Maybe it’s some unspoken, automatically assumed rule that moms aren’t allowed to be sick. I’m sure any parent can relate to this, but when I get sick—like the every-part-of-my-body-even-my-hair-hurts sick—I feel like a HUGE inconvenience to anyone who has stepped in to take care of my kids while I attempt to take care of myself. So much that if I even have to go to the bathroom, which is down the hall from my bedroom, I feel like I need to stealthily crawl quietly to pee, because if someone notices me out of my room, standing on my two feet, they’ll think I’m strong enough to resume my mom-duties. You and I both know, when you’re THAT sick, you’re not strong at all, nor are you trying to be. I just want permission to be weak when I’m sick…and permission to pee in peace. And maybe you’re thinking, What does this have to do with grief?? My reply is EVERYTHING.
Why? Because probably the most common and most frequently said comment after someone goes through profound loss like losing a spouse (which is rated number 1 on The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale highest stressors and traumas someone can experience) is, “You’re so strong.”
But I’ve heard it time and time again from widows and widowers and experienced myself as a widowed mom of three littles a counter to that comment: But I don’t feel strong at all.
Don’t get me wrong, there is incredible strength that is found during the grief journey (and even throughout the process of a chronic or terminal illness) for a widow/widower, but I believe sometimes the pressure to appear strong for everyone else when we’re crumbling internally and just want permission to be weak can be just one more added stressor. What I really needed in my early grief journey when I was left with a newborn baby and twin toddlers was borrowed strength. Because of my strong-willed, independent spirit, I felt like: “Well, if everyone keeps telling me how strong I am, maybe I don’t have permission to be weak.” In truth, I, and every widow/er needs permission to ask for help. Permission to be weak and find their own strength within that weakness. Believe me, all that being strong for everyone else really caught up to me and forced me to my knees. (See: my other pieces “Checking myself into a mental hospital was the sanest thing I’ve done” and “I should have asked sooner…”)
It’s like I was the one clawing, and fighting my way out of a deep, dark hole and everyone else was standing around the perimeter, cheering me on and commenting, “Look, look at how strong she is, she’s doing it by herself!” And we do, in a way. We grievers do have to do a lot of things by ourselves because no one can do it for us and no one can take away our pain and no one can give us back the life we lost, but I can guarantee we could climb further, climb faster and rest more if the people climbed into the hole with us and gave us a shoulder to stand on when we just couldn’t climb anymore. Obviously, other people cannot and should not withstand a griever’s weight forever, but there have been so many times I’ve seen in my own journey that the moment I’ve felt I can’t do any more on my own, someone jumped in with me to (without being asked, BIG thing when wondering how to help a griever):
-box up my husband’s clothing and my household belongings when I couldn’t
-care for my children when I couldn’t
-blend up smoothies and leave them in a cooler at my door when I had to force myself to even eat and drink
-send me encouraging cards
-come over and sit on my couch, bringing only silence and not advice
I could go on and on and on. Like I said, I REALLY felt tempted to just want to lock the door and keep all the people who offered help because I was terrified at what would happen if they left. Would I crumble? Would I fall? Would I have to start all over? Would I be left at the bottom of this pit forever with no strength of my own? Well I discovered something so profound and so beautiful when my weakness was allowed to take over and that is this:
When you let a strong person keep holding the weight on her own and the only help you have to offer is to tell her how strong she is, she will surely buckle beneath not only the weight she carried before, but now the extra burden to stay strong for others’ expectations. But if you take her hand and bring her to her knees and get down, on your knees, and pray with her; pray for peace and rest and let her tears fall to the ground instead of wiping them away, you will be providing her more strength in giving her permission to be weak. You will not be providing her your strength or even her strength, but permission to take hold of God’s strength. God does his best work when we put our loads down, stop, rest. When we fall to our knees, we are lifted to new heights.