
It’s good that I can see the patterns and I wonder when or if it will change.
I found a verse today that offered needed support for yet another Monday of repeating emotions:
“If your heart is broken, you’ll find GOD right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath.” - Psalm 34:18 MSG
Breathe in, breathe out.
God is with me and he is with you.
It's been a great weekend, filled with a house purchase, college basketball and good God convos.
This morning as I reflected on it all, I realized how much I wanted to share ALL the details of Friday's house buying experience with Josh. While I can't tell him in person, I realized I could write him a letter. Maybe it's silly, maybe not, but I did it. And it was freeing and refreshing.
The letter simply began with our common greeting, "Friend!"
I shared the many details of February 14, 2020. About buying a house at 8 a.m., and having people visit all day from 1 to 7 p.m., as part of my empty-house, open-house party. I wrote about the silly stories, house surprises, kid adventures and more.
The first day in my little red house was one filled with new memories that will be treasured for years to come. At one point, the kids outnumbered the adults. It was great. I even told my friends that I loved hearing the laughter and craziness as their kids explored the new space and exuberantly played hide-n-seek and wrestled in the back bedroom.
It was an honor to once again stand with friends on a BIG day. (We mostly stood because I only had 2 lawn chairs and stool for seating - ha). I never take for granted the group of people who have surrounded me so much this past year. Many of them were at my new home on Valentine's Day.
For the first time in a while, I actually didn't feel sad. Instead, I dreamed and discussed how to fix up the place - in Jenn's style! (BTW, I'm gladly taking recommendations for people who enjoy remodeling kitchens and baths.)
Reflecting on Valentine's a couple days later, I wondered how life would be different if Josh were still here? Where would we be living? Would we be changing things up? No matter the answer, we probably wouldn't have bought this particular house. But because Josh isn't here, I am - or rather I did!
It's a real weird mix of emotions, being able to see and feel the joy in this new venture yet also acknowledging the heartache and sorrow that put me in this place of new decision making.
Writing out every little detail in my letter to Josh today gave me a place to embrace my reality a bit more. Along with highlights, I also wrote about some of my other favorite Valentine's memories over the years. Of course, tears landed on the pages as I wrote the simplest of words in closing.
I love you. I miss you.
It's true every day – even on joyous, beautiful, treasured days.
For me writing a letter to my loved one, at the close of Valentine's Day weekend was and is a step toward mending this broken heart just a tiny bit more.
A few photos from the open house fun and the house staged. Many more remodel photos to come. :)
Over the course of 24 years, there have been amazing Valentine’s days and some more subdued. But no matter the style, it was sweet because I shared it with that someone special. A person who told me everyday he loved me.
This Valentine’s Day is quite different. In fact, it has already been a restless night, as I am writing this at 3 a.m. In addition to the romantic holiday, there are a number of reasons for the restlessness, with one being something that is happening in just a few hours.
For you earlier-bird readers who happened to check my blog, without a social media link (and for the rest of you who see this later, when I share it out) – here’s the BIG news!
I’m buying red house!! In Missouri. On Valentine’s Day.
It’s the cutest, little house in Springfield.
The moment I walked in, I fell in love with the unique character. I could imagine myself there, writing, processing life, grieving on and making new memories. It’s an older home, that needs some updates, but I’m excited about a fresh space with much creative potential. In many ways, I am ready to move away from our Arkansas home filled with good but many hard memories. Of course, I haven’t figured out all the plans of moving my life from our home in Arkansas to my new home in Missouri, but that’s in the works and will take a bit more time to sort through.
The decision to buy this home was one I debated, discussed and prayed over greatly! It’s a big decision. Ultimately, it's an option that will allow me to stabilize - putting me in a space and place to quickly access some amazing friends and family who have walked this journey with me.
Of course, there’s a tension with it still. As a pretty independent, adventure-seeking person, coming back to my ol’ Missouri stomping grounds seems in some ways, dare I say, boring. It is not . . . However, for more than a decade Josh and I enjoyed venturing around the country, living in four other states and multiple homes. There was always a thought of, where will we move next? We imagined coming back “home” eventually but not sure when. We imagined living in bigger cities, other countries - London, Australia, Africa, wherever.
In this new chapter, I often have to remind myself that this is not boring or considered settling, but that it is also good. It’s an opportunity to trust and lean into the community of friends and family around me. It’s continuing to accept that my partner, spouse and friend who helped me make big decisions isn’t here for this one. Wow! That stings and stinks!
In the process of accepting, I am striving to not dwell on the negative - which is so easy to do!! I am sad and happy about this, and as with most big decisions, there's a level of anxiousness. I worry this might end up in disaster, like that old movie, The Money Pit. Hopefully not! :)
My prayer all along has been for God to close the door if this wasn’t right - stop the process! But it truly has been the smoothest home purchase process ever.
I believe God IS in the details and He loves me greatly. So, with all the pieces in place, on Feb. 14, 2020, I am taking the next right step and asking God to go before me with this new home.
Whew! Big day!
“It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you;
he will not leave you or forsake you.
Do not fear or be dismayed.” – Deuteronomy 31:8
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.