“You are so strong.” The woman – the one who I barely know – looks at me with sorrow in her eyes. “You are amazing,” she says. “I think just about anyone else who had to face such loss would not do nearly as well as you have.”
I thank her, and we part. I know she meant well, so I don’t think much of it. Also, I hear something like this at least a few times a week, so I’m used to it. I know everyone wants to be encouraging and maybe the people who tell me I am strong are actually impressed with my ability to keep it together most days.
Honestly, I’m impressed with my ability to keep it together most days.
But I started to think about strength the other day as I was texting with my friend Beth. She had read my blog post about Shawn’s diagnosis and wrote me this: “Reading your post today made me think your blog is giving people permission to grieve.”
It was a touching thing for her to write, and we texted a bit back and forth about my post. It was a raw one, and I had laid all of my emotions bare in it. “Why have we decided as a society that being tough is what’s commendable?” Beth asked me.
“Who knows,” I texted back. “Why is it so great that I’m ‘strong’ rather than that I’m ‘vulnerable?'”
Neither of us really had an answer for that, but we both admitted that we’ve often felt that being tough is good and that remaining strong is definitely preferable to being vulnerable.
When I write about some new thing I’ve done and how proud I am of myself, I hear back from a few people who read my blog that they are happy I am doing well. But really, I only get a couple of responses on blog posts like that.
On the other hand, when I share – and I mean, really, really share – about my struggles, I hear much more from others. I hear about their hurt and grief and we share each other’s pain.
In fact, a few weeks ago, I got a message from a woman who I think has been reading my blog for a long time, but only just decided to finally write me. I got her message on Thanksgiving and when I read it, I started to cry. Here’s what she wrote:
I lost my husband of 22 years and best friend of 28 years in April 17, 2017. We have 4 children. We have a successful HVAC business. I had a brain aneurysm June of this year 2018. Your article “Before and after” was published in our newspaper Tuesday June 5, 2018 the same day I was in the hospital having my aneurysm coiled. My mother in law saved it for me to read. I have it taped to the wall in my kitchen as it so resonates with me. Thank you.
That was the first article I ever wrote for a major paper and I didn’t know it had been reprinted in her local paper in Canada. But it was, and the fact that she liked it so much that she kept it taped on her wall for the past six months was really moving for me.
That article that she referenced was about how I really didn’t know what I was doing with parenting. How I had become a totally different parent after losing Shawn and how I was sure I was screwing everything up. I knew putting my insecurities out there might lead to a lot of unneeded “advice” from people who read it, and after it was published there was plenty of that. (I wryly noted to my father one night, “when I wrote, ‘what am I supposed to do?’ it was rhetorical….”) Yes, showing all my insecurities was risky. Better would be to write about how I am conquering parenting as a single mom, how I am making it in this world even thought I’m doing it alone.
But would it really be better to pretend that everything is going great?
Obviously, I don’t think so. This blog has been a place where I’ve celebrated some things, but more important, it’s been a place where I share things that can make me feel super vulnerable.
Maybe that’s giving people permission to grieve their own sadnesses, or at least to know they aren’t alone in the world.
Maybe when I write about the desperation I feel without Shawn or the times when I cry so hard I can barely breathe, maybe that is what connects me with other people more than any victory dance I could do.
Maybe the vulnerability itself is strong.
Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.