When we encounter someone who is grieving, we tend to want to say things that will help them feel better, perhaps even help them feel good about themselves. So we offer complimentary and encouraging tidbits such as, “I can’t believe how strong you’re being,” or “Wow! You’re so strong!”
Oh, if I had a dollar for every time someone said this to me!
I didn’t feel strong at all during those early days, weeks, even months of grief. I felt broken, desperate, lost, exhausted, angry, defeated, punished. I wanted to crawl under the covers for good. Night night. Lights out. The opposite of strong. I didn’t understand what these people were seeing. They clearly weren’t seeing ME.
Or was I hiding my true feelings? Did I subliminally understand that it wasn’t cool to show the world how un-strong I was?
I think we cruelly expect grievers to BE strong. It’s uncomfortable to be in the presence of that kind of pain, and we are so freakin’ fixated on happiness! We equate emotionality (a.k.a., crying) with weakness, and we actually expect (or at least hope that we’ll see) a certain stoicism from people when they’ve just had (possibly) THE worst day of their lives. This is so wrong.
So DON’T be strong.
Be whatever comes up. Let that be OK. It’s your loss. You get to do it however you want or need to. Don’t be strong for the sake of others or on their behalf. The onset of your grief gets to be all about you. You do not have to take care of anyone else’s feelings or discomforts or needs right now.
If you know someone who is grieving, don’t praise him or her for “being strong.” Don’t make assumptions about the griever’s internal experience. If they show up looking like they’re keeping their shit together, consider the possibility that it’s an act. A brave face does not mean everything is running smoothly on the inside. The griever may be trying to take care of YOU and your feelings, when, honestly, it should be the other way around.