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“You are so strong.”

Grievers, do you need to be strong for everyone else?... Maybe sometimes.

woman flexing muscles looking out over skyline

“You are so strong.”

So many people said this phrase to me that I came up with my “elevator pitch” answer. When I heard those words, my guard immediately went up, and I mentally tuned out. Why? Because I did not feel strong or brave. Inside, I was terrified, unsure and broken. Very few people saw that side.

When people make those statements, they are not questions. They do not want to know, “How are you, really?” or “How can I support you?” I believe that people genuinely think that it is helpful. What they are really saying is, “You are putting on a good front. No one can see how much you struggle.” It reassures the person making the statement. “Phew, if they don’t show their sadness, then everything must be okay, so therefore I don’t need to dig into anything that might make ME uncomfortable since I don’t want to talk about emotions.”

So, what would I say to the people who asked me that question? “Thank you. It is hard, but we are doing our best.” Or some version of that. Inside, it felt isolating and lonely. It felt like I couldn’t share how I was truly feeling, because I would let down all of those people who think I am so strong. I mean, what the ….? I am hurting, and now I am worried about letting this entire group of outsiders down? That is even more pressure. I wrote about this recently in my Stop Giving In to Others Blog post.  

Then there was the strength that I had for my three daughters, who were 9, 12 and 15 when my husband Steve died. Steve was shot at his company by an employee he demoted. He died from his injuries three months later and never regained consciousness. For my daughters, the world was no longer a safe place. Their mom, their now sole parent, had to return to the scene of the crime every day to run the business. What if something similar happened to me? You don’t think these things are possible, but they do happen to everyday people like you and me.

One of my daughters recently introduced me for a speaking engagement where she shared that “My mom is the strongest leader I’ve ever seen.” There is that word strong again. Strong. However, in this case, I felt like I had to be strong for my daughters. What I mean by that is not that I had a stiff upper lip and did not share my emotions, but that I had to assume the head of household role. My daughters needed me to assert myself, to take control in their worlds that felt like they were spinning out of control. They needed me to be there for them. Did I want that role? No. But I chose to do it. I really didn’t think about the choice; I just sprung into action. Was it hard, exhausting and terrifying? Yes! It required me to push myself outside of my comfort zone each and every day.

I never felt like a strong leader back then. I was the mom; I made it all happen behind the scenes. I was the Brownie leader, church organizer, lunch maker, room mom, carpool driver and all of the other things to keep our household operating. I was the quiet director of all things. Steve had always seen the leader in me. There were days that he would come home from work and say that I should take a leadership role in the business. Little did he know that day was coming.

It has been nine years since Steve died, and I am thankful that I was able to find the strength to do what I did even though I did not feel strong on the inside most of the time.

We live in a society that does not know how to talk about feelings, let alone death or grief. We fear our own mortality, so by not talking about it, maybe it won’t exist. Well, I hate to break it to you. We all will die at some point. 

In the United States, we are always in a hurry. We take on too many projects, overschedule ourselves, multi-task and then scroll on social media to tune out. Actually stopping and genuinely wanting to know how someone’s day is and being prepared to actively listen, empathize and connect with them is not something we do naturally. We ask people, “How are you?” But it is really just a greeting like “Hello.” It is not typically meant to dig deeper, but the question is misleading.

Occasionally when I am out shopping, the salespeople will ask, “How are you?”, and robotically I say with a smile, “Just fine, having a great day.” Reciprocally, I ask, “How are you?” and once in a while someone will answer the question truly: “I’m having a tough time,” “My dog just died” or something else personal. We are always taken aback when someone actually bears their soul. We are not accustomed to that. These are people that we do not have a relationship with.

What about those who are close to us, our friends and family? People we really do care about. Maybe it is time to ask them a different question that demonstrates that you do care, that you are ready to listen, and that you do want to deepen your relationship with them.

“How are you, really?”

“How are you doing right now?”

“The last time we talked, you were dealing with [X problem]. How has that been lately?”

I want to leave you with this: Sometimes we do need to be strong and brave; that is how we grow. However, other times it is okay to let others shoulder some of the burden. So, yes, this is how I answer my initial question, “Grievers, do you need to be strong for everyone else?”... Maybe, sometimes.

woman sitting on beach at sunset flexing muscles


Jody Hello Portrait2.jpg

Hi, I'm Jody!

I’m a widow, grief expert, widow coach, and mom. I hope that Widows in the Workplace is able to provide you with comfort, support and guidance while you find your way with your grief journey. 

It is possible to Rediscover, Reimagine and Relaunch your Life again. You do not need to do it alone. 

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