“Be strong,” I was told. Often. Ad infinitum. Almost Ad nauseam
The advice sounded fine and intelligent, but just what, exactly, did it mean?
Having found myself in the role of caregiver to my husband after his chronic lymphocytic leukemia hit with a vengeance; causing several devastating strokes, my friends gathered around me and repeated those words – much like a mantra.
But I had no idea what they meant.
Does being strong refer to not crying? If that is the case, I most certainly was not consistently strong during the pinnacle of my caregiving struggles.
Does being strong mean you have to do it all on your own: not reach out to others for help, advice, comfort, compassion? I certainly tried that and ultimately deteriorated into a useless mess, not only ineffective at being Joe’s caregiver but also quite incapable of taking proper care of myself.
To be sure, telling a friend to be strong is a fine suggestion but only if the proper clarification follows those two words. Many well-meaning people share this platitude with friends who are going through a difficult life situation. Not enough of them can articulate – in my estimation – just what it takes to “be strong.”
And, so, it fell upon my shoulders to figure it out. I had to grasp how to be strong in the face of the adversity Joe and I had faced in 2016. And still deal with, to some degree, today.
Recently I found a wonderful little quote that pretty much sums it up:
“A strong person is not the one who doesn’t cry. A strong person is the one who is quiet and sheds tears for a moment, and then picks up the sword and fights again.”
Where were these wise words when I needed them? For, every time I broke down into a sobbing puddle, I assumed I wasn’t being strong enough and chastised myself for failing. Each episode of overt anger made me feel that I’d broken an unwritten law – the one that said I had to remain tough or I wasn’t being an effective caregiver.
Yet, reflecting upon the most stressful episodes I now recognize that friends, medical personnel and family members were not berating me for breaking down into angry episodes or crying jags. Quite contrary to that, they had helped bolster me up until I found the reserve within myself to continue on the mission of caring for Joe.
Those were the people with an understanding of what “being strong” truly means, and they were sharing the wisdom of that quote with me. I just didn’t “get it”. Without me recognizing it, I was the one who did not grasp what those words meant. I was the one forcing myself to be stoic. I was assuming that was the definition of a strong person.
As caregivers we are required to do so very much; learn medical jargon we never thought we’d need, interact with professionals in their chosen fields of therapy, share that which we absorbed with our loved ones as we continue to retain our previous – before the upheaval – lives.
It’s a lot to put on someone’s plate. And that plate will falter at times. Perhaps even crash and break.
However, unlike Humpty Dumpty as he fell from his wall, we can pick up the pieces, be put together again, get back up, ready to carry on.
That, my friends, is what “being strong” really is.
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