How often did I hear that word in the days, weeks and months following Xavier’s death? How often was it applied to my family and I, as admonition or admiration or assurance?
“You will get through this – you are strong”
“Strength will come as you need it”
“You are so much stronger than I could be”
“You need to be strong – for your family”
“You are the strong one”
At the time, I didn’t want to hear it, I craved hearing it, I believed it and I didn’t believe it, all at once. Even now, I have a difficult relationship with that word.
At Xavier’s funeral, I was told I was strong. Strong because I read a love letter to him (I cannot call it an obituary) and did not cry. Strong because I only crumpled as I held his candle, following the small white coffin out of the chapel. Strong because I greeted each and every one of those who come to pay their respects. My dear friends and family saw strength. They did not see me practise that love letter over and over and over until I felt confident I could speak it without tears. Speak so that everyone could hear me and know a little of my tiny Xavier – a small life that still contained likes and dislikes, funny moments and stories. They did not know, as I embraced them and accepted condolences, that I was still reeling in shock. That early grief had offered me a protective bubble and it was not until many weeks later that the full force of loss shattered against me. They did not know that I felt closer to numb than to strength.
When people called me strong and said that they could not be, I wondered what that meant. Did they really think that if they lost their beloved child that the world would stop for them? Because it does not. The world cares little if you are strong or not, it will still carry you on its tide. When people called me strong, I wondered, did they not see the pain? Did they not realise that every molecule of my life had been rearranged and I was scrambling to pick up the pieces? When people called me strong, when my brave face was on, mostly for their benefit, did they not realise it was a shimmering facade?
When my daily battle went unnoticed, when no-one commented on strength or bravery, I wanted to shout – “Do you know how hard this is? My baby died!” When no-one mentioned strength, I craved assurance that my herculean effort of getting up and breathing each day was witnessed and appreciated.
There were times I wondered if I was really strong. By trying to act as normally as possible, by trying to assure the comfort of those around me, was I being the opposite of strong? Would I have been braver to show the full extent of my vulnerability? Why was my strength measured by the way I made the people around me feel?
Now, with the perspective of time and a gorgeous new little baby in our family, I can see I AM Strong. My family IS strong. We are strong beyond measure and we are blessed. I can carry that label with more pride and certainity now. Perhaps I was always a strong person. Perhaps strength lay dormant until I need it most. Perhaps Xavier sent me strength. Whatever the reason, I am stronger now that I was before.
We have walked through the coals, our souls a little charred, but we made it to the other side – hand in hand and heart in heart.
A little more world weary, more aware of tragedy, but we live with more love and more hope in the face of it.
And that is strength.