I’ve been thinking about this post for a while and when the topic came up at our support group yesterday I decided to put my thoughts together. It’s about crying and being strong (as the title might suggest…).
People sometimes say to us “You are so strong”. Depending on the situation I really don’t like to hear this. Other bereaved parents have mentioned this, too. One example is when we were in the hospital with Marlon and we knew that he wouldn’t survive the nurses would say it and I was confused by that. I felt tired, exhausted, sad and confused – anything but strong. I think they said it because we were able to keep it together somehow and did not have a complete break down. They might have perceived us as being strong because we didn’t cry much while we were in the hospital (they should have seen us afterwards). We just did what we had to do, what every parent would do. We had to take care of our son. Maybe it’s a situation in which people think they would break down if they were in the same situation. As one Dad in our group said yesterday, most people wouldn’t break down, most parents would be able to do it because it’s what you do as a parent.
There are other situations when people have said “You are so strong” and I think a lot of people mistakenly feel that one is strong when one doesn’t cry. This leads me to the topic of crying. I have thought about this a lot in the past few weeks. There is a saying that I came across a couple of times in relation to grieving: “Crying doesn’t mean you’re weak. It means you have been strong for too long.” I never quite liked it but I’m not able to exactly pinpoint why not. For me it does still imply in a way that not crying has to do with being perceived as strong. I think that this is something that a lot of us, especially boys, got taught as kids – crying is a weakness.
A friend who I saw the other day apologized for crying when we talked about Marlon and Tobias and how I feel. She is not the first person who has apologized for crying in front of me. I told her that I actually think that crying is the best reaction that she could show me. It is the most honest and appropriate reaction in my opinion and it shows that someone cares. No one should apologize for crying, although I have to admit that I have done it myself. I have said “I’m sorry” when I cried in front of other people. Why is that? I don’t really know. I have to admit that I am not someone who openly cries in front of others and I think, or thought, it has to do with feeling safe. I need to feel safe to be able to cry and yes it might be that I too sometimes subconsciously might connect crying with weakness. Who wants to admit that they’re weak (and on the other hand I don’t like when people tell me that I’m strong? How does that go together?)… I hope that I will be able to change this.
Someone in group yesterday recommended a TED talk about vulnerability and interpersonal connections, so I looked it up and watched it this morning. It was like a revelation for me. It makes a lot of sense and I too would recommend watching it. One quote from the talk that really struck me is: “In order for a connection to happen we have to allow ourselves to be seen“. This is so true. I have experienced this so often in the past two years. It always amazed me how quickly we were able to establish a deep connection with other parents who have gone through a similar tragedy. I think it all comes down to this quote. We allow ourselves to be seen by these other parents. We all put our vulnerability right out there on a plate and it is true that that makes for a very deep connection. And this is also true with friends and colleagues. A lot of people have approached us after our boys died and told us their stories. Most of the time we had no idea about these stories. I always appreciate others sharing their stories because it makes me feel more connected and now I understand a little more about the reason why. It might be the ability to show how vulnerable we are which isn’t easy and can take some guts. And that is probably what makes strong people. There is another line from the talk that I really like: “The original definition of courage – to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart“.
So I guess we (as in humans) are strong when we let ourselves be vulnerable – not the opposite. We are strong because we are able to cry and let ourselves be seen and not because we don’t cry.