“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.
I believe that the most courageous acts are done when we feel the most vulnerable but power through anyway. That takes the most strength.
Yes, yes, yes. As I was reading the first part of your post I kept thinking, “vulnerability IS strength.” Just like you can’t be brave without first being scared, I don’t think you can truly be strong without being vulnerable first. Your writing is powerful and I hope it continues to get picked up widely. Xoxo
Thanks my friend. Vulnerability is strength, that I am learning.
After losing my wife to cancer two years ago, with three young kids in tow, I never for a moment thought I had any choice but to be strong. I remember the vulnerability, but that felt to me more like an open wound and not a source of strength. However, I drew great strength in imagining what she would say if I let everything we’d built together come crashing down. I’m a little further down the road than you, but I can say that I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made, that the kids are well fed, dressed in clean clothes, doing well in school and, most of all, happy. It no longer feels like I have to try to be strong, it’s become the new reality and it’s totally cool. A silver lining, and perhaps the best benefit of this experience, is that I now feel pretty much bulletproof. What can happen to me now that I can’t get through? Come at me, life, I dare you.
I love this. “Come at me, life, I dare you.” I have realized now that I’ve made it through almost a year that I have survived the unsurvivable. So maybe I am much stronger than I ever thought possible. Thanks for your story of hope.
Thank you for this. I think our family and friends desperately want us to be “okay,” so we often act like we are whether we actually feel that way or not. Last night I viewed a CD of some photos taken at my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday party. I hadn’t looked at them for ten years. My husband never liked having his picture taken so when I came across several candid ones of him laughing and having a good time, I actually gasped in surprise. This was how I wanted to remember him, not as he was in his final days, and the enormity of his passing washed over me in a wave of grief and tears that I’d been trying to suppress in order to “be strong.”
Later on the phone with my daughter, I told her why I’d been crying. I usually don’t want to “burden” her with my feelings but I felt I needed to let her know what happened. As it turns out, she too had had a moment of grief when one of her students started to play a piano piece my husband used to play and she had to ask the student to stop because she was too overcome. This moment of sharing our vulnerability, I think, was much more healing than trying to keep a stiff upper lip and pretending everything is okay every moment of the day.
I love this. You and your daughter can share that pain and feel stronger afterwards from it. My dad and I do this too, sometimes, and it always makes me feel better.
I so love Nancy’s comment. Both Bill & I are attempting to “power” through life, when there are so many days when we feel so vulnerable. Power through our part-time careers, maintaining our farm & our lives. And so many of our friends, co-workers & acquaintances are amazed how strong we are, but also get concerned when we seem so sad & tired?
I don’t think they realize how much energy & strength it takes to power through a life when you have lost & buried a child.
Yes – I think it’s so hard for people to understand that there are peaks and valleys – we can be strong AND we can be sad. That’s what grief looks like. Sending love. xo
I agree with your last statement and all these comments- your strength lies in your ability to sit with what can be unbearable pain, to allow yourself to feel all the feels, to share it and make space for others to grieve as well. That is true courage and strength, and it comes through so strongly in your words.
Thanks so much for such a sweet comment!
You know, Sheryll, (Shawn’s mom ) I have read your comments before and thought how much you must be hurting. I am the mother of two adult children. I can see how all of you are trying to support Marjorie and the children. But I want to recognize and honor the tremendous loss and pain you and your husband must be going through. Your son’s death was so sudden and unexpected! As Alan Wolfelt, a grief counselor and author says: You deserve to grieve deeply. Please soak up the support of this little community here.
I agree. It’s funny, because when I saw your comment I said, “Carmelita!” out loud. You’ve been commenting for so long that now even my kids know your name! Thanks for supporting so many people on this blog.
In the words of Megan Devine, “It’s ok that you’re not ok.”
(Repost because I spelled my own name incorrectly.)
EXACTLY. Love her.
It is not strength that sustains you and gets you through the rough patches; it is love – the love of your family, community, and blog responders for you, and your love for them. Vulnerability is the portal through which love moves.
Yes – and that is beautifully said.
Hi Majorie. I lost my mom in January and my dad in 2014. I’m 45, so smack in midlife and have spent the past eleven months trying to figure out this new normal of a world without parents. I told my therapist this week that I feel like I need to get a grip and get control of my emotions (I found myself weeping as I put out Christmas decorations in my house that used to belong to my folks) and she told me that I needed to be kind to myself during this time and not see my sadness as anything other than normal.
I am so sorry for your loss and in no way mean to compare my loss of my parents to yours of your spouse, but I just wanted to thank you for sharing your story so honestly and openly. It’s been a comfort for me as I walk my own path to see you pushing forward along yours as well. My best to you.
Thanks so much for sharing. I have written a bit about losing my mom as a 19-year-old, so I know how it can be so disorienting to lose a parent. I have no idea how it would be to lose both of them. It’s all just awful, and I’m glad you can find at least a bit of comfort in my blog.
I was thinking exactly this when I was just reading and was trying how to work out how to put it into words and then found that Joy did it perfectly. Yes!
Thanks for reading!