To the grieving who think nothing will ever change. To the hurting to who think tomorrow will be the same. To the lost and broken who are too weary to pick up the pieces.

Your eyes see only what is in front and behind. Look beyond. You will see the promise of change. The promise of a new tomorrow. The promise of wholeness to come.

You alone carry the burdens. You see the pain. You walk lonely and forever feel lost.

With the One who is peace, you will not be troubled. With the One who freely gives joy, your head will lift. With the One who is our companion, you will forever have a friend.

Turn your eyes to the Savior, the one who promises life everlasting. Turn to the Father, who longs for your devotion. Turn to the Keeper, who deserves every praise.

The promise of comfort reaches beyond what we see. Our Heavenly Father provides every need.

 

If you listen even briefly to survivors of suicide you will hear life explained as before their loss vs. after their loss. Life is drastically altered after the loss of a loved one and it can oftentimes only be described as tragically different. The memories were vast before the loss of my brother. I built a catalog of amazing times in life; times full of laughter and excitement. I was beginning my freshman year towards completion of my second college degree and the years were bursting with many joys and accomplishments. Before the loss of my brother was a vast 26 years full of memories.

When I experienced the tragic death of my brother I simultaneously lost many memories of this vast catalog of life before. My entire memory bank shifted and was reserved for my brothers life preservation and sorting through the details of his death. The first year I wrote all I could to preserve every memory of his life. I often experienced times of panic; fearing I would forget him. It took every inch of my brain to process this loss. I often explain to those close to me that the space in my brain was rearranged and grief took occupancy in all portions deemed unnecessary for survival.

The one thing I never anticipated after the loss of my brother was the diminished memories. I recently attended my 10 year college reunion with the same friends I shared thousands of memories with before the loss of my brother. I did not foresee that the retelling of times past would grieve my heart as it did. Coming to the realization that I had forgotten so much prior to my brothers loss was grievous. I certainly realize that 10 years is a long time and many memories are naturally lost if not properly documented, but my mind felt blank in so many ways. I listened intently as each friend rambled off story after story and simultaneously felt light enter my darkened brain. I found myself diving into my catalog of memories and grasping at anything I could bring to remembrance. The occasional question, “Joanna, do you remember when __________,” was posed and I continually found myself answering, “No, I don’t remember that.”

Life after loss can be explained as a hallway of rooms and each memory before loss locked away in each. I’m not certain that it is the intention of the bereaved to forget these memories, but because of the amount of time the brain spends to sort out tragedy, the memories end up here. Until this reunion I never really understood the depth of memories before, that were left unremembered. My hallway of rooms had been locked for years and one day of retelling of memories began to open each, one by one. The sharing of memories opened up so many cherished pieces of my past. It breathed a refreshed life into my dark hallway.

I have been home for over a week now and continue to replay the memories shared. Rebuilding life after loss takes intent and does not happen overnight. So many times you may not know what it is that your fragile heart may need in this grief journey. This is why I  tell the newly bereaved to be gentle with yourselves. A day may be drowned in the replaying of details of your loved ones death and the very next may be full of memories of laughter. After 6 years into this journey that’s how life is beginning to turn. There are more crevices opening up in my brain and new life is making its way into those dark and locked hallways. I can begin to see doorways opening with light shining through. These moments come with a pain because it tells me I am further from the day my brother was here on earth. I continue to press into each new day as a gift and to trust the Maker of life to open up new doors of light.

Today, February 16, 2016, I celebrate my only brother, Jonathan. He lived a short life. It’s been 6 years since he left and I am thankful for the beautiful memories I have of his life on earth. Each year on the anniversary of his death there is a range of emotions that surface. People refer to it as the grieving process. I refer to it as life. Writing was a gift my brother had and the poems he left behind are a source of strength. I am so glad he decided to write and continued on with it throughout his lifetime. He continued to grow in this area and it was something I really loved to encourage in him. There is a sense of closeness to his memory when I write because it has an attachment to a beautiful memory. 

I’ve experienced a lot through these last 6 years of my grief journey. The biggest thing that I have held on to are the memories and the largest struggle has been sifting through the range of emotions after loss. If I were to give one solid piece of advice to anyone who is standing next to someone who has just lost someone tragically, it would be this. The things they will say or express in their time of grief may sometimes worry you or sadden you. You are without emotion if their loss doesn’t somehow move you. Listening allows the griever to move through their grief. How many times will it take? I cannot tell you there is a timeline in this journey, because I don’t believe it begins and ends one day. As I wrote previously in my post entitled, “This is Life,” the grieving somehow have to learn how to move through their own lives and work through this grief. Again, the best thing you can do as a loved one is listen, and allow them to speak without correcting or judging. The very opportunity to speak up about their loss will allow a great amount of comfort during this time. 

Looking back, year 5 was the year I felt the full finality of Jonathan’s absence. My husband and I took a little boy into our home just 5 short months previous (as we are foster-adopt parents) and I was feeling that this little guy would have brought a lot of joy to my brother. The loss felt great because of the things that were happening in my life that my brother was not around to participate in and contribute to. Twenty-fifteen, I started writing again about my brothers death. I sat in my corner chair with my laptop, listening to music and wrote. I was startled by the things that came out of me. They were not flowery words, but raw and honest. The first 2 years after my brothers death I did a lot of reflecting through writing and then one day stopped, and put a wall up against expressing my voice with pen and paper. I haven’t found the right opportunity to share this until now, but here are some of the things I began writing last year on this date that really helped me process some really deep sorrow and allowed me to move through a very dark period in this grieving process and into a place of hope. I cheer my words now because I can see how they freed me to express and be ok with where I was in this life. 


Written February 14, 2015:

On February 14th 2010 I received the call that my brother went missing and there was a note believed to be a suicide letter. This night 5 years ago was torturous. I was thousands of miles away and had absolutely no control. He wasn’t found until 2 days later. Those moments run through my mind like a movie.

The Reel of Grief

A reel rolling the terror of my reality. It’s a clear genre. The cold sorrowful song of death.

The finality. It stops. Comes to an end.

The reel rolls. Hits stop on the world rolling by.

Could 5 years come and go and the reality still feel so cold.

Each screening provokes another emotion untold.

Up and down. Around and through.

Reeling through the memories. Each one unfolds. Ranges of emotions untold.


Written February 16, 2015:

Found February 16, 2010

Those moments, imprinted in my memory for all eternity.

Each day produces a new wave of emotion. Calm seas is what I long for. The waves of grief allow only at will.

Rolling On The Waves

Anger. Drops of tears. Heart aches. Brain spinning ’round.

Rolling on the waves. Loss of past and present. Loss of dreams. Family severed. Memories becoming the sum of a life lived.

Rolling on the waves.

Brother. Friend.

Rolling on the waves.

Time ticking. Minute to the next. Day by day. Year after year.

Rolling on the waves.

See your face. The call of angst. Unable to save.

Rolling on the waves.

It comes back to the start. Not birth. But death. Loss. Begins the day my heart fell apart.

Still rolling on the waves.


Finding your voice after loss is one of the hardest things in this grieving process. It has been scary writing about this journey for fear that those who know me may worry for me and my overall emotional state. Let’s be frank, when you are raw with your words it can make some people worry. The truth is that writing frees me to have purpose and to share with others the very realities of this journey. Each written word is felt deeply and expressed freely simply to help those who are grieving and reading to be assured they are not alone. I too was once searching for a familiar voice many years ago and found little in the light of this topic. My hope is to change that in some small way.

The loudest message I give myself 6 years later is to never underestimate the power of your life on this earth. You have purpose. You have a voice. Life can certainly be messy and the most powerful words are the ones that go out of your mouth over your own life. Speak life to your very being and encourage yourself today.

Much love to you on your journey.

 

P.S. Dear Jonathan, I love and miss you. -JoJo

 

 

 

I continually remind myself why I share about the loss of my brother. Grief is something that can easily be hid away in the corners of your room. It is not pretty. The finality of death is something we all have to come to in our lives. It is the end of this life on earth and all of us will someday meet it. Our culture does all it can to prolong the conversations we have of death and grieving. Culture has a mentality of living and very rarely is grieving understood until the moment it greets us at our door.

In my late 20’s I experienced something that many at that age have not. Loosing a sibling to suicide was not in the college handbook. Pursuing dreams and following the well laid out career plan didn’t lend itself to working your way through grief. A major shift happened when I learned that life is really not all about living and planning, but rather about death and grieving. The one thing that we all have in common is one day we will all die. How are we going to grieve when it comes to the ones we love? I constantly find myself thinking that if we lived in a society that made space for grief, we would be a whole lot better off.

Our day to day lives are struck by an array of emotions when we lose a loved one and many times we are required to move on with life as usual. What happened to mourning? Society makes little room for mourning the loss of a loved one. The grieving may often be found in the corner of the room tearfully dredging through the day with no space to truly think and mourn for the ones lost.

I recently pulled out a poem I wrote and was reminded yet again why I continue to write on this topic. My brother spent his life on earth with mental health struggles and in just a moment of despair his life was gone. The world continues to hold on to the stigma that just the word suicide brings, meanwhile, I spend my days reminding myself that my brother encountered one moment of despair that changed the course of my life and so many others who knew him.

 

This is Life

The last touch of your hand. The very last joyful laughter heard.

Each moment traps itself away in my tears.

The pain of losing you. The moments of not knowing what to do.

I miss you.

May the world know your story. May the confusion, frustration, and pain from within ring.

I want your truth to be heard and felt for others who may feel despair.

May your loss be a reminder that this is life.

Sit down next to your friend and tell them your story. What happens? Do you cry? Do you laugh? Do you tense up? Do you freeze in fear? Transparency is something that throughout time has been vital in storytelling. To see the whole picture and feel emotion we need the whole story. So often in our culture it is frowned on to speak of the tough times or the low times in our lives. It is not pretty to talk about the despair we experienced when what we thought to be a safe world, goes asunder, when the marriage we vowed to commit to for our lives gets torn in two, or when the child we expected to be healthy and thriving looses a battle to depression or cancer. To speak our truth it demands for transparency and this one thing keeps us from connecting with those around us.

During the Christmas season I keep a picture of the nativity scene in my mind. It is simple and ordinary and doesn’t involve the large cast of the nativity scene, but the smaller one with only the main characters. I go to it when I see splashes of Santa across the internet and throughout the stores begging for my attention. I want to remind myself of this story and it takes an intention to sit and reflect on a story that has been told to me hundreds of times since childhood.

I was sitting last evening reflecting on the complexities of Mary’s situation in life when she was carrying Jesus in her womb. I think about all of the things that Mary could have hid from society to make her birth appear more flowery. Appearances are what many people go by in our culture. It is easy to hide the complexities of our lives from people behind closed doors. The story of Jesus’ birth is courageous simply because of the transparency in the details of the real struggles Mary and Joseph faced along their journey. Pull a few of those details in the story and if they were your reality you may choose to hide and not tell those painful parts of your story. What does hiding parts of yourself from others do? It creates a tunnel of isolation. Sure, for a time you may become to believe that the painful parts of your life are not your reality, but the fact is that they are, and they will continue to follow you throughout your life until you become transparent and connect with humanity.

I often ask myself, why are you talking about your junk Joanna? Why are you putting so much of yourself out there for people to read and even judge? The reality is that my life is made up of many complexities. I do not want them to hinder me from being connected with humanity. I want my story to be told with transparency so that others may find courage to come out of isolation and join a community of people who love and care for them.

It would have been very simple for the writers to keep out the part of the story where Mary wasn’t married and about to give birth. They could have kept the part out where Joseph didn’t plan properly for his family and was left having his child born in a dirty atmosphere. The shame that these two may have felt for not having things exactly together and their lives not being completely perfect could have caused them to hide their story of hope from humanity. The realities of our life and the things that we have walked through give hope to those who may be experiencing that storm today. Masking parts of our story is pushing hope out of our world. Tell your story to others. It may feel and even sound ordinary but every complexity spoken with transparency will bring hope to humanity.