What Does it Mean to Be Strong in Grief?

Coping with Grief / Coping with Grief : Eleanor Haley


“And when he came to the place where the wild things are 
they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth 
and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws 
till Max said “BE STILL!” 
and tamed them with the magic trick 
of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once 
and they were frightened and called him the most wild thing of all”
~ Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak


In the days after your loved one’s death, did anyone say to you, “you’re so strong” or another variation on that theme? If so, how did it make you feel? Did you feel empowered and encouraged or unseen and misunderstood?

I ask because this is one of those statements that can go either way. For every person who’s told us they appreciated comments likeI admire your strength,” we’ve probably heard from three others who did not. Why does this comment, meant as a compliment, sometimes feel so off-putting to people who are grieving? It ultimately depends on the person, but we have a few general guesses.

First, grieving people may feel the opposite of strong, so comments about their strength may make them feel patronized and misunderstood.

Second, a person might assume the compliment implies they are especially stoic and consequently feel bad they aren’t showing more emotion for their loved one.

Third, praising strength may imply that stoicism is preferable to emotional expression. Whether consciously or not, a person may internalize the belief that being emotional around you or others will be a disappointment. 

Fourth, the statement “you have to be strong” reads like a threat that a person better hold it together or there will be consequences.

Five, if you bypass a person’s pain and assume they have it together, you may be less likely to offer that person compassion and support.

Look, I could go on, but I have a feeling you get the point. Bottom line – statements about strength can land wrong, even though they’re usually well-intentioned. I think where the problem lies is that there is a whole lot of confusion about the role of emotion in grief and what it means to “be strong” in the face of all those feelings.  

I think a good majority of people would believe that being strong in grief means being resistant. Like a knight riding high on his stead, he pays no mind to the scary thoughts and feelings nipping at his toes. His armor is so strong that you can throw what you want at him, and it all bounces off. Nothing penetrates. Nothing gets through.

But in the real world, we’re not knights; we’re just vulnerable people. If we’re able to resist distressing thoughts and feelings, it’s because we’re avoiding them. We’re running away from them, day in and day out – and running away seems far less courageous. 

What does it mean to be strong in grief?

Strength in the context of grief is much different than most accepted definitions. It’s brave as hell, but it feels like the opposite. It feels like intentionally allowing yourself to be wounded and weakened by staring painful thoughts, emotions, and memories in the eye. Then, instead of trying to defeat them, saying, “you’re a part of me now.”

Grieving people often feel they have to put on a mask to the outside world. Outwardly, you may give off the impression you’re doing “fine”, while on the inside your struggling. The struggle is where the strength comes in, but not everyone can see that because moments of strength in grief are personal, and quite often they’re private. 

You show strength through the small and humble acts of bravery you take on every day. Things like getting out of bed and walking around in an unfamiliar world filled with sharp edges.

Strength is opening that box of memories, even though you know it will make you cry. It’s saying their name out loud in public for the first time in casual conversation. Strength in grief is acknowledging, feeling, and expressing emotion.

To help people understand how broadly strength in grief can be defined, we want to ask you: what does strength in grief look and feel like to you? Share in the comments below.

And the next time someone says how strong you appear, smile to yourself and think, “they have no idea.” 


What does being “strong in grief” mean to you?

Subscribe

Let’s be grief friends.

We post a new article to What’s Your Grief about once a week. Subscribe to stay up to date on all our posts.

Related Blog Posts

Related Blog Posts

See More

57 Comments on "What Does it Mean to Be Strong in Grief?"

Click here to leave a Comment
  1. Sandra  June 26, 2020 at 6:06 am Reply

    This is such a good article. Noone really understands what to do or what to say to those who have lost someone. They just try their best and do it with well intentions – and it is actually good that my friends and relatives use foolish words like “you are so strong” – it just means that they haven’t lost anyone they love and do not know any better. I’ve just lost my husband, and only now I understand the saying “you never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have left”. Because what other choice is there, really?

  2. Rita  June 23, 2020 at 11:24 am Reply

    I am not a fan of “you are strong” to me it minimizes my loss, my pain and my grief. Breakdowns happens, emotions overflow and they need to be acknowledged. Being strong is being vulnerable, for me it’s allowing people to see that there is true pain and grief every day. Telling a person they are strong usually comes from someone that doesn’t understand grief or has been taught to handle grief as a hush hush situation. To be able to share those emotions with others while they hold you up that’s being strong.

    1
  3. Connie Chunn  June 19, 2020 at 1:31 pm Reply

    I find strength in talking about our tragic loss, it’s really tough but it’s therapeutic for me to share stories and picture about our son and his life cut too short, he would have been 35 this year.

  4. Kym Morgan  June 11, 2020 at 1:04 pm Reply

    It’s so powerful to hear the truth from someone outside my loss. The sing-songy poems about the death of a loved one seem an insult to the seriousness of the trauma.
    Best article on the topic I’ve seen in the nine years since my daughter’s been gone.

  5. Darlene Kretzschmar  June 2, 2020 at 7:45 pm Reply

    I too, am a ” You are so strong” Hater,, as it almost implies that you are not a real human dealing with grief and that you are
    practically a robot simply going through the motions. in dealing with al that needs to be done. Even better is when someone
    actually tells you how lucky you are to be so strong , as though you were born with super human powers and it has nothing
    to do with stepping up to the plate while others take a pass from the heavy lifting since they are weak and therefore in
    more pain. My response is always the same…” Being strong is not genetic, it is a choice”
    I lost my twin brother Jan 11, 2020 suddenly to a brain bleed. On March 20, 2020 I discovered my other brother two days
    after he had passed from an Aortic Aneurysm. The shock of finding him, also the pain of two major losses back to back has
    been unbearable, especially with Covid thrown in . No one really understands how strange it feels to be the sole survivor of
    your immediate family., and somehow discount the loss since it was not that of a spouse. They don’t understand that I was
    still mourning the recent loss of my twin, when the second tragedy struck.

  6. Bridgett Eady  June 1, 2020 at 11:46 am Reply

    This is a line from a poem I wrote after losing my Daughter . “ People are always saying how good I’m doing and that I’m so strong, inside I just laugh because I know I’m weak and don’t even want to carry on”

  7. Annie Dalton  June 1, 2020 at 8:07 am Reply

    I think the word ‘strong’ was applicable when my husband was first diagnosed with a brain tumour, 4 weeks later he had passed. How we got through those days I don’t know.
    In the reality of how to cope and days of endless tears ‘you are strong’ doesn’t seem to apply. Probably like most who have suffered bereavement, I go on auto pilot. until I remember the dark days, go from positive to negative . My strength is behind me but my resilience is my armour

    1
  8. pauline Stacey  June 1, 2020 at 4:36 am Reply

    I thought I was doing alright, till this came in my mail box, and I started to read it.
    now the tears are flowing and I just hate crying,,, my husband of as good as 50 years
    died last November, and despite his age and illnesses, I really did not think he was going
    to die.. I think I have always tended to live in cloud cuckoo land, as I call it. I like butterflies etc.
    I don`t like the list of Perma…..
    I don`t want this pain to go on, I don`t want to cry anymore.

  9. Jean Bota  May 31, 2020 at 8:50 pm Reply

    This is an excellent article speaking to the numbness and deep loss and feelings, one feels with the death of love one…It reminded me of a piece I wrote in 2011, following the death of my cousin. I lost my husband in 2001 and experienced a lot of darkness and wrote about my experience in trying to appear normal for my children and for the world. This article spoke to me again…

    In 2011 we lost our cousin, and to deal with her transition, I needed to put my feelings into a story in order to make sense of what had just happened and thought I would share a short excerpt …

    “As I walked, death caught up with me and asked if it could walk with me as it knew I was upset.

    I replied “of course”. It asked “how do you know the secret of death” I replied ” I don’t know please tell me. It explained “you will not know the secret of death unless you seek it in the heart of life?” ……

    I loved this excerpt from the article and it says a lot…” Strength in the context of grief is much different than most accepted definitions. It’s brave as hell, but it feels like the opposite. It feels like intentionally allowing yourself to be wounded and weakened by staring painful thoughts, emotions, and memories in the eye and then, instead of trying to defeat them, saying, “you’re a part of me now.” thank you for sharing this…

  10. Kate Kirk-Greenberg  May 28, 2020 at 9:09 am Reply

    Thanks for this great article. I often tell people that there’s a difference between what it takes to hold up a wall and what it takes to look behind the wall and examine what’s there. The latter requires much more strength and leads to a healthier outcome.

  11. Mary McDade  May 26, 2020 at 10:46 am Reply

    I lost my husband of 37 years and my mother – in November in a car accident. My mother was 90 and I grieve for her. But my husband was my every day. We had in 37 years what most people don’t have in a lifetime. He was my lover, my best friend, my spiritual guidance – my every day. I miss his touch, his voice, his wisdom, his unconditional love, his embracing of everything that was “Me.” I miss him just walking in the room. We had all these plans for our time together in retirement. My children and friends have been my life-support, but they all have their own lives – which is the way it is supposed to be. I get tired of making decisions by myself, which sounds childish, but we made them together. I’ll sit in a restaurant, look around and think nobody knows how lost and lonely I feel in a crowd of people. Most of my crying is done alone. I still wear my wedding band. I still feel married. I believe God is going to redeem my pain, but as of now the pain is very real. People tell me I’m strong. My answer is what other choice did I have? My 4 children are watching me – even tho they don’t know it. If I fell apart, where does that get me – or them? At night I’ll think about, “What if I get sick? Who’s going to be with me? If I get some terminal disease, who will live out my life with me?” I’m so grateful to have had the love we shared. But I selfishly state it wasn’t enough time.

    1
  12. Norma Zuber  May 25, 2020 at 4:52 pm Reply

    The key words in all of this are “these are well intentioned” When we are suffering great loss. I believe we must look beyond the words spoken to us and remember they come from those who want to offer comfort and really don’t know how to say it. We can’t just grab those well intentioned words and stab them into our own heart causing such pain to ourselves. We have, more than likely, done the same to others. We need to pray that God will give us the right words of comfort for others and forgive those who might not use the exact words we want them to use.

  13. Deana  May 25, 2020 at 1:49 am Reply

    After being told I am so strong , you have a strong faith, you are such a strong person, I felt guilty for crying and mourning for the loss of my husband of 40 years. He WAS my best friend!! I miss the laughter, our talks, companionship! ! We were always there for each other and I still look up to the sky and cry out his name, or ask him for advice. This is all new to me, as I just lost him March 9, 2020 !!

    1
    • anonymous  May 26, 2020 at 10:20 pm Reply

      Dear Deana,

      My hubby was my best friend, too, and I also miss our laughter together, our talks and our companionship. Just being in the same room together was everything.
      So I really understand.

      Please keep in touch through the WYG blog. And grab all the support you need from us here in this safe, accepting space.

  14. Christine Lister  May 25, 2020 at 1:22 am Reply

    Great article and I appreciated reading your thoughts.

    I’ve been annoyed when people have said I was strong early on in my grief because I knew all they saw was the public me. I’d respond back then with a typical, “I have my moments” to indicate I wasn’t always so put together.

    I’m now almost at the 3-year mark of when my husband died and since then I’ve also lost my dad and then my mom. It’s been rough at times especially with the social isolation from COVID. Now when I think of being strong in my grief it’s more about being real – being vulnerable in the right settings with the right people but guarding myself when I’m around those who wouldn’t understand or honor my need to grieve. If someone says I’m so strong, I say that I’m just honest in my grieving. If that’s strength then sure, I’ll own it.

  15. Arline Burnell  May 24, 2020 at 4:32 pm Reply

    I think our society does not handle grief well. Especially Christians. Our loved one is in Heaven. Rejoice! Comments like that IMHO protect the person saying it from having to deal with our grief. And protects them from having to face the reality that someday they too will face a loss. My greatest comfort has been friends, who having experienced grief, allow me to express my grief.

    1
  16. jccc  May 24, 2020 at 12:37 am Reply

    For me, strong means not picking up a drink in this time of massive grief.
    The Serenity Prayer helps me. Also remembering to not judge anyone or anything, as my darling always reminded me to. Live and let live. Each person is living their own life, not mine. And that is as it is meant to be.

    I show up in this world as I am, to thine own self being true. And that is all I really can control. I wish others well as I listen within for guidance for what remains of this life for me here on planet earth. Especially when I am feeling deeply empty.

    I have found myself in a place time-wise where my rage and hopelessness have been felt completely. I have been honest with myself that these feelings were within me and were begging to be named and expressed, if only by me to me. And that has helped to lift a great weight off of me. I write in my special notebook daily, and have howled and cried in a voice which is more animal than human. I talk with my darling all the time, and feel our love still growing.

    I personally have no great interest, or personal ambition, for whatever time remains of this life here on earth for me. No children or relatives or pets who rely on me. I await my own death with grace and peace. I’ll be with my darling once again, 100% where I belong. That is my deepest comfort.

  17. Helen Bouchami  May 23, 2020 at 5:26 am Reply

    Hours after I found my younger son dead in his flat (having lost my other son 5 years earlier) and just one week after losing my father, a doctor, summoned by a friend, sat in front of me and said ‘You’re a strong person.’ Not strong, simply frozen in shock.
    It took 6 months for the enormity of what happened to register, and by then the friends who had been there for me in the first days and weeks, had dispersed – confident that I was ‘strong’ and coping.
    We filmed my son’s funeral, for the benefit of family abroad who couldn’t travel. Watching this years later, I too wonder how I was able to stand and speak, to function. I saw what others saw, and yes it might look like strength.
    People continue to say this to me. I feel it absolves them from offering support, from recognising when I am far from strong. Yet I have somehow survived something I thought would kill me.

  18. Vicki Hartley  May 22, 2020 at 9:56 pm Reply

    Strength…interesting ..you don’t have strength without weakness..I believe your biggest strength is not being afraid to be weak in the moment…

    • Vesna  May 23, 2020 at 7:56 am Reply

      Beautifully said

  19. Wendy Hall  May 22, 2020 at 8:38 pm Reply

    For me it’s day to day. I was blessed to be loved and love him for 35 years. 3 wonderful children and 6 Grandkids later I miss all that he has missed with me. I miss his touch, his caring ways, and the love he gave me everyday. I mostly miss the conversations we had and how I could pour my awful day out to him and he would always make me feel better. I miss him snuggling up to me at night and telling me loved me. I miss the feeling of safety with him and the things we dreamt of but will never happen. He was my best friend, my soulmate and the rock that kept me stable. I miss absolutely everything about him and feel cheated for not having our future together. I wanted to grow old with him and share the rest of my life with him. I loved him with every ounce of my soul.

    1
    • Karen Bourgoin  May 22, 2020 at 9:39 pm Reply

      I feel exactly the way you do. Exactly! He was my everything, my best friend, my soulmate. We had immediate attraction and were married 8 months later. We had 14 wonderful years together. But unfortantly that wasn’t enough. I miss him all the time. He was only 47 years old when he took his life. He became very sick & in a lot of pain from 12 years of undiagnosed Lyme disease. He couldnt take the pain anymore and he walked away from me, said he was going to lay down. Well he had a gun in the room and he shot himself. 20 feet from where I was. The last site I had of my husband was them taking him out in a body bag. Everyday is a struggle for me to get thru it. I cry everyday. I find no happiness or joy in life anymore. I am just waiting to die so I can be with him again. It’s been 19 months and I don’t see it getting any better. I want to be so mad at him for leaving me but I can’t. He was in so much pain and he always told me how much he loved me..everyday! So I wanted to let you know, your not alone. I feel your pain and believe me, it hurts like nothing else ever has. Hopefully one day we will find peace and happiness once again!

  20. Levi's Mom  May 22, 2020 at 6:47 pm Reply

    More than 30 comments already. I am glad I am not alone. The morning of my daughter’s service, I spoke with a friend who had lost his son. I am so glad he was there on the phone. I was only going to present a short statement and then turn it over to her friends and the ministers, but he set me straight. This is the only time you will have the opportunity to speak at your daughter’s service. I don’t know where that strength came from, but I looked out at a standing-room-only crowd in that small church. I saw faces of people who were there for me, but mostly I saw the faces of her friends. As time went on, people made the statements about how strong I was, and there was always a tone of amazement in their voices. I thought to myself “Yeah. You aren’t with me when I shuffle through the house whispering “We’ll be ok. We’ll be ok.” I don’t know who “we” was. I live alone. I returned to work at a high stress position and survived for three years somehow before I retired this past December. My mother entered a nursing home, and I was assigned the task of seeing to her needs every evening after work. I have other siblings who could have taken my place, but I was strong, right? My mother died about a year after my daughter. I felt nothing for a very long time. Still I was strong, right? No one saw when I arrived at the house, ran back my daughter’s room, grabbed her hoodie and inhaled deeply because I felt like I would go insane if I couldn’t smell her scent another second. If this is strength, anyone can do this. Three and a half years later, I still cry a lot. Sometimes I scream. But I try to remind myself that I didn’t know either before it happened to me. When a parent loses a child, instead of the empty compliments as to their bravery, it would be better to ask them for a visit and let them talk about how weak they feel trying to deal with the rest of their life without their child. IDK. There are no easy answers. I just miss my kid. Levi was almost 22. She was the only child I had, my favorite kid.

  21. Charmaine Tunn  May 22, 2020 at 6:00 pm Reply

    Great article as most of them are. Thank you to WYG. I feel so sorry for the commenters. I also feel sorry for myself, because I, and other people experiencing grief, am the only one who knows what I have gone through. Nearly a year since my 34 year old (only) son died. I am still here but wonder how, and why. I am not strong, I am simply swept along. The only alternative to relieve what I am going through, suicide, is not for me. I too wonder how I have survived the last year. Would it be weak to suicide? Would it be weak to choose to end the loneliness, emptiness, misery? Would it be weak to recognise the reality of the rest of my life with this huge weight of grief to carry? Would it be weak to end the pretence of being ‘ok’? To me, that would be strong.

  22. Ghazala Khan  May 22, 2020 at 2:58 pm Reply

    I still feel pain from the loss of my younger sister to cancer three months ago

  23. Jo  May 22, 2020 at 2:55 pm Reply

    My husband of 42 years died a year ago yesterday. I am still struggling. It has been so difficult, but I have to go forward. My mantra is I CAN DO THIS – trying to be strong. What else is there to do?

  24. Pam  May 22, 2020 at 2:34 pm Reply

    When I’ve been told “You are so strong” in response to my expressions of grief & mourning – I’ve received this as being completely Invisible – My Pain & Suffering Dismissed & Deeply Misunderstood – Pouring Salt on a Gaping Wound – Adding Insult to Injury – one of the many Inappropriate “Platitudes” that are Our Western Cultural Norms – expressions that are frequently used without empathy & compassion for the mourner ….

    1
  25. Marla G  May 22, 2020 at 2:27 pm Reply

    I always bawl my eyes out when I read these articles and the comments from all the grieving and sorrowful people in anguish. Thank you so much for this article; it hit home so much, especially the second reason; one of my 17 year old daughters’ classmates at her fairly new school hugged me at her vigil and said I was so strong, but I wanted to scream in horror because To me that meant that I appeared stoic and emotionless, but in reality I was stunned and in shock and really wasn’t processing what was happening. My daughter moved there over summer 2018 (she was 16 then) to live with her dad for awhile in a different state, I hadn’t visited her there or met her new friends or classmates-yet. She had just visited us, though and we got to be with her on her 17th birthday at the end of March 2019. Unfortunately my first (and last) visit to her new school/town was a few weeks later in April 2019, after she died in a car accident ?. It has been just over a year and I miss her beautiful face, laugh, spirit and goofiness beyond belief. I know what you mean when you say you’re torn between wanting to be with your daughter but still needing to be there for The rest of your family. Definitely not strong, but I count on God’s strength to carry me through and thankfully have hope of being with my daughter again some day. This is the first time I have ever commented publicly about this, except for a poem I wrote at her memorial service. I feel for you all. ?

  26. GaryB  May 22, 2020 at 2:22 pm Reply

    Being told “be strong- you are strong”- etc..?
    Hell I would have liked to have heard ANY words from my wifes family. You would have thought I was a hermit all my life-they knew me for 44 and was married 38 years to their sister-aunt.
    I got nothing- I even had a full on breakfast for all before they left town after the mass and they did nothing but feed their faces and leave! They did not even come to my table with my 4 kids and we sat in front.
    They all walked right by and got their second -third plates of bacon but couldnt stop by and chat with me or my table?
    Not a one came over with ANY words of encouragement-sorrow- they all ate and they all ran for their homes 6 hours away.
    I was left to pay the handsome bill and drive home and await my wifes ashes from the funeral home director.
    It was not just me that felt the slight (and no reason why-we had a happy marriage and we were fine with family-so I thought?) but my sons as well- my daughters cut way too much slack in the name of family “harmony” for them.
    But oh how much it would have been nice to have heard someone come up hold my shoulder and say “you have to be strong” or anything at all!
    I would have rather people make the attempt and say the wrong thing than walk around me like a silent herd of buffalo and bolt once their guts were filled.
    I wanted them to speak to me-they did not come and the “I did not know what to say” does not apply-say something!
    Sorry – hope I did not jump too far off the rails.
    To this day coming up 2 years in August its still a sore spot with me and I do harbor grudges for it.

    • Vesna  May 23, 2020 at 8:02 am Reply

      Very fair. Some words or actions are better than none. It’s been 8 months for me and I have gotten a bit of what you say above. Maybe I’ll be more vocal with those that I feel could be doing more for me or speaking about my feelings more.

      (links restricted)

  27. rb  May 22, 2020 at 1:20 pm Reply

    Count me among those who bristled at being called strong. First, my sibling died, my husband died, then my child, each way too soon. We cope because we have to. We have others in our lives that need us, people we love and care for. Others see us as strong because they think, “I could never do this, or I don’t know how you get through something like this.” We were once on the outside looking in and, until you face the experience, it’s not possible to know what coping means or feels like. Don’t feel sorry for me. Just be there for me as I would expect to be there for you in your time of need. And please don’t call me strong.

    1
  28. Laurie Nelson  May 22, 2020 at 1:05 pm Reply

    My husband died in Jan 2016. These are the STRONG things I did.
    I went to church two days later with the comfort blanket a friend gave me at the hospital. I claimed the power of Communion for my own, by sitting in the front pew where each person could give me a nod or a pat on my shoulder or a tender smile as the returned to their seats.
    I allowed my sisters to take turns staying with me for a week, from out of town, to help me through the funeral and the first shocking mourning.
    I boldly asked friends to take my 12 year old twins for after school playdates for months, so I could keep dragging myself to work.

    In other words, I was STRONG by acknowledging that I was weak, broken, full of sorrow.

  29. Genelle Thompson  May 22, 2020 at 12:32 pm Reply

    My husband had chosen to remain on dialysis after nearly eleven years of treatments until his body was badly deteriorated. Dialysis is an intervention treatment. It actually slows the process of dying. During a hospital stay my husband began bleeding internally. His doctors had exhausted all they could do. His suffering was great and he was beyond the ability to make any decision for himself. Stopping dialysis treatments allows the process of death to take its natural course. As my husband’s MPOA I decided that with the internal bleeding that there was not other choice but to takes the recommendation of his physicians and stop his dialysis treatments knowing that he would likely not live very long. When I told him what I had had to do his eyes got big in recognition, then softened. I told him we could either stay in the hospital in palliative care or go home and let hospice care for us. He formed the word ‘home’ with his lips. Two days later the ambulance took him home. We had one night together. I sang to him and held him close. He held my hand and then passed away the next afternoon. My decision was not a time of strength and I cannot type this without tears. I will never forget that last decision I had to make to relieve him of suffering. I never could have imagined being put in that position. No, it was not strength. It was one last act of love and compassion. I have never done anything in my life so difficult. For me what others see as strength are often acts of love or compassion or mercy on the part of the bereaved. It’s what you do.

    2
    • Jane  May 22, 2020 at 4:49 pm Reply

      Me too, Genelle. My mum was on dialysis for 9 years and was also a breast cancer survivor. Unfortunately, her breast cancer came back and she was hospitalized with secondary bone cancer. She stayed on dialysis while in hospital, which allowed to live for another 3 weeks. She had her last birthday and last Christmas, then on boxing day her doctor and I spoke with her about going off dialysis. It was one of the few times I had seen her cry because she didn’t want to end dialysis because she was worried about me. I had to give her permission to die. It was also the hardest thing I have ever done. Like you said, it was an act of love and compassion. It’s been 17 months since my mum died and today feels like it happened yesterday.

  30. Joni  May 22, 2020 at 12:30 pm Reply

    Count me among the “strong” haters — whenever someone threw that word at me after my partner’s sudden death, I wanted to curse at them. As others here have noted, we have no f* choice, and anyone who comments on strength is only revealing that they’ve never been in real grief — and that they’re reaching for things to say that are more about their comfort than the mourners. But I’m glad that, slowly, society is growing more aware and attuned to the issues WYG raises. If only there were another way besides direct experience of catastrophic loss…

    1
  31. Tracie  May 22, 2020 at 12:16 pm Reply

    My husband & I were caregivers for my Mother for 6 yrs.. Then my husband became ill, I became the caregiver for both.My Mother passed in November of 2017, my Husband in December.. He was the most Amazing Man.. We were married 37 years, Someone sent me a book”It’s ok that you’re not ok”… I believe the second yr was harder then the the first… my trust in God has carried me through. My daughter sent me Lovely card day & said it perfectly “The starkest contrast in life is how lucky it is to feel real Loss?

  32. Jamie  May 22, 2020 at 12:15 pm Reply

    For me, being strong meant I finally did break down and cry. That was never allowed while my mom was alive and losing her was the last straw. I have didn’t months crying for all the kisses in my life that I could not fully feel or acknowledge. The worst part about people thinking you are strung is that when you get to the end of your rope and ask for help they don’t take you seriously. They just tell you to keep doing what you’ve been doing. Hello? If that worked would I be humiliating myself by begging to you? Okay, I am strong and don’t need you – goodbye. Problem solved. Grief almost destroyed me and I had to face it alone when my support system went up in smoke. So yeah, I am strong. But that is not confirming. When people say it they sound like they fin’r really believe it care that I fall apart repeatedly just trying to get through the day. I’ll survive, whether I want to or not, but a little compassion from people who supposedly “loved” me would have helped a lot.

  33. Lydia Burgdorf  May 22, 2020 at 11:58 am Reply

    People say “you are so strong” or “you are the strongest woman I know” and I just don’t understand why they think that. I don’t see myself as being strong just persistent.
    I get up every day and go to work (these days in the living room) because the bills have to be paid. I go to the gym because I need to burn off the negative; the pain in my muscles helps counter the pain in my heart. I eat healthy meals because junk food literally hurts.
    I have a t-shirt that says “Strength is pain leaving the body and the mind.” That’s the strength I see in myself.
    My son died by suicide in September, 2019. We last shared a meal May 10, 2019. It has been a year since I saw him, ate with him, spent time with him. Before he was away, now he is gone and my life will never be the same.

  34. Carolyn  May 22, 2020 at 11:50 am Reply

    Today marks the 7th month my life partner left this earth. He completed on 10.22.2019; I found him hanging in our garage. He was 51 years old.
    Everyone tells me how strong I am; what are my options? I need to honor his life and his love for me.
    If I can look up-I can get up’ and that’s pretty much what I do each and every day.

    • Karen Bruder  May 23, 2020 at 4:24 pm Reply

      My husband died by suicide as well just a month or so before yours in September of 2019 in the same manner and place in our home as your husband. Our 16 year old daughter found him. He was 56 yrs old. I try to remember that people mean well and often do not know what to say and so they throw in the “you are strong” comment thinking it helps. I don’t feel strong, I feel broken and yet no one can see what is really going on inside me.

  35. Barbara Sekerak  May 22, 2020 at 11:46 am Reply

    Tomorrow will be the 14th month mark. Being strong? That certainly is debatable. My husband always complimented me , saying I was strong. He was the one who made me strong. He, like in the song, was the wind beneath my wings. He was my rock. I am weak, yet strong. How many can relate to that statement?
    What I do find is that writing, sharing how I feel, be it weak, strong, tired, or whatever, is the way I am able to continue. No denying, I am on THAT ROLLER COASTER with everyone else. Certainly was not how I expected nor planned for what life would be like.
    I can tell you this, reading about how the word “strong” triggers a feeling, and emotion, I’ve have several other words that have been and still are triggers – “sorry” and “heal” are right there on the shelf with “strong”. I’m working my way through this, one step, one day at a time. Darn ROLLER COASTER!

    • Donna Callegari  May 22, 2020 at 1:53 pm Reply

      Me too, Barbara. I am coming up on 1 year – in a couple of weeks. Was doing relatively fine. Getting through, doing daily life. And then suddenly, yesterday, I was blindsided by grief and missing my husband. Today is day 2 of the the downward part of the ride. Just gotta let it take me where it will. It will go up eventually. Peace to you.

      • Barbara Sekerak  May 22, 2020 at 3:09 pm

        Peace to you too, Donna. The comfort is in knowing one is not on THAT ROLLER COASTER ride alone. It is also comforting to know that support is there in the form of a kind and sincere reply/acknowledgment.

  36. Kaye  May 22, 2020 at 11:45 am Reply

    I feel anything but strong since I lost my husband 5 years ago to brain cancer. During the 7 1/2/months we knew he had it, and it was terminal i felt much stronger than I do now and doubt I will ever regain the stregth I had that helped me care for him, prepare his meals, prepare his meds, sit with him as he took his his last breath. I feel so lost and useless since he died, and realise how much I relied on him and we worked together as a team. Some days I can’t get out of bed, even now and fortunately I don’t have to get to work – am a pensioner. I seem unable to do the things I’m supposed to be doing, and know if he was here, I would get things done, either by myself or with him. We were married for 47 years when he died, and had our ups and downs but had a good marriage and enjoyed doing things together. I think my lack of strength goes hand in hand with my lack of joy of having him beside me. Ialso feel so alone at times as our adult children and grandchildren all live awaay from me, so rarely see them. I believe we are all different and our circumstances are different, and some are much better at hiding their feelings than others. I have some friends who don’t think I should still be sad, when they ask me how I feel. I’m not going to lie as will always miss my husband until the day I die,

  37. Rhunette Humrich  May 22, 2020 at 11:31 am Reply

    My precious Husband of 38 years died on January 2, 2020. I heard “strength/stay strong” comments many times in the days that followed. I really wanted to scream! Why is it so terrible if I’m not strong right now? What’s so “bad” about just being where I am, and sitting with my understandable pain? I am not a “rock” right now, rather I’m a pile of gravel. Furthermore, that’s ok. People want to say something. I accept that their intentions are pure and that they just feel the need to acknowledge my loss. But honestly, what I need them to convey right now is that they stand with me in these dark days. That while I might feel very alone, I’m not because they want to be there for me, and to walk with me.

  38. Vicky Warren  May 22, 2020 at 11:14 am Reply

    My Beautiful precious 10 year old daughter has not been with me for 8 gruelling months now. Everyone tells me how strong I am and yet what choice have I got? I certainly wouldn’t call it strong as they don’t know an iota of what I go through daily. Being torn between a life wanting to be with her but needing to be with my two boys, husband, family & friends is the worst feeling ever. I am certainly not strong and never will be without my adored girl, who was my best friend on the planet. I miss her terribly.

  39. Jeanette  May 22, 2020 at 10:57 am Reply

    Thank you so much for addressing this topic. Over the past 25 years, I have supported and cared for all of my close family whilst they got sick and passed away. I was also there for my best friend when she died from cancer. Today, I have no family living and it feels horrible. When people have told me that I am “strong” so I will “get through it” I want to lash out at them and scream that they simply have no idea what it means to be “strong”. I want to tell them that I had no choice but to be “strong” and to point out that they only see me on the days that I can face the world. They never see me on the days that I have struggled to get out of bed. I deeply resent being labelled as “strong”. Even though I know they mean to be helpful, for me, it is a huge insult. I am trying to soften over this but it will take time. Thank you for this website and all that you offer.

    1
  40. Donna  May 22, 2020 at 10:52 am Reply

    It has been almost 6 years since my husband died. I was strong, I waded through all of the necessary tasks, and all the time I was just angry. How could he have left me with so much to do, clean up, take care of? He was sick for two years and refused to prepare anything . He refused to contemplate not getting the transplant, or dying. He was praised forovercoming so many obstacles,
    I have just recently started the process of processing my grief. I can now cry and miss him, it is so hard. When people said I was strong I felt guilty because I didn’t miss him the way I was supposed to.

  41. Kay C Oxford  May 22, 2020 at 10:43 am Reply

    Excellent article! It gave words and expression to what so many of us have felt. I’ve shared this article and link on my grief forums.

  42. Kathleen Kane  May 22, 2020 at 10:35 am Reply

    My husband has been gone 19 months but it seems like yesterday. Will the yearning and longing for him to be here ever go away? NO!! But somehow I go on with a heart in pieces, lump in my throat and the tears fall. My faith brings me joy and only God makes me strong. But the feelings of sadness and loss are still there. I think just moving through each moment as best you can is being strong.

  43. Nadine  May 22, 2020 at 12:01 am Reply

    When my husband was in hospital from an accident then passed I overheard someone say ‘she’s a rock’. What I was in my own space was a weeping wreck who had suicidal thoughts and wondered how I could go on. I know those that say it mean well… and i didn’t help by saying ‘I’m fine’ but I couldn’t and can’t explain just how I do feel. Until you are going thru it you don’t know. You cant understand.

  44. Elaine Zurick  May 21, 2020 at 11:39 pm Reply

    When my husband passed away last year several people commented on my strength. It angered me inside but I really didn’t know why. I did what I had to do. I struggled and I fought battles with various agencies and companies. But I didn’t have a choice. For my own survival I did what I had to do. Was I strong? NO! Was the fact that I didn’t curl up in a ball in some corner make me strong? NO! And I wonder who would have stepped up and taken care of things for me if I had curled up in that ball? NOBODY! They didn’t see me crying in my car, they didn’t hear my angered cry of WHY?!? in the middle of a dark and lonely night. Thank you for this article. It helped me understand somewhat the reasons for my dislike of being called strong.

  45. Lexa O'Dell  May 21, 2020 at 10:58 pm Reply

    I remember hearing the comment many times after my husband died. Looking back now, “being strong” was really shock. There are so many things a widow must do after their spouse dies and I did do them, all of them. But, I did them all robotic and emotionless. Looking back, I don’t remember doing all of what I had to do, it just happened. So, yes, others perceive it as “being strong” but in reality, the person you loved more than life, the hopes, dreams and plans with them are just “poof” gone and you believe you are dreaming it all and really can’t focus on how wrong they are. Those that told me I was strong, never saw me curled up in a ball sobbing for days on end . “Being Strong” are words people use to try to comfort as they do not really know what else to say and that was just fine with me because today, as I look back, I understand it all.

  46. Suzette  May 21, 2020 at 10:04 pm Reply

    Gosh, grief is so personal. This article is full of wisdom.
    When my guy died and people would say you are strong, you can do this. I would think I’m not sure. But I did and continue to each day. Now when people say I am so strong I reply, “ you are damn right I am, thank you”.
    I’m strong when I put my feet on the floor each morning, I’m strong when I brush my teeth, I’m strong when I brush my hair .. sometimes. I’m strong when I make it to work …. minutes late, I’m strong when I look people in the eye and talk. I’m strong each day I choose to live and search for joy. Is it easy? Hell to the NO. We each have a choice; how will you live this one big beautiful life we are given? Even with a broken heart. ✌️❤️

    2
    • porki  June 15, 2020 at 7:48 am Reply

      thanks Suzette – that’s how I feel – when they tell me I am doing good and I’m strong, – inside I laugh (fooled them haha) – then I remind myself that I have made progress – at least I’m participating in life – so ya, that has taken lots of guts, so far I’ve made it almost 4 whole months – just about 25 more years to go – I got this – I’m tough as nails – (when I’m not crying my eyes out that is!) – The higher you fly the harder you fall – and we flew so so so high!

      1
  47. Maxine ilabaca  May 21, 2020 at 6:56 pm Reply

    I never feel strong until I look back and think ” how on earth did I cope with all that pain and trauma” but somehow I did, and somehow I continue to……..its 3 years this August since my husband the love of my life died

  48. Michelle  May 21, 2020 at 6:17 pm Reply

    Before: wash my hair everyday, always arrive at work early.
    After: wash my hair once a week and I congratulate myself! Usually rushing in to work atleast a few minutes late. OR I could say I manage to get myself to work EVERYDAY and I wash my hair regularly.
    My son has been gone almost 2 years.
    I am strong.

Leave a Comment

YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED. Required fields are marked *