Sunday, March 21, 2010


By Rose Carlson
Each time we face our fear, we gain strength, courage, and confidence in the doing.~ Edward Vernon Rickenbacker

When you hear the word “strength,” what do you think about? Do you become angry when people tell you things such as “you can get through this! You are strong!” or, “You are much stronger than I am, I could never make it through the death of my baby.” Do you feel as if you are being strong when you go through the motions and carry on with your life like nothing ever happened…like your baby didn’t die? Do you feel as if you are being strong when you smile and say “Fine, just fine!” whenever someone asks you how you are doing?

I’m going to give you a new perspective on strength when you have experienced such a life-shattering loss as the death of a baby.

This past weekend was our bi-annual training workshop for new Share group leaders, nurses, social workers, and anyone else who works with bereaved parents who have experienced the death of a baby through early pregnancy loss, stillbirth, or in the first few months of life. Caregivers from across the country attend this 3-day workshop. It is an emotional, sometimes challenging weekend, and by Sunday, I am often mentally and physically drained, but in a good way. I usually spend my drive home thinking of how honored I have been to share in the lives and hearts of the people who attended. We all learn so much from each other…I often end the weekend wondering who gained more…us or them. This past weekend was no exception.

The topics covered include things such as understanding the grief process, children’s grief, cultural diversity, complicated grief, memory making, running a support group, and others. Several of us at the national office teach some of the workshops, and we also have a network of professionals from our community who teach other workshops. One of those is called Caring for Yourself. For many years, the same person taught this session. She is warm, funny, and everyone has always learned a great deal from her. Due to some health issues, she has been unable to teach the past couple of times, so we have a new speaker who has taken her place for the past two trainings. Kelly K. is the grief services manager at a local funeral home and has done an absolutely wonderful job stepping in. Kelly is also warm, engaging, and an excellent speaker. So even though I have listened to this talk many times over the six years I have been involved with this training, a new person has put her own touches on it, and I really enjoyed listening to her Saturday morning.

At one point, she talked about how differently people cope with death and grief, how some people feel they need to immediately jump with both feet back into their lives, and how they think that they are being “strong” when they do so. She shared with us a story about a woman who called her a few weeks after the death of her loved one and cheerfully said how she was doing this and that, keeping busy, going back to work…she was proud of how strong she was being. Kelly told us she asked the woman what she was doing to grieve and deal with her feelings while she was busy being so strong. She said how she told her that being strong is not pushing your feelings aside and going on with life as if nothing tragic happened, but that real strength is facing the scary, hard feelings you have, and dealing with them.

It made me instantly think of so many of the bereaved parents I have met and talked to over the years who make such an effort to be strong, not share their true feelings, “buck up and move on…” It made me think of those who tell bereaved parents “you’re so strong, you can get through this” without really realizing what they are saying. And it made me wonder what exactly does being “strong” mean?

Others may try to make you think that when you cry, go to the cemetery and visit your baby, do other things in memory of your baby, that you are dwelling in sadness, that you are weak, giving in to your emotions, stuck in the past...I often tell parents that all of those things are okay, and normal, but still, I have the feeling that most people would not think that doing all of those things is what you do when you are being strong.

I have thought about this a lot over the past few days, and I believe that what Kelly said is right on; it takes a great deal of strength to confront and deal with feelings that are unpleasant, downright ugly, maybe completely out of character, and most of all, frightening to deal with and understand. It takes great strength and courage to be real, to bare your soul and share your innermost feelings with those who love you and care about you. It takes more strength to tell someone “I am really struggling” and deal with whatever conversation ensues than it does to say “Fine…I’m just fine” and then change the subject when someone asks how you are. It takes great strength and courage to say to a friend or family member “what you said really hurt me.” It takes a great deal of strength and courage to tell your sister or cousin or friend that her pregnancy brings up feelings of jealousy that you never imagined you could have. I could go on, but I won’t. I do however have a whole new view of what it means to be strong.

How do you feel about what I have written here? Are you someone who has felt as if hiding your real feelings, smiling when you would rather cry, saying you are fine when you are anything but fine is what you do to show you are being strong? Do you feel as if others around you think that this is being strong? Have you shared your true feelings with someone and found that more difficult than hiding them?