Sitting on my friend’s land, overlooking the Wilson’s Creek valley I begin a conversation, “Lord restore my hope in you. It’s hard to see your hope right now. It’s hard to see you through the clouds that seem to surround me. Through the grief.”
At that moment, a friend from Nevada texted wanting to chat. We haven’t talked much recently but I was free and she wanted to share something with me. So we talked.
She shared that she believe one of Josh’s message I shared earlier in our story is for me. It’s a roadmap on how to continue - to continue our story not just the story of grief and heartache but also our story of love and relationship.
To speak about it, to write about to show people the value of life, relationship and grieving well.
Of course, my eyes flooded with tears.
My heart hopes is that this is true - that our story, Josh and I’s story, is not one to be forgotten, that the story God is writing in my life today still has an audience - even if it is me.
I still often get caught on the how and where, etc. Somewhat lost in the details. But the path because a little clearer...
Maybe God wants me worried less about the how and where but instead on who. It’s God and me and it’s a God who splits the seas, it’s God who makes paths and creates all that we see. It’s a journey of trust, a reminder once again to keep hoping. Perhaps, it’s following those same words from Frozen 2 - “do the next right thing.”
Even after all this I want to say “But How” even though I just answered that.
“Trust in me”
Those are the words I hear back.
Hearing God’s confirmation doesn’t make any of this grief, sorrow or pain easier but it’s something to hold on to for this day. A day that started with me asking God to restore my hope.
Hope that feels like it has been stomped on by goats.*
For those of you following along, can I ask for your prayers for wisdom as I grieve on and navigate the uncertain waters of what’s next?
With a grateful heart - Jenn
*(This came to mind because where I am staying the have goats that my dogs were barking at and running by during my morning conversations.)
Whew! I might have to stop going to movies. Earlier this week Mr. Rogers and today Frozen 2. Both movies had a big emotional impact. If you missed the earlier blog on Mr Rogers read it here.
Maybe it’s surprising, maybe not, but I cried more watching Frozen II than Mr. Rogers.
[Slight movie spoiler alert or pre-warning] Not knowing what I was getting into with the plot but surrounded with great friends and their kids (Thanks Kellers!) at the IMAX, we laughed together and breathed deep as a scene where one character “drifts away” entered the storyline. This moment was challenging, although in my movie mind I expected the character would come back so that helped a little. What really got me though was the next song, “The Next Right Thing” as Ana sings about grief and trying to go on to what's next. Here are a few lyrics*:
I've seen dark before, but not like this
This is cold, this is empty, this is numb
The life I knew is over; the lights are out
Hello darkness: I'm ready to succumb
I follow you around (I always have)
But you've gone to a place I cannot find
This grief has a gravity, it pulls me down
But a tiny voice whispers in my mind
You are lost, hope is gone
But you must go on
And do the next right thing
I connected with the heart and emotion of this song greatly. While my hope is not centered on a person, but on God who is always with me, there's still a part of me that has lost some hope. I connect with the words, “the life I knew is over” and do often feel the gravity of grief. Grief that feels dark, empty, numb and uncertain. Grief that has me looking for a person who isn't here with me today. Grief that makes me teary-eyed.
The song continues and becomes an anthem for moving forward – similar lyrics are in my own heart and mind most days.
I won't look too far ahead
It's too much for me to take
But break it down to this next breath, this next step
This next choice is one that I can make
A line early in the movie offered this advice, “Be prepared. Just when you think you found your way, life will throw you onto a new path.”
Life certainly has thrown me on a new path at a time when I thought Josh and I were kind-of finding our way. As I write this on the eve of Thanksgiving, it’s hard to be thankful for what’s happened this year. At the same time, I can’t be thankful enough for the time I had with Josh and for the people who have loved and supported us so wonderfully through it all. So what do I do here and now?
“... I'll walk through this night,
Stumbling blindly toward the light
And do the next right thing”
For me this means, continuing to trust God with the rest of my story. It means trusting God's Word that is filled with so much hope and truth as I stumble on day by day, moment by moment.
"You will make known to me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever."
- Psalm 16:11
*View all the song lyrics all here or watch the lyric/music video below:
Today I learned the Smudgies ice cream shop, down the street from my house has closed. This is sad news not merely because it was the most delicious place for ice cream, but because of such rich and dear memories that have happened in that space this past year.
This place has been the backdrop of many adventures with just Josh and I, with family and friends visiting from out of town and even trips by myself for a little pick-me-up during the care-taking process (and pup cups for Arkie & Aspen.)
It truly has been a sweet spot on good days and really hard days. One of my favorite photos of Josh and his brother, Gabe, was taken here along with a fun one of Josh and our niece playing Connect4 (another great memory).
I am not sure if you can form a complete emotional attachment to a ice cream shop, but I think I might have with this one. This is another change in this shifting season that reminds me that life goes on and that change is inevitable. In this, I can’t help but see the contrast of God stability compared to worldly things.
“But You are the same, and Your years will not come to an end.” - Psalm 102:27
(this whole chapter is pretty interesting really)
I am thankful for a God who doesn’t change and whose comfort and care lasts much longer than ice cream.
Still, Arkie, Aspen and I (and others) will miss going on Smudgies adventures among other things.
My week began ok but quickly derailed when I checked the mail after lunch on Monday. Opening a letter I expected to be informational, I found a life insurance check. My immediate thought, “I’d trade all of this in to have my husband back.”
What is the value of a life? Here and now, with this letter in my hand, I can easily say there is no value that could represent or replace my husband. It is more than monetary. 1 Samuel 26:24 speaks of this: "Now behold, as your life was highly valued in my sight this day, so may my life be highly valued in the sight of the Lord, and may He deliver me from all distress.”
Of course, insurance helps cover some basic needs as my life continues on and I am thankful Josh and I made these preparations before he got sick, but it doesn’t make it emotionally easier. In fact, receiving this letter had me shedding tears outside my house, in my car, by the mailbox. #flashfloodalert
This big iceberg of feelings sat right in the middle my heart the rest of the day as I returned to work and even went to a movie with friends. The movie: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, about Mr. Rogers.
It was truly a beautiful movie that hit on topics a bit close to home - life, death, talking about emotions, care-taking, etc. It's hard not to cry during this movie, even if you aren't already emotionally vulnerable but having cried about a lot of things in real life, movies don't always "get me," as I'm processing its relation to my life. However, one scene really resonated with me. Tom Hanks, playing Mr. Rogers, states, people don’t like to talk about death but “to die is human and anything human is mentionable. Anything mentionable is manageable.”
The official Fred Rogers quote goes like this, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
As I stumble my way through this grief season, through good days and hard days, many friends and family journey with me. Amazing encouragers who I can call and tell them about hard moments - like the day's mail or another grief trigger. We can agree that it’s dumb and hurts. Relationships new and old help to ease the weight of the grief ever so slightly.
Even though grief often feels isolating, I am also realizing it is a bit of a community sport. We're all still, figuring out how to navigate this, as it is a challenge for each participant, to know what role to play or what to say.
Here are six guidelines from my perspective, inspired by Mr. Rogers, for how to share in grief:
This weekend was good, enjoyable. I spent time with a friend at a great piano concert - which weaves so much into my story that I am having trouble putting words to it yet, but a post is coming. I enjoyed a casual nature walk with a friend/family member on some NWA trails (I think we are like sibling-in-laws or something), rearranged the living room - again, enjoyed soup at my favorite local place and organized my closets.
Overall, it was a nice weekend but no matter how many things I did at home and away - I kept coming back to this deep ache. I miss Josh. I miss him so very much. There are many moments still when I ask, “Did this really happen?” Sadly, yes. I can talk about it without crying but it doesn’t mean my heart isn’t pounding, that I don’t still feel lost in the woods.
For some reason a silly song from youth group has popped in my head. I think it’s the “Goin’ on a Bear Hunt” song. I can’t even remember all the words but I know part of it is:
”Can’t go over it... Can’t go under it... Gotta go through it... Stomp Stomp, Stomp, Splash...Swish, etc...”
Grief is truly the weirdest adventure to wade through. There’s no a way around it. I could try to avoid it but it wouldn’t help. I could try to run from it but I wouldn’t make it far. It is messy and doesn’t make sense, no matter how hard I try to make sense of it - accepting that fact is still hard.
So what do you do? What do I do? I sigh, cry a little and say aloud to the sky, the trail, the internet, to a photo of Josh - I miss you. It feels good to say it, to keep acknowledging this fact.
“I sure do miss you, monster-bear.
And I am so thankful for our many bear-hunting adventures."
Hundreds of thoughts pass through my mind each day. Happy, sad, curious, frustrated, etc. but as I am wrapping up this night, I look at Josh’s photo hanging in our bedroom and begin to wonder.
What is he doing right now? What IS heaven like? Will he look the same when the time comes that we see each other again? These are just few of the things I ponder in a sea of others.
Today, I listened to a new album from a group Josh and I both enjoyed, and listen to often on our road trips - the group Fort Frances and the song “The Big One.” Listen to the album here and read the lyrics (hopefully, if the link works).
The lyrics are intriguing and open with the words, “you won’t find the devil in the details” and I concur. God is in the details. The singer later states he is searching high and low for hope and truth and concludes with “our work is not done.”
It’s really great and overall caught me by surprise as a song I that Josh and I would have discussed at great length - and all the layers of theology, life and culture that it represents. This, of course, makes me miss him all the more and had me a bit teary-eyed throughout the day as I listened to the whole album a few times.
As I wonder about Josh, and think about this song. I know I am also searching high and low for hope and truth in this season of grief. My hope is still found in Christ but I still wrestle with what that means within this grand story of love and loss.
I do know that my work is not done, God still working on and through me and all of this mess. But I still can be disappointed and that's okay too.
Oh the ups and downs of grief. The feelings are so unpredictable.
Yesterday was good although anxious as I pepped myself up to attend my first GriefShare event (read previous post for more on that). Today, I felt super low - maybe it was because I was still processing the class or trying to figure out my sleep patterns using some recommended medicine - I'm still behind on good sleep. I do know, I didn’t help when I overheard a conversation about someone else who died maybe even today - a friend of a coworker. It was weird to hear the words, “He was such a nice guy . . . and I'm so sorry...“
I hit a low point driving home again wishing I could call Josh and tell him all about my day. I needed hug from him today for sure - and that’s a lot to say for a non-hugger. Today, would have been a great day for us to have lunch - I miss our random lunch dates and coffee adventures so much.
At one point today some coworkers and I ended up talking about the meaning of the word “Hollar” - a southern words meaning a dip between hills that is smaller than a valley. Because of this most recent conversation, it’s on my mind and today would be a day that I feel like I am definitely in one. Perhaps, I am even in the hollar of a valley. Like, I'm already in a valley in this season of grief but then somedays I slip a bit more down, somedays more up. As I keep writing, this analogy seems to kept getting out of hand but either way, today was rough.
It was one that just seems a little more sad, almost heavy. I felt heavy with grief all day and even now. I haven’t been able to find a pattern to the emotions, they truly are grief bursts, which is frustrating too, there’s still not an easy solution. There are distractions for sure but not quick fixes.
I continue to hope, pray and trust that God is using all of this for good. My vision for the good is still a bit murky but I’m trying and trusting words like this:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
– Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV)
Tonight I embraced a new venture - a GriefShare class. This was a special one time meeting called "Surviving the Holidays," giving tips and encouragement for the first season (or even more) after a loved one passed away.
The whole way there I felt tense and panicky.
Did I want to go to this? No.
Should I? Probably. So I did.
I expect many other people attending felt the same. I was actually surprised but there were at least 40 people there for this special session.
The information was good and helpful, offering some practical tips and ideas for the holiday season. Encouragement to have a plan and an exit strategy if you find yourself in hitting a wall or "grief burst." I was also reminded that it's okay if you (or rather I) don't feel like putting up a tree or celebrating or doing all the same things - it's a different year. It's okay to do something different.
Following the video session, we broke into smaller groups to share a bit which as interesting. The group was good. - Honestly though, one of the harder parts for me was going upstairs to the second floor where Josh and I had been several times for meetings and gatherings because of his job – this was another layer of grief in the midst of participating in this event.
Before dismissing, all who attended joined back together for a special candle lighting. The GriefShare group leaders each read a small bit about a colored candle and item displayed on a table. I can’t remember all the words I do know the first candle was black representing the depth of our sorrow, there was also a pink one about our love for those who we’ve lost, and a final one labeled Hope representing Christ and our hope for the future. This whole moment had me and others tearing up. It was captivating and beautiful.
During the night, I shared a little with some people in group and in casual conversations but was really, really ready to leave - no energy left for lingering conversations.
On the way home, I stopped at Walmart and had to really hold my restraint from wanting to just kick overall the holiday popcorn tins that lined the entry way. I was kind of thinking, “I’ll show you how I’m going to survive the holidays!” Kick Kick Kick - at least that’s what was happening in my head.
Thinking about Christmas gatherings feels exhausting already. I don’t know what it will be like but do know that it will be different without Josh. It will be hard. It will be sad and tearful at times. There will be good moments and laughter still but a lot of things that won't happen. We won’t be serving together at church on Christmas Eve, he won’t be fixing a custom fancy meal that he loved doing, watching silly movies with me and so many more things. I'll be repeating some traditions by myself or with friends and also discovering some new ones.
For tonight, I took a step and survived the class along with so many others who are bravely walking in their grieve.
Whew…..Grief is hard work.
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.