Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Strength ....

.... or at least the "appearance" of it, is very illusionary, is it not?

I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard, or read, someone say, "You're so strong, Janine.  I just don't know how you do it." ..... or some variance thereof.  I bet you wish you had those dollars, too (not for me hearing it, of course, but for every time YOU heard it).

My emotions ran the gamut upon hearing those words (or some variance thereof).  Sometimes I was a bit stunned. Sometimes I was frustrated.  Sometimes I was pissed off.  But most of the time I think I was just .... puzzled.

You think I'm strong?
Because I'm still breathing??!
If so, then yes, you're quite right.  My body is strong, indeed.  It just keeps right on breathing and yes, the heart keeps pumping .... damn those organs!

I was never strong.
I never felt strong.
I never did anything even remotely strong ..... in my opinion.
My body just continued to function.
Totally and horrifically .... against my will.

I'm strong because I continue to exist?
Because, truly, that's all I was doing for a very long time ..... existing.

I'm strong because I haven't left my children on the side of the road somewhere?
Trust me, that's only because they were old enough to find their way home or because I had very good friends who looked after their best interest.

You would think that I would have been used to this phrase WAY before Jim died.
You see, I've heard it many, many times over the years.
Ever since the birth of our twins (numbers 2 & 3 out of 6).
"I don't know how you do it."
"You must be an amazing mother." (really?)
"You must be an amazing woman for God to give you twins." (yes, really)
"I could NEVER handle twins." --- one of my favorites ..... because, you know, I totally planned on giving birth to two identical girls .... at the same time.

Here's what I wanted to say .... in both situations.
Wait ...... no, here's what I wanted to scream sometimes:  "What in the world are you talking about?  Just because this is the life I've been dealt ..... and I'm living in it ..... THAT makes me strong??"
And to those who would say, "I could never handle ________ (fill in the blank)":  "You THINK I CHOSE this???  Do you think YOU could choose this?  Life happens.  And when it happens, you do what you have to do.  You don't get to choose what you are dealt!  DUHHHHHH!!!!!"

Sometimes you are dealt wonderful things .... like a beautiful set of twins that were added to a beautiful daughter and would be followed by 3 equally beautiful sons (so yes, I continued to hear these phrases.  Their frequency increased as the size of our family increased).

Sometimes you are dealt a huge load of crap.

I didn't choose to be a widow anymore than I chose which type of child I would have.
And what does one do when one's spouse, the love of her life, her support, her heart, her soulmate .... dies?
Trust me ..... she sure doesn't stop breathing.
Damn it.

So yes, there are people who think we are strong.
Because we get out of bed every day.
Because we go to work, tend to our children, drive a car (I'm not saying we do any of this very well, I'm just saying that we do it).

We're strong.

Simply because our spouse is dead .... and we are not.

I don't know about you .... but I'm thinking that being a widowed person ..... should become an Olympic event.
Hell, one of us should be strong enough to win it ..... don't you think?


  1. Thank you so much for this a widow and also a mother of twins (18 months old) I hear the "strong" comments A LOT...and I loathe them. You said it so perfectly- it's not something I chose. The other reason I hate hearing this is because then I start to believe that I have to be strong all the time to live up to the expectations of everyone and then I don't allow myself to grieve like I need to...working on that.

  2. Oh my this is a great post! I certainly have new and creative things to say to these phases. One of my go to responses to some of these people is: And I hope you never have to learn how to be "this strong". I hate that people think we have been given some secret ingredient in this life to survive it. Don't know how I do it...when something needs doing it just gets done. I have two boys that want to play baseball and have music lessons and continue on with their life. Groceries need buying and dinner needs cooking since they are 5 and 9. Homework has to done, stories have to get read, school projects need to be finished, and work has to be mixed in there if I want to keep my house and attempt to have some fun some day. So, at 4 months old - which is neophyte status to this widow life and only parent status (thanks Kim) I have learned that this new life must get lived in and to the Normals... I hope you NEVER have to learn to live this way! I always wanted to hear that Olympic song in person....we just might have a good cAe to add it as an event.

  3. Love this post! I want to print it out and hand it to everyone who says how strong I am or how well I'm doing :)

  4. Thank you! You make me smile! I hate it when people tell me how stong I am.........Really?? You really think so,because if you ask me I cant even tell you what I did yesterday the day before or probably anything Ive done since I've been thrown into this widow world........I just breath and thats amazing in its self!

  5. Thank you for posting this. Strength. so hard to hear how inspiring I am when I cannot inspire myself. In fact the other day I told I friend that I am boring myself. My days are a jumbled mess of "have-to do" tasks. I feel judged by those who seem to be watching my strength, like a performance. My strength is for my kids who are teens now, and self sufficient at most things, but they are grieving too and feel as screwy as me. Someone told me that I have to be strong for the kids, don't let them see me cry or waiver. But is that normal? Does that put implied expectation on them? Simply put, life goes on, and bills are due, and they have to graduate high school. Our strength was damaged upon impact of my husband's death. Now we rally to keep it from being a total loss and repair our massive incomprehensible dent.

  6. This just happened to me the other day. My daughter-in-law told me that I was amazing. I was "creating" a new life where I not only take care of myself, but my children as well. A new life where I go to work each day and pay my bills and - breathe. Thanks for writing this, it makes me feel better just knowing it irritates the hell out of you too to be told how "strong" you are for handling everything. Really? Did I have a choice in all of this?

    I guess I could have turned in to the hoarder cat lady who never leaves her house (I considered this for awhile in the beginning).

  7. Anon .... I think someone gave you very wrong advice, but of course that's just my opinion. I never hid my feelings or emotions from my children and I told them
    from the first moment that I wouldn't. I also told them that I hoped they wouldn't hide theirs from me. Tears are good. I felt that when my children saw me crying, or being sad or depressed, or even happy, they were learning that it's ok for all of us to show our feelings, to share with each whtat we're thinking and feeling. I also told them that we would always talk openly about their dad, that it would NOT make me sad to hear about him, but it would make me sad if we never
    spoke of him.
    So I say .... cry on! Show them your emotions .... all of your emotions. And hopefully they'll learn to do the same.

  8. Thank you.
    I read each night, those nights where those people who think you strong don't see.
    Each day as it comes - I wish I was as strong as people think I am.
    Love the site.

  9. Awesome post as usual! Love it! My boss commented to me the other day about how strong I was. I quickly corrected him and said "what choice do I have".

    Thank you for sharing this.

  10. Whenever anyone tells how strong I am and how well I am doing, it takes me back to what my husband use to say to people when they told him that during his three year battle with cnacer.***What choice do I have? It is this or die?** So many of you have expressed how I have felt at times and to anon, cry if you feel like it in front of your children. It gives them permission to do the same and let's them know you loved their father! Bottling grief up only causes it to come out in some other way, which might not be as constructive- like in anger- got a daughter who did that for the first year! But you know in the end being called strong is not so bad, I have been called worse!

  11. When anybody tells me they think I'm strong or brave, these days I tell them that widows in general don't like to be told that ... and that the simple truth is that ... we have no choice but to function and exist and try and cope day to day. One breath at a time <3 xxx

  12. Great post! Thank you. My piggy bank would be full if I too got a dollar for every time I was told "your so strong" - Why to do everything you possibly can to help the man you love with all your heart fight cancer? Why to wake up and get out of bed, or go to work after he dies? We have no choice - I'm sure we all wish we did.

  13. Good post, agree with all of the comments. I, too, have heard all of that. People say these things because they don't know what else to say and actually think they are helping. In addition, the bottom line is that they are terrified that something will happen to them, and they project the way they hope they will feel and function. It is their way of maintaining control over their own life (an illusion of course, but they don't know that). The bottom line is, as hideous as these comments are, they are not about you at all. They are about the other persons' fear and worst nightmares being presented to them smack in the face. Before we had loved ones die, or become ill, how many of us thought about it on a daily basis? Not many. I have been through everything you are all talking about, but I try to keep it in perspective. So don't sweat the small stuff, you have enough on your plate. Focus on your life and getting through.

  14. I have a request for the bloggers. I had a discussion with someone recently who has expressed concern that I am not "moving on" on schedule. The facts are: My husband passed 16 months ago after several illnesses that spanned 6 years, very traumatic and sad, and I was his caregiver. Long, happy marriage. I work full time in a professional and demanding position. By the time I get home, I have had enough and not looking for any more stimulation or people, except a phone call or two. When the weekend comes, I am happy for the luxury of peace and quiet and do some catching up around the house, and am content. I have several friends who call and I have ample opportunities to go out, I don't go too often but occasionally go for lunch, a dinner, occasional fundraising event, or recently, a movie. I'm just as content staying home by myself as I am going. I know there is no "normal" but am I slow to "move on??" You're the experts. Comments welcome.

  15. thank you for this. as a mom of identical twin girls and also a widow... i've been hearing this since my girls were in the nic-u for two months. it's funny, though, it's probably something i would have said before.... before i knew better. it's this need to people have to compliment you, cause they don't know what else to say and can't imagine the pain.
    don't get me wrong... it's still an ignorant statement and one i never have a good response for.
    "oh, thank you so much. i've been working out for this" ???? "i know - i'm tough"??? no nothing seems to fit.

  16. Yesterday I got, "You are such an inspiration." It was on facebook so they didn't see the eyeroll and hear my sigh of despair. I guess not caring if you wake up in the morning is inspiring.

    Oh, how I wish I were still on the other side of this. Obvlious to the reality or surreality of widowhood.

    I wish I could see the blessings and lessons in all this but I'm still blind to it. There is nothing inspiring going on in my life.
    I'm jealous.
    I'm jealous of my friends who are couples.
    I'm jealous of couples that are strangers.
    I'm jealous when I see wedding rings on strangers' fingers and I think they're probably going home to a loved one.
    I'm jealous of young love.
    I'm jealous of elderly couples.
    I'm irritated listening to co-workers complain about their spouses. (I can't believe people are so obtuse to complain about their spouses in front of me. That one really bugs me.)

    The world is just pissing me off!
    Nothing inspiring going on here. At all.

    Good to know others are silently screaming in frustration as well.

  17. To Anon before nikki (I wish I knew of a better way to answer you!) ....
    First ..... I think I'm fair in speaking for all of us "bloggers" when I say to you .... we are definitely not experts. Well, not on everyone's grief anyway. Some of the others may be expert at something .... but I'm not sure what I would be expert at ..... maybe not liking to snow ski ..... or soothing a baby. Yes, I think I'm pretty close to an expert on that.
    Anyway ..... I digress.
    I'm not an expert on grieving .... but I know what my grieving has looked like. And I'm familiar with the grieving of many, many people. That being said ..... you should, in my humble opinion, tell your concerned friend to ..... I'm trying to phrase this delicately ..... well, to maybe go find someone else to be concerned about (I really wanted to say, "to bugger off", but one must remind one's self that some people are truly concerned out of love and not out of being a busybody). Seriously though, you are definitely NOT being slow to "move on". OMG .... really?
    One does NOT "move on" when his/her spouse dies .... as if shutting a door, wiping the dust of one's hands and saying, "Well, that was tough, but thank God it's over. Time to move on."
    We move forward .... some days ..... but not "on". And we do it on our own time table. Holy cow, you're not even two years out ..... should you be engaged already?
    It sounds to me that you are doing pretty dang well .... to be working working full time at a demanding job, yet comfortable being by yourself. Some people crave time alone (I always need at least one day at home a week or I'd totally go off on somebody .... really). It doesn't sound like you're hiding from life, or from people. You just know yourself and what you need .... and when you need it.
    Thank your concerned friend very kindly, but also tell them that actually, you are right on target ..... according to the "experts" (I tried really hard to keep a straight face as I typed that!). Then give this person our e-mail addresses.

  18. to Anon above looking for timeline advice - I loved Janine's response. I'm also 16 months out and also work in a demanding job. It's a 40-60 hour work week and I'm damn tired when I get home. I'm not avoiding people, but I don't mind my own (and my dogs) company. Anyone who thinks I'm not coming along the way they expect can kiss my...ok, now I'm digressing a bit.

    Bugger off works quite nicely...


  19. Valerie, I'm jealous too and it's hard. One co-worker is constantly stopping by to complain about her husband or worse to tell me about something he's just done for her. She hasn't a clue and she "forgets" sometimes because I'm doing sooooooo good. Really? What an idiot. I really hope I never did anything like that, but honestly I might have. People just don't have a clue. It's ok to be jealous. At lunch the other day I had a visual of dumping salad dressing on her head - now that made me smile.

  20. I lost my husband two months ago. I love your post, OMG I think I could have wrote it and the words and feeling be pretty much the same. :)

  21. I feel compelled to respond to this blog and the reactions to it. I'm so pleased that a place like this exists where these types of experiences, thoughts, and feelings can be expressed freely and openly without fear.

    So many of you seem to be in what I call early days. I guess "early days" can mean different things to all of us. To me, they are the time in grief when we are so raw. That words and even looks pierce right through us. I too could fill pages with tales of insensitive and just plain stupid things people said to me. It was a frequent topic at my widow's group. And I too had such frustration hearing anyone complain about a spouse.

    But people were wonderful too. The same friend that looked at me disapprovingly for continuing to wear my wedding ring just six months after my husband's death also made a point to have me to dinner frequently, invite me on outings, and even on a weekend away with her family. I could go on about kindness shown to me.

    The four-year anniversary for my husband's death (10 month battle with cancer) will be this July. He was just 54, I was 44 at the time. I adored him (still do). Everyone who knew us thought of us as "that couple." I'm sure many of you relate.

    I personally found that I went through a real intense period at around 1 1/2 years. I think that was hard for people around me to fully understand. It was right about the time that life on the outside started to appear almost normal. Perhaps that's what made it so hard on the inside. I had another intense period this past summer when I sold the house we shared. I always knew it would be hard, but the process was so much worse than I ever imagined. It was a big goodbye. But in the end, there was a gigantic weight lifted from me.

    What I really came here to share is that it does ease and that there is hope. Really. Many people told me that early on. I had a hard time believing it was possible. For one thing, I never thought I could feel for someone again. But I do. And I'm so grateful and thankful and blessed to have this wonderful man in my life, who showed up as a literal gift from God at the most unexpected and also most needed time. It's been a very slow process that started as a friendship, and has continued as one, but has grown into so much more...slowly.

    There is no time table. There is no right or wrong way. Just when you think you're past a point, something can come up and bite you. But it does ease. Hearing those comments becomes less and less painful. I still get annoyed sometimes with my friends (and family) who want to push forward the "happy ending" before it's ready, and at the same time yell, "wait, don't move on yet, we're not ready." And I sometimes feel the need to remind them of where I've come from. Although life is still working itself out, I know that's true of many people -- you don't have to lose a spouse to feel like that, although we know it comes with its unique challenges. But today I can listen to someone complain about her husband and not feel much, if anything, about it. And I'm often surprised to hear myself complaining about mundane things that I never thought would matter again. As annoyed as I am with myself when I do, in an odd way, it's somewhat comforting. I think, for me, it means I no longer see the world through the veil of grief.

    Keep writing -- it's a wonderful support community you've all created here. Thanks for letting me share.

  22. A few days late but just wanted to thank Janine for your response (about not "moving on" on schedule). Your words have resonated with me and are very helpful. It's hard to know whether or not I should believe what I'm being told, so thanks. This site is an anchor that I really need right now.

  23. are so strong for writing this post! Sorry couldn't resist. You said it so well. My response has been "My back is up against the wall, and it's a pretty damn good support!"

    Speaking your truth is what makes you strong!

  24. As usual, I love your posts on this blog! I too have felt like screaming that so many times! I didn't CHOSE this and just because I'm keeping my children alive (barely some days) does not mean I am strong. I still feel like crumbling inside at times. I try to watch what I say to people so it does not come across like that in situations now.

    Anyways, another great way to express to others what is going on inside!


  25. You TELL 'EM!!!!!!
    Thank YOU! From the "HOME" Team :)