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.
Many years ago I was at the funeral of my best friend’s father. Over and over again i was told of the importance of being strong. My friend’s mother kept telling me what a rock she’d been for her – and I got the impression that crying or even expressions of sorrow or even sympathy were not welcome. It was the hardest funeral I ever went to, and exhausting. I felt so bad for the whole family as they tried their best to live up to expectations of this woman. And, of course, she was the widow so I think everyone there was doing their best not to upset her. Yet, it was hell on wheels for her kids as well as family and friends.
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It saddens me to hear that an entire family and its community of friends felt compelled to stifle their true feelings of sadness in order to meet some standard of “composure.” Adding insult to injury, if you ask me. I hope we – of Western culture – can begin to shift this maddening expectation at such a difficult and already trying time in people’s lives. We need to befriend our feelings; they’re there for a reason, to be felt and expressed. Shutting them down NEVER works and has horrible long-term consequences.
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It is madness and infiltrates every area of life. Like the way employers give a set number of days for bereavement leave depending on the relationship with the person who has died. I mean it’s crazy. Who came up with such a system?
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I agree. In answer to your question, “Who came up with such a system?” Answer: A freak who had clearly never lost anyone. We expect this of children as well!! If it weren’t so cruel, I’d laugh. We allow weeks off for broken BONES, why would we think 3 days would be enough to reassemble one’s broken heart?
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Yes, I totally agree on that, when it comes to set number of days for grievance off work, depending on who it is in the family.
I lost a very dear aunt and it broke my heart when she died. To go to her funeral, I had to use an annual leave. I had no annual leave left.
It turned out funeral landed on the day of my annual leave I already had booked. But unfortunately I could not get to it due to a viral infection that kept me in bed.
But had I been fine and healthy and could not have gone to my aunt’s funeral because of their way of doing, I would never have forgiven them.
Yet later, when another aunt was on her deathbed, thankfully, they allowed me the time required off where needed. Although again, I think annual leave may have been taken for this.
As for being strong, I have heard that too. I had a double-death in my family a few years ago that hit me very hard. I wasn’t strong as people said and I certainly wasn’t hiding it. It broke me, because they were like another set of parents to me. It wasn’t their time to go. They got hit by a car and killed instantly and so a court case to attend later the following year after inquiries for it prior as evidence.
It was a very difficult year, which my heart can still break at times knowing they are not enjoying their retirement and the years they would have had, ahead of them.
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