Photos c/o Mia Barranco.
Jené is an avid collector of good books, movie quotes, glass bottles and vintage pitchers. She is also a dancer and a choreographer, and raised her children on a farm in the Loire River Valley in France for seven weeks, in a home full of creative spirits with musical ability. In her breakout book, Good Night, I Love You, she writes about her husband’s sudden and unexpected death, and her journey through overwhelming grief. On her blog, Eyes Str8 Ahead, Jene hopes to inspire others to examine their lives and search for their God-given purpose and pursue it with their whole heart.
Good night, I love you — a simple phrase, one most of us say every day of our lives.
We say it to our parents at bedtime as a child.
We say it to someone we love as we roll over and fall asleep.
We even say it on the phone while separated from the one we love.
The words easily, and mindlessly, pass through our lips. We never consider they may be the last words we speak to the person who holds our heart.
On February 22, 2011, I heard my husband speak these tender words for the very last time — the same words he uttered every single night for 25 years.
In 1986, we met and fell in love. We married exactly one year after the date we met. Twenty-four years and three children later, I lost the love of my life. Our life as we knew it was wiped out, as if by a tsunami, in one devastating instant. While on an overnight business trip, only to be away for twenty-four hours, he died in a car crash… less than an hour after speaking those five simple words.
I felt numb in the following months. So what now? Where do I go from here? How do I begin? Am I even breathing?
My body went into autopilot. My mornings, days, and nights ran together into one long string of survival.
I realized the Proverb I had clung to as my daily mantra for the previous 20 years had been deeply rooted in my soul for such a time as this:
Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids look right before you. Ponder the path of your feet, and let all your ways be established. Proverbs 4:25-26
I had no idea how crucial this verse would become for my survival through life’s most difficult times. My daily self talk became: Just do the next thing Jené, keep your eyes straight ahead, take it slowly, intentionally step forward.
Life must and did go on.
I kept breathing. I faced my grief head on, wanting to learn all I could from it. Grief is a long journey down a road of utter darkness and pain with an unknown distance to travel before the sun rises again.
But I kept taking the next step, and the next, with an unaware boldness.
Grief recently entered my world again. Not directly, but no matter how indirectly or directly it strikes our world, once it has come to our own doorstep, the compassion for others quickly rises when we learn someone else has just opened their door to find inescapable death and grief waiting for them.
A close friend called to tell me her best friend’s son had just died. He was a newlywed. In an instant, a young bride lost her husband in a car accident. No warning. No preparation. These things we cannot explain away. They happen. Married for only 2 months, they had yet to even receive their wedding photos from the photographer.
My thoughts are with this bride. If I could look into her eyes, what would I say? What words could I offer her to help move forward from a tragic loss of love? What are the most basic things I could say to help her heal while journeying through the dark valley that lay ahead of her?
I remember going to see my internist a couple of months after my husband died. My heart rate and blood pressure were all over the place. My sleep was nonexistent.
He offered basic advice. “Cry. When you feel the urge arise, cry. Don’t push it down. Let it out. Now, you can’t emote everywhere you go-there will be times when you need to hold it together. But when you can, where you can, go ahead and cry.”
I walked away from that appointment feeling empowered. I was told what to do. I love bullet point lists. I’m a “just give me the facts bottom line” kind of person. My mind made a mental check, “Cry. It’s good for me.”
If I could talk to this young widow, I would give her my bullet points…
- Cry, or you may drown.
- Don’t apologize for your tears.
- Lay down stoicism.
- Get out of bed each day.
- Journal – it’s the only way I survived.
- Make time for solitude.
- Do the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing.
- Take the healing process seriously, because it is serious.
- Run towards God, not away.
- Choose wisely whom you allow in your inner circle – the ones who will feel comfortable with your silence, your vulnerability, and your pain.
- Take deep breaths. Frequently.
- Talk about him.
- Take care of your grief – don’t put a Band-Aid on it. Treat the wound.
- Practice soul care.
- Don’t put grief in a closet or sweep it under a rug to make your life look clean.
- Don’t go back to business as usual too soon.
- Change up your routine.
- Occasionally do hard things. They may seem impossible in the moment but are essential to heal and move forward.
Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids look right before you-one step at a time. The sun will rise again.