To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength. –Criss Jami
Over and over again as Sean and I have been on this journey, we have been told, “You are so strong” or “We are amazed at your strength” or “The strength of your faith is so amazing” or “You have inspired me”, etc. I am not writing this to brag about it. In fact, I am writing it to say that, unequivocally, the very LAST thing I have felt in the last 2 months is strong. To be blunt, I have felt the very opposite of that…I have felt overwhelmed, defeated, scared, crazy, lost, trampled, heartbroken, angry, and tremendously sad. Sometimes, all of those things at once. I have also felt exposed, like the most private pieces of me have been ripped out and put on public display and I can’t stop people from seeing them, from seeing my grief, from seeing my insanity. Now, some of this is self-induced because we have chosen to write about our daily life and our struggles to make sense of it. We both have very public jobs and must face the inevitable person who hasn’t heard the news and says, “Oh, congratulations! You look great! How’s the little guy?” And there is no good way to handle that…because you feel terrible and they feel terrible and it’s like one big sad party that no one wants to be at. In those moments, I feel the weakest. Because, I have to figure out how to say, “Well, Benton died but thanks for the balloon” in a way that does not sound sarcastic or hurtful.
I had the privilege today to spend hours talking to another mother who lost her daughter 8 years ago. In that time, which was so amazing because I didn’t have to explain anything to her, we talked about how much you, as the grieving parent, WANT to say those things. Or to just look at them and walk away. And then you think, “Wait, no, that is not polite I have to be polite”…which is what society expects of us…or perhaps what we expect of ourselves. Instead, I have to remind myself that just because this sad thing happened to me and shifted my world view upside down and it is all I think about, everyone else didn’t go through it…the world went on without us and now it’s our turn to catch up…and we don’t always want to. And then the looks…oh the looks…pity, I suppose it is…or sympathy…which look so much alike it’s hard to know which one you’re getting. I feel, sometimes, rather like Hester Prinn, with my scarlet letters “dead baby” emblazoned across my chest Uf. That’s a tough one to get used to. Because I don’t WANT people to know me for that reason. I don’t WANT to be that person. And sometimes, I get that look and I just want to hit something, or someone…or throw something…or cry. Which, by the way, makes people REALLY uncomfortable, myself included. This is my weakness, this is my vulnerability…I am human
Online today, I came across the quote above…that showing your vulnerability makes you strong. So, in that case, I guess perhaps Sean and I are the strongest people I know…because we are a mess. Sean, it seems to me, is much stronger than I…he has been the very best support I could ask for…he says the right things, he gives me comfort, he tells me it’s OK to be sad, it’s OK to not be OK…he protects me, or we perhaps we protect each other. He is my safety and my strength, for certain, even when I know he doesn’t feel any stronger than I do. Our faith has definitely helped…knowing that there is a bigger plan, that we can give our sorrows up to something greater, that Bennie is safe and healthy and beautiful in heaven…these are all positives that have bolstered our waning spirits. Our family and friends have, overall, been great supporters as well. And, as I have written before, sometimes people we barely knew before have buoyed us in ways they can never know by simply showing up. So, really, I think if we are “strong” or have inspired people to be more present, that is not coming from us. We hope our story can help…we hope telling it makes us more able to cope, more able to find our way back to life…we know it will help us and if it helps someone else, great, but that is not the purpose. Bennie’s light shines on and that little dude was the strongest person I have ever met. He, with 4 chest tubes and 2 ventilators and 5 IVs and a feeding tube, was ALWAYS present. He looked right through you with his big eyes and you had NO choice but to love him and NO choice to feel sorry for yourself. Just none. Because, if he can be a sweet, cooing, joyful, beautiful person while dealing with all of that, what can we EVER complain about? Nothing. Not a damn thing. It is WE who were and continue to be inspired by HIS strength and HIS spirit. Any strength that we show comes from him. We are vulnerable and sad and lonely and don’t really know what will come next. But, we know that BECAUSE he was strong, we will be. That, I think, is what people must be seeing when they tell us we are strong. They are seeing him. And isn’t he beautiful?
“And we all shine on, like the moon, and the stars, and the sun…and we all shine on…everyone.” –John Lennon