When my husband first left this earth, people told me I was strong. I recoiled from this label because at the time I felt anything but strong.
I think maybe I’ve since changed my mind.
Please allow me this grace. If grief has taught me one thing it’s that the person you believe yourself to be changes on a daily basis (sometimes more often than that.) You might think the sky is blue one day and purple the other. One moment you might catch a glimpse of happiness and the next your world is crumbling from within.
On that note, maybe I am strong. Or maybe courageous, or brave. Or maybe all three. They have similar, but varying definitions:
Strong: “Able to withstand great force or pressure.”
Brave: “Ready to face or endure danger or pain.”
Courage: “Strength in the face of pain or grief.”
If the pressure of selling a house and a couple cars — on your own, when those things would have been your husband’s realm — makes you strong, then maybe I’m strong.
If quiet contemplation has become a mandatory morning staple because it helps you ready and prepare yourself for the day ahead, then I might be brave.
If finding new joy from within yourself because that’s where it was all along constitutes courage, then I’m currently at the top of my class.
Strong isn’t muscles. It isn’t forgetting or ignoring or denying.
Bravery isn’t acting the part. It isn’t swords or shields or armor.
Courage isn’t a misinformed cowardly lion. It isn’t something you set out to do or be when your alarm clock rings at 6 a.m.
Strong is the will to believe in the future — to believe you can create a new future, despite it all.
Bravery is letting down your armor and attending your first business meeting and breaking down in tears because you aren’t afraid to let people see the real you and your real emotions.
Courage is answering the door, or the phone. It is getting out of bed every morning, even when you’ve been up most of the night and early morning hours, unable to turn your mind off from “just thinking.”
When you are grieving, people want to say something to take the pain away. They want to help. Sometimes they tell you that you are strong or brave or courageous. I used to take offense at this because it seemed so far from the truth.
How could I be strong when I didn’t know if I had the will to exist? How could I be brave when my tears seemed overflowing? How could I be courageous when I didn’t know about tomorrow, much less today?
Good questions. I don’t have the answers. It’s been less than a year for me, nine months (or 41 weeks or 288 days, give or take) — if we are counting — and I still don’t quite know what I’m doing.
Well, that’s not all true. I know I am living and breathing each day. I know I have joy in my heart. I’ve come to believe what I am doing is nothing short of heroic: to withstand, to endure, to face the future, to find purpose, to continue moving forward, to continue loving and living.
I am trying. It’s all I can do. It’s all any of us can do.
And, if you will allow me, I want to amend my earlier statement (in an earlier column) about not being strong.
I am strong. I am brave. I am courageous. I might even be heroic. I’m guessing these very same things could be said about you.
Thank you for pointing this out to me, even before I was ready to hear it.
With love and gratitude.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Don’t miss a slice; follow the Slices of Life page on Facebook.