If you look up the word “strong” in the dictionary it will give you the definition: “having the power to move heavy weights or perform other physically demanding tasks” or “able to withstand great force or pressure.” Ok I lied. Google says that. But nobody uses an actual dictionary anymore anyway, and I’m the queen of Google so that’s where I decided to go to figure out why I’ve heard this word 1,597,142 times since October 1st, 2017.
When someone dies, the word strong gets thrown around like freaking confetti, and when you’re living with grief brain you become really great at taking everything everyone says and twisting it to mean whatever fits your emotional agenda for the day. Of course I hear “You’re so strong” quite often, but I’ve also been told “You’re trying to be too strong, it’s ok to let it out,” which causes me to frantically question if there’s more wrong with me than I initially thought, all while trying to muster up some tears to make this person feel better, by giving them the opportunity to pat my back and spend the remainder of their day with my snot and tears wiped all over their shoulder. “You have to be strong for the kids,” is another one that has come in various forms and phrases, resulting in me laying in bed every night remembering how much I nagged my son that day, and envisioning him sprawled out on a therapist’s couch at the age of 40, talking about how he’s never had a real relationship with a woman because his mom couldn’t get her shit together and figure out what being “strong” actually meant.
This is of course, all my doing, because like I said, I’ve become a master at overthinking. People really do mean well, and it’s not their fault, they’re simply trying to find the right words for a situation that doesn’t have any. And the only people who truly get it, who do say all the right things, are those who have experienced a loss of this magnitude…a child, a spouse, etc. I am both fortunate and unfortunate to have several of these people in my life, meaning I wouldn’t wish this pain on anybody but damn it it’s nice to have a few people who understand just how much this stings and how hard it is to navigate your way through grief….because there are as many ways to grieve as there are people living in this world. (An actual licensed therapist told me that, in case you think I’m being dramatic).
And I understand that many people don’t know how to “take” me sometimes. I use dark humor, sarcasm and inappropriateness to deal with just about everything, and it can make almost any situation super awkward. But I decided a long time ago that I wasn’t going to be a victim to my circumstances, regardless of what life was going to throw at me. I never in a million years imagined it would be something this extreme, but here we are so buckle up Susan, we’re doing this.
Most of these people also don’t know our story. Jesse’s story. They weren’t there through the intense highs and lows that are often accompanied by mental illness, addiction and loving someone who has experienced God awful trauma. If you don’t learn to grow from it, you won’t survive it, so that’s what I did. Although I had no idea at the time that I would actually be equipping myself to deal with the fact that life wasn’t about to just hand me lemons, it was going to full on beat me in the face with them.
Watching someone who has EVERYTHING..a wife who loves him, 2 beautiful kids, 1 healthy boy and 1 healthy girl, a good job, friends and family rooting for him every single day, not be able to enjoy or have gratitude for any of it, because he doesn’t feel like he’s deserving of it, just plain sucks. I think this is why even in his absence, with the circumstance being that he literally made the choice to leave this Earth permanently, it isn’t me that I feel sorry for, it’s him. Jesse spent so much of his life in emotional pain. He never got to find peace. He didn’t get to experience the world the way that I see it. And that just seems so unfair.
I know I’ll be ok, and I’ll find genuine joy and happiness again, because I’m not special. Others have been through exactly what I’m going through. They learned how to keep going and so will I.
And because one of the last things Jesse said to me, two days before he took his life, in the midst of his downward spiral, when he was at a point where he was still able to somewhat find his way back to me through the paranoia, depression and psychosis, was “Babe, please do not let this world break you.” I didn’t make the promise right away, but I did a few days after he passed, as I sat sobbing on my bathroom floor, half hating him for what he had done, half pleading with God to bring him back to me. I promised Jesse I wouldn’t let this break me, and I won’t.
I will for the rest of my life be living a constant duality though..one of sadness over his absence and gratitude for the life that is here. And I intend on kicking ass at it in my own hot mess way. To some that might mean I’m trying to be too strong, and to others it might mean I’m not strong enough, because it won’t seem like I’ve completely moved on.
The reality is I’m creating my own path through grief; my own messy, chaotic, unique to me path, toward whatever my new version of happiness is going to be. It has nothing to do with being strong. It’s about keeping a promise to that man that I loved.