Very recently, I lost a dear friend to brain tumours. I was privileged enough to spend some time at the hospice with her and her family. The display of love and support in that room was staggering. The whole gamut of emotions was there with us; we laughed and cried, reminisced and re-told favourite stories, we talked about the unfairness of it all and spoke of the great life she had.
One of the recurring sentiments I heard said to family members was to ‘stay strong’. I found myself becoming quite irritated by that one simple phrase, after hearing it so many times from so many different people.
What do we mean by that? What does strength, in the face of a life taken too early, look like? Does staying strong mean an absence of tears? Denial, falling apart, anger, overwhelming sorrow, are all part of grief and, in my opinion, of being strong.
Strength is not in ‘keeping it together’ all the time. Strength is crying when you need to, allowing yourself to feel the rage at the injustice of it all; strength is allowing others to shoulder the load when it’s just simply too much for you to carry alone.
We all have such different ways of coping with grief and we should not be judged based on what others think is the ‘right’ way of expressing it.
All around us, people are dealing with grief; the recent grief of the loss of homes and businesses due to the floods, grief over the loss of loved ones, marriage breakdowns, lost dreams and hopes. Strength will show itself in varying forms. Some people need the ‘stiff upper lip’ approach, and that’s okay. Some people need to talk it out, looking at every angle and trying to make sense of it all that way, that’s okay too. Still others find solace in solitude and retreating. Quite often it’s a combination of all the different coping strategies that will get us through.
We need to give ourselves, as well as others, the permission to express and process grief in whatever way we need to, in order for us to best deal with the pain loss brings.
One of the best stories I have heard about grief is of a four year old child whose elderly neighbour had recently lost his wife. On seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When his mother asked what he had said to the neighbour, the little boy said, ‘Nothing, I just helped him cry.’
In times of grief, either our own or someone else’s, what we need as people is not someone commenting on how we are going, we just need people to help us cry.