Tuesday, October 4, 2011

“You’re So Strong” Is Often Wrong

SIDS is a scary acronym and it becomes even scarier when the syndrome itself affects someone close to you. I haven’t had this particular grief, but my daughter’s close friend recently lost her precious baby girl to SIDS.
I’m no expert on grief, but I have experienced child loss and it affects my view of the world and particularly my view of mourning, not only my personal experience but also that of others.
My daughter’s friend related that it troubles her when someone notes that she is “so strong.” I puzzled over this comment for a few days, because it’s one I’ve heard often in relation to my own child loss and several other aspects of my life. I don’t remember this particular observation bothering me in the early, what I call “fresh”, days of my grief, but when someone noted that I seemed to be doing “well,” or “strong,” I remember thinking to myself, “Huh? What else am I supposed to do or be?” I then generally accepted the “strong” statement as a compliment and went on my way of just living—not believing for one second that I was strong, and in fact, often feeling pretty wobbly.
One example of being “strong” that comes to mind occurred a few months after my long-time marriage disintegrated. A close friend was visiting and sat in the bathroom watching me scrape peeling cracking disgusting paint and wallpaper remnants off the walls, an activity, which, in retrospect was rather apropos to my life at the time. She looked at me, shook her head, and said, “I can’t believe you’re in here scraping paint. If I had separated from my husband and just got over Lyme disease, I’d be piled up in the bed, crying.”
I looked at her and said, “There is a part of me that is piled up in the bed crying right now. But this other part is here in the bathroom scraping the walls.”
It’s that part of any of us standing in the bathroom scraping the walls that fools people into believing we are strong. And I’m not certain if fooling people into believing we’re strong is even the right way to explain what is happening. On reflection, I think people want to believe those who have suffered are strong. Why? Because grief and loss are painful, truly life altering. We fear loss, we fear grief, we fear pain. One of our biggest fears surrounding loss, grief, pain is that we cannot, will not be able to bear up under the weight—that we aren’t, won’t be, cannot be “strong”—that we will crumble and die from loss, grief, pain.
When someone sees my daughter’s friend move through her days, living her grief, yet still living, I believe the strength they see is not so much the young woman’s strength, but rather it is the strength they want to have should they suffer similar loss, grief, pain. By observing her “strength,” which is probably simply getting up and living a day—that day—they too believe that should the unimaginable happen to them, they will be able to get up and live a day.

One of the best quotes relating to being strong doesn’t say much of anything extraordinary. No magic formula exists for dealing with loss, grief, pain, but if one did, I think it would read like the following:

“Strength just comes in one brand—you stand up at sunrise
and meet what they send you and keep your hair combed.”
                                    ~ from Kate Vaiden by Reynolds Price

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