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“You’re a Strong Person” Comment about Grief: Some Personal Thoughts

“You’re a Strong Person” Comment about Grief: Some Personal Thoughts

In 2007 four family members – my daughter, father-in-law, brother and only sibling, and my former son-in-law -- all died. My daughter and her former husband died in separate car crashes. Their deaths made my twin grandchildren orphans and my husband and me their guardians. Time and again, friends told me “You’re a strong person,” a comment I came to dread.

Yes, I’m a strong person, but that doesn’t immunize me against grief. Telling a bereaved person they are strong doesn’t help them. In fact, this comment can become a burden. So right here, right now, I would like to dispel some of the myths about being strong.

Strong people grieve like everyone else. I’m a grandmother and have experienced grief before, including the death of my parents, aunts, uncles, and friends. While this experience was helpful, it didn’t help much with multiple losses. I researched multiple losses on the Internet and the articles I found helped me see the power of multiple loses and all the secondary losses I experienced.

Strong people experience the confusion and stress of grief. After a loved one dies our emotions can swing widely. We may find ourselves weeping one minute and laughing the next. I came to the grief of multiple losses with some emotional baggage, including memories of a father who was a practicing alcoholic, and memories of him as a recovering alcoholic. My  emotions swung widely, yet I was able to control them, examine them, and make sense of them. The confusion and stress of your grief may be similar to mine.

Like all the bereaved, strong people must do their grief work. Grieving for several loved ones takes longer than grieving for one. At least, that’s usually the case. It took me several months to realize I was grieving for my loved ones in the order they died. My mind would go back in time to family experiences and issues, and then it would go forward again. These swings eventually helped me to create a future.

We experience anniversary reactions.  An anniversary reaction is a profound feeling of sadness on a deceased loved one’s birthday, a holiday, wedding anniversary, or other event. Though I couldn’t prevent anniversary reactions, could prepare for them, and take some proactive steps. For example, on the anniversary of our former son-in-law’s death my husband and I donated money to the local food bank in his memory.

Finally, we try to take care of ourselves in order to move forward. Grief counselors and clergy tell the bereaved to take care of themselves. But self-care varies from person to person, and you’re the only one who can figure out what works for you. Writing is at the top of my self-care list. I’ve stayed involved in social groups and hobbies. These proactive steps prevent me from wallowing in grief and keep me connected with others.

Yes, I’m a strong person and used my coping skills to craft a new life for myself. It isn’t the life I thought I’d have, but it’s a good and productive life, filled with happy times.

Submitted by Harriet Hodgson  |  February 17, 2014 - 5:26pm 

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