When It Isn’t Enough to be Strong

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Be Brave - 1Almost anyone who has dealt with the loss of someone they were close to has likely been told, “You’re so strong.”  I don’t even want to try to count the number of times I was told that after I lost my husband.  I know everyone meant well, but the way they said it as though if I only believed it everything would be okay, drove me crazy.  I didn’t feel strong.  I was 27 years old and 24 weeks pregnant and my husband was never coming home.  I said goodbye to him one morning and never saw him again.  Somewhere deep down I knew I could survive the loss, but as I was curled up in a ball on my closet floor trying to force myself to put on a black maternity dress that I knew I would never wear again, I didn’t feel strong.

But I forced myself to get up and get dressed.  As soon as I moved the dress from his rack in our closet, I noticed the back of one of his shirts.  It simply said, “Be Brave.”  At that moment, I realized that I needed to be strong, but more importantly, I needed to be brave.  To be courageous in the face of everything I had been through and was about to go through.  My son needed his momma to show up in a big way, and I had to try my best to do just that.

While I received that message just a few days after I lost the love of my life, it took some time to really sink in.  Most of the details of the first few months are still a blur to me.  I remember calling my sister because my husband never came home and her rushing over to help me call hospitals.  I remember the look on his step fathers’ face as he tried to reassure me that just because the police captain was coming over, it did not mean the worst.  It did.  I remember the smell of his best friends’ leather coat as he held me after I was told that my amazing husband was in a fatal car accident the night before, and he was never going to come home again.  

At that point most of my memories fade in and out.  I am not sure who told my parents, or what I said to his mother and father.  I don’t remember telling my boss that I would not be coming in on Monday.  I don’t remember planning most of his memorial.  I have no idea how I forced myself to sleep that night or to wake up the next day.

I do remember my loved ones stepping up in a big way and carrying me through the worst moments of my life.  My friends and family provided so much shelter and love as they cooked for me, sat with me, made phone calls for me, and cried with me.  I remember the look on my sister’s face when she first found me curled up in the closet too weak to move and completely dehydrated from crying for days.  My mom couldn’t stand to see me cry, but she showed up every day and did my laundry, cleaned my house, cooked meals I refused to eat, and took care of the cats.  I remember googling “young pregnant widow” because surely I had to be the only one in existence ever.  I am not.  For 3 days straight I subsisted on green grapes which my father ensured were fully stocked at all times and black tea because it was all I could force myself to eat and drink.  I remember asking so much of his mother in those early days and being amazed by her ability to handle everything I threw at her at the worst possible time.  I remember his father and step mother shielding me from yet another person trying to rub my protruding pregnant belly at his memorial by holding me and sharing their very best memories with me.  I remember being told, “You are so strong, you will get through this.” – when the thought of breathing seemed too difficult to bear.

Be Brave - 2In those early days, it was all I could do to force myself to get out of bed.  Being brave was the last thing on my mind.  I didn’t want to deal with my pain.  I was just trying to survive, and living again was certainly not a priority.  The thing is, I was a momma even if my son had yet to be born.  Through it all, my sweet boy needed me to find a way to feel joy again.  I had to figure out how to honor the love I have for my husband and the life we shared while allowing my beautiful son the life he deserved.

I recently found a poem online that compares the difference between “strength” and “courage” {bravery}.  A few of the lines really resonated with me.

It takes strength to be certain,

It takes courage to have doubt.

It takes strength to feel a friend’s pain,

It takes courage to feel your own pain.

It takes strength to hide your own pains,

It takes courage to show them.

It takes strength to stand alone,

It takes courage to lean on another.

It takes strength to love,

It takes courage to be loved.

It take strength to survive,

It takes courage to live.

– by David L. Griffith, full poem here

You see as a momma it isn’t enough for me to be strong.  I need to be brave enough to let myself feel my grief, to let myself be loved, to ask for help, and most importantly, to find a way to live again.  I have never seen myself as someone others would consider brave.  I won’t even ride roller coasters at amusement parks, and I had to ask a friend to give my husband my number because I was too nervous to talk to him.  {To be fair, I was 16 at the time.}  Somehow on that day in my closet I realized that I wanted my son to have the life he deserved.  To know happiness and security the way I did growing up.  The only way that was going to happen was if I found my courageous side and embraced it in every moment.  

Be Brave - 3When the nurse told me I could just watch the videos instead of attending my OBGYN’s mandatory birthing classes just 3 weeks after my loss, I said no.  Instead, brother-in-law and I went, every week.  I am still so grateful that he sat next to me as the other couples in the room joyfully planned the birth of their babies while the two of us were thinking about how to survive the next few hours.  Thank goodness he only embarrassed me a few times; the week my 2 best friends took his place is another story.  

When I thought about cancelling the maternity pictures I had scheduled because it might be too hard, I said no.  I wanted to capture the time I spent with my sweet boy curled up in my pregnant belly; the moments we spent just the 2 of us safe from the outside world.  

When they took him to the NICU just a few short hours after he was born, and I wanted to convince myself that after everything I didn’t even deserve my sweet baby, I said no.  I pulled myself together and sat next to his incubator as they performed tests on my tiny infant.  I held him against my skin for hours in a room full of strangers because I wanted him as close to me as possible.  

At 14 months, when the doctor told me that he would in fact need surgery, and I wanted to run away instantly, I said no.  I held him as we listened to her detailed account of what needed to be done and what decisions I needed to make.  On the day of his surgery, surrounded by our loved ones, I held his little hand as I changed him into his hospital jammies and sang to him as he came out of anesthesia.  

When I wanted to give up during delivery because I wasn’t ready for another huge change, it was too early, and the pain was unbearable, my sister said no.  Courage is a work in progress.  Sometimes you have to borrow someone else’s.    

Be Brave - 4I know there will be times as he gets older that will require me to continue to strive for bravery.  There will be moments like his first day of kindergarten, his first sleepover, his first date.  There will likely be times that he acts up, talks back, or breaks the rules.  He will fall down, get hurt, and learn the tough lessons.  One day he will ask about his daddy.  He will look at me with his sweet brown eyes and ask who he was and why I love him.  I hope I will remember to be brave in those moments.  

My point is this, every momma at some point feels scared, and helpless.  Every momma can find themselves unsure, tired, or frustrated.  No one has all the answers; we are only human.  Most of us have struggles that aren’t always visible to the outside world.  Somehow from the first moment you become a momma you are stronger than you ever knew you would be.  Often the act of childbirth alone requires an immeasurable amount of strength.  We don’t have to enjoy every second of their fleeting childhood; we just have to show up for them and do our best.  

So when you are feeling stressed out, sad, or completely lost, look deep down and find your courage.  It has always been there waiting for you.  It will be there to carry you through the really rough days of motherhood.  Sometimes in those difficult moments, you just have to “be brave.”

6 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for sharing your story, Laura. The difference between strength and courage isn’t a concept I’d ever stopped to understand. The daily struggle to be brave and the never-ending search for courage applies to all of us in one way or another. We each have challenges and tragedies from which we are forced to recover sometimes unrealistically quickly. Reading your story this morning and accepting that the pursuit of courage is a continuous part of life has given me a difference perspective and insight into how I can approach challenging situations prospectively. Take good care of yourself and that adorable baby. All the best, Charlie

  2. Your story resonates with me so deeply. My husband passed away in January, leaving me 35 weeks pregnant and with a two year old. “You’re so strong has always been one of my least favorite phrases, but never more than now.”

    Courage is in all the little ways we still choose to live and believe good things can still happen.

    • Becky, I am so sorry you find yourself in the club no one wants to join. I hope you and your little ones have found some joy in the months since your loss. You are strong and people are simply recognizing your beautiful momma strength, but we know it can hurt when we often feel like we have no other choice but to stay strong for our families. All we can do is be brave today and everyday. All my love momma!

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