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 . . .
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.