In the early days of grief people told me that I was so strong for how I reacted to Flynn`s death. Numb and unable to experience or express my emotions, I put my energy into tasks. I called friends and family and recited the facts of Flynn`s birth and death, I met with a funeral director to make funeral arrangements, talked with a florist about flowers for Flynn`s tiny casket, and chose cemetery plots and a plot marker. I wrote Flynn`s funeral service and made the remembrance card that attendees would take with them. Essentially I was finding a way to simply put one foot in front of the other not out of some sense of strength but merely as a way to survive. I wasn`t the only one being asked to muster strength in a time of grief; Landy was also told to be strong for me, Flynn`s mother, because I would need him and both of us were told that our responsibility was to focus on our oldest and let him bring us strength.
I often wonder if people would have told me I was weak if I had cried or even wailed and expressed my profound sadness that my tiny son was dead and I would have to somehow carry on without him. I am curious why our society asks or even demands that grievers are "strong" in the face of such despair and heartbreak? What a disservice our language serves in the aftershock of death and how unfortunate that our discomfort with grief has us asking that people restrain themselves (an act of strength) rather then expose the depths of their pain (an act of vulnerability).
So here is how I know that I am strong. I allow myself to fall apart when I no longer want to hold myself together. I seek out relationships that support me in being vulnerable and exposing my pain. I courageously experience my feelings and share them through meaningful connections with those I love. I experience empathy and compassion from those around me and ensure that I am capable of showing it in return. I willingly share Flynn with friends and family so that his impact on our life leaves a legacy beyond the mere hours he spent alive. I don't ask people to be strong in the face of death and grief, I ask them to be kind and generous with their heart and soul and that I am there with love and compassion.
This type of strength is a continuous and ever changing journey and just last week I cried. It was a loud, wet, messy sob that lasted for several minutes and did not in any way resemble the Hollywood version of crying~ one tear slowly trickling down the cheek. Tears pooled in my eyelids until they dumped down my cheeks, washing away the foundation and smudging the mascara I had so carefully applied to appear polished for the day. The noises from my throat and mouth sounded like honks and grunts while my mouth curled into a grimace that simply opened and then closed again. Between sobs I gasped for breath, gulping whatever oxygen the slight pause in my crying would allow, chest heaving and empty inhalations wheezing through the silence. Every muscle in my body hardened and tensed while my emotions, suppressed until this moment, rushed forward escaping through the opportunity my crying had presented. There was grief, heartbreak, helplessness and frustration interwoven with tones of love and hope. On that day a week ago I was reminded that the earth had continued to turn and another 360 days had passed; soon I would be facing 15 years since I last held my tiny son kissing him and whispering I love you while simultaneously saying good bye. It has taken a great deal of strength to grieve, sometimes every fibre of my being, because while that was the first day without him, I now know that I will have to face every day for the rest of my life without him and that is more goodbyes then I can count.