There was a particular phrase people used to say to me a lot shortly after my mother’s death, one that I loved hearing at the time but now I hate. People frequently would say to me ‘You’re so strong!’ Because I didn’t cry, because I went to school and did my work, because I got on with my life immediately after with a smile on my face. And because people kept praising me for this, I felt like I was coping well. That this ‘strength’ of not crying and feeling my emotions that were lying underneath was a good thing, and that if I ever did cry or feel upset I was weak.
I know now this is so wrong.
For so long I withheld my emotions because I thought that way I was ‘strong’ and that was good. People seemed so impressed by my positivity and lack of emotions that I suppressed anything I felt. And because of this, I didn’t grieve. Instead of feeling my emotions and dealing with the death of my mother, I pretended it didn’t happen. Part of this was because I wasn’t emotionally mature enough to even comprehend my mother’s death, but the way in which people reacted to my behaviour also inadvertently encouraged this behaviour. Nobody sat me down and told me it was okay to cry, that I needed to deal with my grief and try and process it. At one point I do remember trying therapy, aged 17, because everything was beginning to feel overwhelming and there were some days I couldn’t even leave my house and go to school.
But I couldn’t talk. Every time I tried to talk about how I felt, the words wouldn’t come out and I would just cry. After one session I decided therapy wasn’t right for me at that point and I went back to burying all of my grief.
Looking back, I can acknowledge that there were a number of reasons why I didn’t deal with my grief at the time. At 15, I just wasn’t emotionally mature or ready to deal with something as monumental as the loss of my mother. I also wasn’t a very emotional person anyway, as I barely cried at anything. I also understand that everyone grieves and reacts differently. But there were little things that people said to me that contributed to my denial as well.
I’m not blaming anyone in particular, and I know it’s hard to figure out what to say to someone who’s experiencing a great loss. But sometimes being ‘strong’ isn’t the right answer. Crying and feeling your emotions is healthy. It doesn’t make you weak, and don’t let anyone ever make you think it does. Grieving is a long process, and a hard one at that. Whether it’s the death of a family member or the loss of a close relationship in your life, please remember it’s okay to cry. Let yourself feel things. It will get easier, eventually.