Of all the irritating things people have said to me since Toren was stillborn (and it's quite a list), "Be strong" is one of the most common. Other variations are: "You are so strong." and "I don't know where you find the strength." I've heard this many times from friends and strangers alike. It's a pretty regular comment on the comfort circuit from what I'm learning. No other parent whose child has died has said anything to me about my supposed strength. It's one of those things people say because they think they're being "comforting" but it's obvious to me that they're saying it for their own comfort. The other night I was reading a grieving mother's blog and most of the comments afterwards were by other grieving parents. I like reading those because I like learning about how other people's experiences are different or similar to mine. And then there was the obligatory comment from a non-loss person who wrote something like, "I just want to say how amazing and strong I think you are...." Drives me f***ing bananas! Who is that statement for?
When people tell me to "be strong", I interpret it as either: a) Don't break down or go unhinged in front of me or b) This tragedy couldn't possibly happen to me, but YOU, you are STRONG, therefore that is why it happened to you. Depends on the day. I never, ever take it well.
I once sat beside a woman I had just met at lunch. I was talking very openly about Toren and didn't realize that the woman was getting uncomfortable. This was early on, not long after he died, so I hadn't figured out the stigma thing yet. I didn't know her, and just thought she was quiet. At the end of the lunch, I had to leave before the others and after I said my goodbyes, I turned to walk away and she blurted out to my back, "Be strong!" I turned around and just stared at her because now I was the one who didn't know what to say. It was such a bizarre moment.
When I hear these types of comments, it just makes me feel so distant from the person expressing them. I feel so weak and vulnerable since Toren died that when I'm told how strong I am, or when someone advises me to be strong, I either shut down inside or feel my anger rising. Maybe one day, I will ask the person to explain what exactly he or she means by "be strong". What is it that I should specifically be doing to comply with this advice? I'm really curious what people would say. Maybe someone would say, "Actually, my child didn't die so I don't have a goddamn clue what I'm talking about. Instead of presuming to advise you or cheerlead you, I think I will just shut up and listen to what you have to say about your own experience. Maybe I will learn something."
Could happen. You never know.
True strength, I think, comes when you can feel the grief without trying to get away from it too quickly; when you can grieve publicly without self-consciousness; when you can acknowledge your stillborn child without fear of upsetting someone. I have a long way to go before I can claim any genuine strength.