"Stay Strong" and Other Bad Advice

Every one patted me on the back admiringly, that I was “so strong” after my father died.

Even I believed it.

My father Hermann, was 79 years old when he was killed by a train.  We can only guess that he must have been preoccupied with testing his just-repaired car air conditioning and did not see the warning lights at the rail crossing.  The crossing guard arm came down on his car roof as he drove onto the railway track.  Witnesses said he hit the brakes and stopped right there - on the rails. The train barreling towards him could not stop.   It hit his car and he sustained skull fractures.  He never came out of the coma and died 12 hours later.   We were in shock and my mother was so broken up.  Us four kids rallied to help her face the trauma, grief and this unexpected life.

In the months that followed,  I was poured my energies into working as a teaching assistant at a Graduate school by day.  Then I would dash over to help my mother cope with the grief and the huge changes of widowhood.  I stood with her as she grieved, not connecting with my own emotions because then who would she lean on.  There was not much energy left for my family and less for me while I stayed “strong” for others besides, I “had my faith” and thought “keeping busy” was how to cope.  Right? 

What a mistake. 

About six months later, I could not focus and concentrate on long student papers that I was grading.  I was wiped out by noon, and barely could walk through the grocery store but I would only sleep for a few hours at night.  I felt flu-achy all over week after week and felt like I was always walking through deep mud.  

My doctor referred me to a brilliant rheumatologist.  He did a “tender point” exam.  He seemed impressed,  “Well…you have all the symptoms including all 18 tender points!  You have a textbook case of fibromyalgia. ” 

“What is the cure?”

“Well…we have none.”

That was not brilliant,  it sounded like a prison sentence.  I sat in the car afterwards, leaned my head on the steering wheel and wept. The good news is that by the grace of God I did recover but it was quite a  journey.  

But there is a moral of the story:

Do what I say,  not what I did.  We are not created to be machines.  Don’t “be strong” but be human.

"No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear,..fluttering,...restlessness...yawning." - C.S.Lewis.  What does being human mean?  It means to feel those human emotions, not bury them in busy-ness; to fully feel our pain, our fear, our emotions and think our thoughts.  That way, they don’t get stuck deep down and eventually alter your health and your identity.  Loose and flowing is the opposite of stuck, That doesn’t mean that we release them ruthlessly and without discretion but rather safely with safe people.  The point is, if they are flowing out, they are not down in our gut, making us sick.  Cry and scream into a pillow, make a scrapbook and sigh deeply at the pictures, pound it out on the drums or slam tomatoes at the bathtub wall.  That’s flow.

Grief falls upon human beings like rain, not seeking out the evil over the good.  It visits the innocent, the humanitarian, the faithful, and even to the consternation of those that have shut down the emotion tap.  This grief-rain, when held in, eventually bogs us down, waterlogged and aching with the load.  I know.

Skip the “staying strong” and let the river of grief flow appropriately. The river is watering the humanity in each of us causing compassion, understanding and maturity to grow.  Let the water flow through us to grow the humanity within us.  

Blessings, big hugs and keep moving forward, 
Helping you get through the holidays, look for extra blogs published this month. Check back on Fridays for new ideas to help you survive the season. 

Check out other helpful blog articles on Helga's blog including :  Birthday Parties in Heaven, He is not here, Just tell Me What Happened and The Worst Nightmare plus helpful Renewing Resilience Tips.  
If you are facing loss, get the support you need.  For additional resources, including a no-obligation personal intake coaching session, on, "The Art of Finding Peace after Heartbreak" with Helga Bender MThS, click here.  
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