For Everyone Telling Me I’m “So Strong”

This post originally appeared on the website Young, Widowed & Dating. YW&D is dedicated to helping the young, widowed community restart their heart after the death of their spouse.

You see me carrying on despite the horrible hand life dealt me. You wave as I pull the garbage bin to the curb each week, a chore my husband would always need a gentle reminder to complete. You pass me in the hallways at work, impressed that I’m able to continue as lead on the project. You sit across from me at church as I remind my two boys to lower their voices.

I see it in your eyes, the words I know are coming but I wish you wouldn’t speak.

Then, you stop me or motion me over to ask how I’ve been doing since the death of my spouse. As the conversation winds to a close, you say the words I’ve been dreading: “You’re so strong!”

The truth is, I’m not strong. You don’t see me as I hold back tears trying to explain to my older son why his daddy isn’t here with us. You don’t hear me yelling obscenities when yet another item gets added to the honey-do list for which I have no “honey” to fix. You aren’t there as the tears stream down my face when I hear his favorite song on the radio. You must not know how often I sit in the car – alone – and bawl for what could have been, should have been. You can’t possibly imagine how I wavered in my faith and questioned what kind of God would have allowed my husband to meet such a horrific end. No, you’re not there when I just need one more drink to numb the pain…when I reach for one more pill to get through the insomnia.

I’m not strong.

I feel like a fraud for making anyone think this widowed life is easy. I’m merely coping and trying to make the best of an unfortunate set of circumstances. I’m no shining example of how to handle grief with grace and class. I’m only working on getting through each day; many times hour by hour.

By focusing on my strength – and that alone – you set an unrealistic set of “standards” for the next woman who loses a spouse and isn’t handling her storm as well as you think she should. You reinforce the stereotype that there is a one size fits all with grief. Please know no two widowed journeys are the same. A widow who chooses to publicly share her pain and grief is just as “strong” as one who masks her pain and puts on a brave front for the world.

There’s an expression that says, “You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice”. I know this to be true. Losing my husband forced me to work tirelessly to retain some semblance of normalcy for our children. You’d do the same if forced into the situation I have been.

So you see, I’m not any stronger than you would be. I’m merely in survival mode.

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