I always thought that being strong meant getting up every day, holding your head high, and dealing with your demons on your own (or maybe even not at all). For some reason I thought the less I felt the pain, the stronger that made me. The less I cried, the braver I was. The more I hid my sorrow from those around me, the more healed and "normal" I could be. Cause every time I felt that pain, or I cried my tears, or I confided in a friend, I thought I was letting my grief win. I thought I was letting sadness creep back into my life, reopening a wound that I had worked so hard to close up. I thought I was bringing everyone down around me, and that none of those things emulated strength. I numbed the pain so hard, I didn't even feel like myself anymore. I completely lost touch of my sense of empathy, creativity, and emotional expression (um hello kind of important as a musician and therapy student). Now several years into my grief journey, I am just realizing how far off my definition of strength has been.
My grief is my biggest strength. Every obstacle, every loss, and every struggle I have faced to get to where I am now has single-handedly shaped every fiber of my being. I can look into the eyes of another person and whole-heartedly say, "I have not walked in your shoes, but I have felt similar pain. I have not carried the same burdens, but I know what it feels like to ache from the inside out. I cannot see the world through your eyes, but I see you and I am with you." This, is my strength.
Truly feeling the pain is one of the hardest things we can do. All the things we think make us "weak" are truly acts of bravery. I mean how courageous is vulnerability within itself? Completely allowing yourself to sit in your emotions and let them pass through you. Crying when you're sad. Reaching out to a friend to let them know where you're at. Connecting with a therapist. Making the time to rest and take care of yourself. These are not easy things to do. It takes strength to move not only with, but through the pain. Acknowledging, I'm not really feeling the greatest today but I'm just going to do my best and keep moving forward, is the ultimate act of courage. This is the greatest gift we can give ourselves.
I am starting to accept that grief is a part of me and that's okay. Instead of it being an intruder in my life, I try to accept it as I would any other part of me. The more I learn to incorporate it into my daily life, the less I feel the sudden waves of overwhelming and debilitating emotion. I think of it as untying a balloon and letting the air ease out gently, rather than bursting it all at once. Because if we don't let some of those emotions out in small doses every now and then, just like a steam kettle, the water is going to boil and the steam is going to continue to build up until it eventually bursts.
I am constantly navigating the ever-changing experiences that come with being a bereaved youth. While I don't think it's possible to control the unpredictable ways of grief, redefining strength as it applies to my situation has certainly helped in lessening the pressure and acknowledging how far I've come.
I've learned that being strong does not mean holding back the tears and pretending you are fine. Strength means crying your damn heart out, wiping your precious tears, and getting up the next day to show the world the badass resilient person you are.