Strength. What is it, really? There are so many synonyms for those words, ones we throw around like a baseball in a game of toss. Tough, tenacious, mighty, a force, and the list goes on and on. Yet do we really understand what it is? Do we use the word too often? Do we all have strength in us and we don’t give ourselves enough credit? Or do we have so much untapped strength within us waiting to be used?
I ask these questions today because, lately, I’ve been called strong. It’s a word I never identified with me. My best friend told me yesterday she thought I always knew I was strong. Best friends see everything in you – the good, the bad, the in between – so maybe I projected it or maybe she saw what I was blind to.
The other night, I went out to a long, almost five hour dinner with my best friends since high school. No worries we tipped well. The subject of strength, particularly their perception of mine, arose. They lauded me for how I’ve gotten through these past six months. One friend said she had no doubts I would as she always thought of me as strong. The other friend admitted she had her doubts and I didn’t blame her.
I am a woman of many and strong emotions. I was told early and often to stop crying and to ‘buck up’. I am a woman full of anxiety because it’s the way my brain works. My anxiety causes me to melt down sometimes, and gives me paralyzing fear. And I am a woman of scattered thoughts that brings me down roads of scattered decisions until I find the right ones for me. I’ve been all of this, all my life. And this did not seem like a woman who had the strength to hold it together and tackle what was in front of her. I know differently now.
Throughout our marriage, I was accustomed to Peter taking care of me. It was his love language to me, and mine was to allow it. Hell, I liked it. I’m not saying he took care of everything and I wasn’t even close to being a Stepford wife, but Peter did more than his fair share with things I had no interest in, nor cared to learn, and fix things I may or may not have broke. (Not admitting to anything.) Call it laziness on my part. Call it the way I work and the way he did. Call it acceptance of his love. Call it working for us. But it was us. And when Peter died, I froze in fear thinking how the hell do I move without Peter? I didn’t see myself as strong enough to carry on without him.
Admittedly, I have grit. I have tenacity to have survived as much as I have survived, even before Peter died. Okay, I had strength, only I never thought of it that way then. I equated strength for what Peter did, and blinded myself to the strength of self-perception. But I suppose, okay I know, others saw it. Other saw my achievements as the conjuring up of my strength. I saw it as survival and passion.
I’m not sure exactly what Peter saw in me. He was a man who didn’t share many words of accolades. I’m pretty sure now he didn’t take care of things because he thought I was weak, rather saw me of having a lack of interest, or embracing my definitions. And I know Peter showed love, not spoke it and so he poured out his love for me by his definition. Thus, to me, he was the stronger one. To me, he held the finances and the house together. During the first week of his death, I questioned if I really wanted to, or could, live without Peter, without his strength, without his love language.
The days following Peter’s death, I questioned why I should live anymore. I laid in my bed and questioned my meaning, my ability, without Peter. Then, two things pulled me up. One, my mother instincts kicked in. I knew my kids lost one parent and I was damn if they were going to loose both. And two, my own mother and her instincts. She was, is, the strongest person I know having lived a life of sacrifice, putting the needs of her husband and her children over her own. And, damn it, I was her daughter. Her selflessness and strength ran in my blood. And I knew then, curled up in a ball of mess on my bed five days after Peter died, I had strength in me to move. I realize now, I always had strength, but lacked the confidence to admit it or show it. Now, with Peter dead, I had to do both. I had no choice. I couldn’t allow myself thought of I can’t, because I knew I had to. I had to believe in me now and start to show myself what I had in me all along – strength.
Standing among the rubble of twenty four years of accumulated stuff in my basement, I take in deep breaths of strength to get through this. I curse Peter for leaving me. I cry for him to come back. And I know, he won’t and I know, it’s my own strength that will get this all done. The strength I didn’t realize I had but now appreciate and embrace and love deeper in me. The strength I know is yet another part of me unlocked by Peter’s death. The strength that is not negated by tears, or tantrums, or even meltdowns, but built up by accomplishments and victories and movements. It’s then when I realize as I stand there, my biggest accomplishment thus far in my entire life is standing, moving, pushing ahead while learning more about the person I am without Peter. And I don’t hate her. And I live for her now. And that, to me, is what strength really is.