When tragedy comes, it has a way of tearing things down until they are no longer recognizable. Our family’s life-changing tragedy, the loss of my husband and my babies’ Daddy, shook us and changed the kaleidoscope of our surroundings. Just over two years ago in the middle of February, all I could see was the rubble. It felt like the end of all things; the death of not only a person but of the life we knew and the dreams we had together. In many ways it was.
Yet, everything had not changed; my family’s foundation was firmly set in an unchanging God whose love and faithfulness never fail. Knowing and holding onto those truths comforted me, and kept me from fully shattering. We were broken, but surrounded by loving arms and helpful hands. We were sad, but our tears landed in safe places.
So when the time came for me to rebuild our life, I was supported and fueled. I wince to call it a “new normal,” but that is exactly what I was working toward. I moved forward into a different way of living that considered the past but focused on the present with hope for the future. On April 1, 2016, we physically moved away from the home Eric and I had made together and into the space my family of three would now begin to live. And we did: we lived. We live.
Have you noticed that people tend to measure time according to major life changes? Whether it be delightful or disastrous, the big things often shape the way we think about the days in between. The stuff of every day is the way life is lived, but the large happenings are the way time is marked. At the very least, this is how it works for me.
A year after Eric’s passing, I decided that March would be like our family’s New Year. Since tragedy ended one way of living in February, March would represent the beginning of a different lifestyle and marker of another year. My journals begin in March, with a single word on their title pages: “One.” “Two.” And “Three.”
For the one year anniversary and also the second, I took the month of February to intentionally grieve and to rest. I anticipated the pain of the flooding memories, and expected to need time to grieve, so I scheduled it. I reminded my close friends, coworkers and family members that I would likely not be performing my best in that month (grief or trauma can chemically alter your brain function), and that I’d be taking time to let myself heal. I took off time from work throughout the month, rested, and planned a couple special remembrances and family trips. I practiced self-care, sought friendship, and chose media to read and watch with intention to cry, reminisce, and release.
Just as I had allowed myself time to grieve, rest, and replenish in February, I had plans for March. I allotted to my New Year full anticipation of energy, motivation, poise, and presence. I also assigned myself all the things for the month. Sort of like resolutions on steroids.
Best Laid Plans…
In February, I practiced some good self care, but I went overboard in several areas as well. For example, I indulged in once-in-a-while things regularly in the name of “giving myself grace” because I’m sad and “I deserve it.” At first it was fine, but it didn’t take long for the indulgences to pile up in unhealthy ways. My favorite drink? Yep, another please. More shopping? Check. All of the food with extra sugar? Of course. Netflix binge? How about three. And the extras were fine for February.
But then March hit. Almost like clockwork, my feet began throbbing the second I stepped out of bed. Instead of feeling refreshed and renewed as expected, 28 days of actually over-indulgent self-care had left my body in a desperate state of un-health. Not only that, but I didn’t even have to open my planner before my head began spinning. Every time something remotely postponable came up during February, I scheduled it for March. My mind was quickly filled with all the things now fully on my plate: projects, personal disciplines, meetings, appointments, blog posts… so. much. overwhelm. Unfortunately, the energy, motivation, and poise did not come so easily into this month. I rushed forward anyway to try to get everything done with as much speed as I could muster and as little sleep as possible.
There Is Grace
From the first day, March was a month of striving… March was madness. I rarely stopped to see progress but just barreled ahead. In about the middle of the month I snapped at the people I love and said some things that I immediately regretted. I was wound so tightly that not only was I actually not accomplishing the things on my list (causing my stress level to go up further) I was hurting those closest to me. I needed to slow down and breathe.
I retreated to my room and sat in the quiet, and began to tell God, “I just can’t.” I imagined Him silently pulling me into His arms like a father would. In His embrace I could let go, and rest. It was time to have real grace with myself – the kind that says it’s ok if I messed up, and it’s ok to try again. Grace that says that it’s ok to be still sad in the month meant for doing things. The kind of grace that comes from knowing that my true value does not come in what I do or do not get done – but from the Father who was holding me and helping me in my overwhelmed state. He loves me completely, cares for me without ceasing, and wants to help me live well. All of the comforts of the world and all of the completed lists could not surpass those truths.
I still had plenty of work to get back to the “normal” of a routine that wasn’t stressful and a body that didn’t hate me. The rest of the month, however, was spent in mostly forward motion, with real grace, toward the health of my mind, body, and heart.