Looking back, I am not sure how we were able say goodbye. How we were able to decide when we had enough cuddles, enough kisses, enough time. How we were physically able to walk away from the little body, our son’s beautiful little body, on that rainy day in November.
Strength is a trait that gets thrown around lot with the bereaved. I am not sure what it means, or who it is meant to comfort. However, the sentiment is well-meaning and appreciated. It implies that someone cares but simply has not learned the language of the bereaved. I wouldn’t want anyone else to truly know how we are feeling, or how the textbook definition of strength only vaguely skims the surface. To know that in this language, there are no words.
I was not strong the other day as I walked past some neighbourhood mothers with their strollers. The smile on my face and forced “hey” did not accurately portray my broken spirit, nor my anger and sadness that I was on my way to a counselling session instead of on the walk with them. I was not strong as the tears pierced my cheeks the rest of the way.
I was not strong as I wept while I read the birth announcement from one of my colleagues, announcing the safe arrival of their daughter. Jealousy is not strength. However, I was strong when I decided not to reply, when I decided that a passive-aggressive email would not set a good example for my son.
I was not strong as I fell to pieces in the nursery. As I sat in the chair we had so carefully, and proudly, chosen fabric for a few months before Owen’s arrival. As I looked at this space we poured so much of our love into to make sure everything was just right. I was not strong as the only sounds were of a wounded heart.
I am not strong in the fleeting moments when I wonder why we bother to carry on, yet knowing in my heart we have to in order to honour our son.
I fear that people will see me and think that I am strong. That in those moments you courageously speak with me, walk past me, or sit with me, you see my ability to string words together as strength. That I am somehow giving off the wrong impression. That I do not miss my son with every ounce of my being.
We do have moments where we feel elements of textbook strength. We can smile, laugh even. However, when you are in the throes of grief, you do not feel strong. I am there sometimes, but I am not there yet. I do not suspect I will ever be there all of the time, either. Strength is subjective.
I present to you my new definition of strength, as it applies to my grieving heart:
The ability to carry on one minute and allow yourself to fall apart the next. The willingness to make yourself vulnerable, to be honest with your emotions, to cry and scream when you need to. The capacity to feel joy without guilt. The selfless act of taking on the suffering so your child does not have to. The power to let go, when all you want to do is hold on, when all you want is one more cuddle. To live, knowing your child will always be with you in your heart.
And for those who are along this journey with us as we navigate the unknown:
The courage to be with our grieving hearts. The ability to sit in awkward silence. The willingness to let the tears fall alongside our own.