I’m currently about a third of the way through Brene Brown’s book Rising Strong (excellent book if you are dealing with ANY kind of personal or professional crisis by the way). Anyway, there is this one part where she talks about how the “middle is messy”. The middle of anything- a draft of a movie script, a divorce, a job search and yes, for me, the first year of young widowhood.
My middle was certainly messy. It came just after what I lovingly like to call “holiday hell.” It was that November through January 1 stretch that included the first Thanksgiving, first Christmas prep, first Christmas Eve, first Christmas Day and first New Years. It felt like I was dodging emotional tennis balls being shot from one of those rapid fire machines. It was a ROUGH stretch of time.
A fellow crappy club member and friend often says that we young widows put on a mask. I think this is true. We put on our “happy holiday mommy” mask and we plow through because our kids deserve it, our families can’t stand to see us in a weepy pile and it’s just easier that way. Easier for everyone else but not for us. For the grieving, exhausted one it’s probably the most emotionally unhealthy thing to do but, it is part of survival.
So in rolls January which has NEVER been my favorite month. January can be DREARY where I live, holiday madness is done and it feels like an eternity until spring. This January however, was even worse than normal. One particular Thursday school was cancelled for 2 days, activities were cancelled and all the structure I had for a 4 day stretch evaporated (not good for type A me). Then a friend called and canceled plans and that did it…I fell (as we used to say on the farm) slap apart. I’m talking sobbing in a ball, on the floor, my body shaking. No reasoning skills available. Slap apart.
Yes I’d cried before…PLENTY of tears but this was different. You see, I was almost 6 months in. The grief cloud that had surrounded me had lifted so I was truly feeling all that pain in a completely different way than before. I’ve talked to others who’ve said something similar happened to them after a divorce, a death, an affair…it’s an emotional floodgate that opens and you can’t damn it up or turn it off. Brene Brown says we have to lean into that pain- and boy I did.
My “lean in” to that emotional pain came in the form of prayers and journaling. I think I wrote over 40 pages that weekend. I wrote letters in my journal to my husband, to God, to someone I deeply cared about who had hurt me. Those letters in my journal probably didn’t make any sense and I don’t know that they will ever be looked at again. However, at that moment, they were my life vest in a violent sea of emotion. I can remember praying in my closet with the door closed asking God to just lift my burden. It was too heavy and I couldn’t go it alone. How was I supposed to be all things to all these people when I could barely peel myself off the floor?
In Rising Strong, Brown finishes the quote by saying “The middle is messy but it’s also where the magic happens.” She’s 1000% right. It was after that horrific, messy middle that my God truly allowed me to find my footing as a young widowed mother with a full time job and 2 amazing children. I began to take care of myself by finding time just for me. I began to see that in order to meet the needs of my 2 kids and my 20 something students, I had to first meet my own needs. I had to schedule my life to include morning devotions, excercise, time with the people I loved the most and yes, naps. The magic that happened for me after that messy middle did not come immediately…I actually think I’m still in the middle of it…but there is a turn. I can now be thankful for that awful, messy middle and the magic that came after.