Friday, January 16, 2015


I have had two friends in the past week make comments regarding my tremendous level of strength, as it relates to my loss.  I don’t see that I have any strength.  I don’t see that I have any choice.  Believe me if I did, you would not see strength.  If there was anything I could do any perceived strength anyone thought I had would quickly crumble as I begged and crawled to do what ever it took to get them back. 

Though I do not see it as the truth in this case, on some level it does not surprise me. I think in many ways it is the trait I most strive to portray. 

It appears in considering “strength” that I have a lot to say on the subject. Where did it come from? What does it mean?  Is it always necessarily a good thing? 

The strength I propose to portray is a direct result of my childhood.  Weakness in my daddy’s household was not tolerated.  My “strength” if you choose to call it that --was tried by fire almost every day.  Much like a predatory animal --he could literally smell fear.  So weakness in any form was a danger to my very life and the lives of my younger siblings.

We were raised in an abusive, alcoholic home.  My mother, when sober, was the picture of strength and determination.  My father admired that in her and demanded it of the rest of the world and most especially in me as the oldest. 

I was expected to stand up and take whatever he dished out without shedding a tear or showing even a hint of fear.  Any display of weakness brought his personal demons front and center.  He made a concerted effort to sharpen and hone what he called “toughness” in me much like a grinding wheel sharpens an axe.  He put me in terrifying and life-threatening situations to see how I would react without regard to the outcome should I not perform as he expected.  For instance, dropping me in a lake in water two feet over my head and calmly watching as I swallowed a gallon or two of lake water --was his version of "teaching me to swim" or putting me on a huge piece of “running” heavy equipment at ten years old and jumping off leaving me to figure out how to stop it before it plunged headlong off a steep hill mere yards away; or letting me at seven years old steer the family car with everyone's lives depending on my “ability” on the icy snow-covered mountain roads of Alaska.  Would that make you tough -- if you live through it – you bet it would. 

I endured not only physical abuse but mental and emotional abuse that for me was far worse.  I started out as a squeamish little girl with a tendency toward throwing up at the slightest provocation and I thought I was going to literally die when Daddy called me in from playing demanding that I sew up a large gash in his hand with my mother’s sewing kit.  Now he was tough.

Beloved pets were choked unconscious in front of me then tossed aside for dead.  And I watched my baby sister, crippled from polio, be beaten for crying because no one would help her out of her wheel chair and the one and only time I ever stood up to him was when he slapped my baby brother so hard in the face that his two tiny teeth went through his bottom lip. 

Many times I cringed in guilt unable to do one thing as my mother’s blood-curdling screams filled the house as she was locked in the bedroom and beaten bloody.  The one time I picked up the phone to call for help fearing he would actually kill her I was stopped dead in my tracks at the sound of the hammer being pulled back on the loaded .38 caliber pistol being held to my head. A family game of Rook took a weird turn one night when he calmly announced to everyone at the table that he was going to kill me.  Knowing him as I did, I wasted no time asking "why" I just grabbed my 8-month old daughter and took off running as shots rang out behind us.  Life was interesting around our house and I learned early on that “strength” or at least the appearance of strength was a very necessary survival skill.

Strangely enough people take that appearance of strength to mean that I do not suffer like everyone else; grieve like everyone else or feel pain like everyone else.  They assume that I am easily capable of handling anything life throws at me and therefore have no need of help, rest, or comforting. 

What it really means is that I am human just like everyone else but I struggle with my needs alone, bear my grief in silence and cry in a puddle in the bottom of my closet.  And as for handling what life throws at me – what choice do I have?  Against my better judgment – I just keep waking up.

What they might never guess is that the constant “portrayal” of strength is just like when I was a girl, only there to mask any appearance of my true weakness and vulnerability. 

That appearance of strength though makes it difficult for me to admit that I need help or accept the comfort I need.  I have been conditioned to stand tough and never admit that I can't do anything.

That alone makes it difficult I'm sure for others to give me the emotional support I need because on the surface I appear stronger than they do.  And I know this because even in my weakest, most vulnerable moments as I am facing the greatest series of losses one could ever imagine.  When I am barely able to even hold myself upright or put my shoes on the right feet --people still without blinking an eye –tend to lean on me? 
At the lowest point in my life when I wonder how on earth I am going to live through this and then why I would even want to --a friend calls to complain to me about what a difficult time she is having with her emotionally troubled daughter.  Another couple confides to me all the trouble they are having with their adolescent son.  And still another calls seeking comfort because he is discouraged and burned out on his job.  All within weeks of the most horrific loss one can suffer; they are calling on me for comfort and support since I "seem to be doing so good”. 

So my strength is actually the cause of my feeling both overwhelmed and emotionally abandoned?

I am learning though through this great loss how to be human; how to be as strong as I am able at that moment which most days just means putting one foot in front of the other and doing what I absolutely have to do.  I am learning to admit my vulnerabilities and accept the help and comfort of others.  I am learning what it feels like to openly cry and even scream in front of others albeit right now just a certain few. 

I find it odd, how in letting my weakness show more than I have ever allowed myself to do, I feel I’m being stronger than I have ever been. 

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