You’re So Strong
Becoming Me without You Blog
By Jeanie Stirling
“You’re so strong!” These words, meant to be encouraging, actually feel more like a heavy weight has been added to an already exhausting burden. We don’t feel strong. We’re just trying to survive our loss one day at a time, one step at a time. We weren’t given a choice. We didn’t have the option of saying “no” to this whole loss and grief experience. We’re still alive, stumbling along trying to make sense of it all. We’re attempting to walk in a whole new world where our life partner is missing and we’re becoming a different person.
So instead of saying,”You’re so strong,” why not say something like this:
“I appreciate the way you keep showing up even when it’s hard.”
“Thank you for sharing your experience with me.”
“The way you are handling this (insert a specific thing) is really amazing.”
“This must feel impossible. Are there things I can help you with?”
Then allow time to listen. There aren’t many people willing to listen. “You’re so strong” and “You’re doing so well” make us feel unseen. I remember bursting into tears after a friend commented, “You’re doing so well” on my Facebook page. I wasn’t doing particularly well at that time. But the only contact I had with this friend was a Facebook comment. She had no idea how I was doing, and I felt deeply alone after reading her comment. I’m sure she meant it as encouragement, but it actually produced more feelings of isolation.
So, what should you do? Instead of commenting “You’re doing so well,” you might call on the phone. Say, “Just checking in with you today. I’m not sure what to say or what you need, but thought I would give you a call and see how things are going for you this week.”
Don’t ask, “How ARE you?” That question puts us on the spot and produces anxiety. Sometimes we simply don’t have the words to answer that question.
It would be helpful if friends realized that a deep silence overtakes your soul when your spouse dies. Lonely is not a strong enough word for it. Attempting to understand how that might feel and having the courage to connect in some way really means so much. Even if you don’t feel particularly close to someone who is grieving, your support could lead to a deeper relationship. The hard truth is that the friends you think are showing up for them probably aren’t.
“Call me if you need anything” is another thing we hear a lot. We don’t know what we need, and we don’t have the energy to call you. We’re feeling paralyzed while at the same time having to make a hundred critical decisions in the first few days and weeks. Having to take the initiative to call you is just too much. Say this instead:
“I’m at the grocery store, can I pick anything up for you?”
“I’ll be over at 5:00 to drop off dinner.”
“Can I pick up the kids and get them to and from soccer practice this week? I’ll be over on Saturday to mow your lawn.”
“I’ll move your trash cans out to the curb.”
“I’m committed to praying for you every day this week.”
“Can we pick you up for church on Sunday?”
“Let’s go out for breakfast. What day is best for you this week? I’ll drive.”
“I was thinking of (name) and remembered (some event). I miss him, too.”
Saying the name and remembering is a very powerful comfort to those who are grieving. Thinking it will make us sad or remind us of our loss, people hesitate to say anything. Believe me, we haven’t forgotten, and having others remember with us is a gift. Whether it’s tears or laughter that follow the comment doesn’t matter. We feel better knowing someone is remembering with us.
Grief is frightening both for the one who is grieving and for the friends who want to come alongside. Both need courage. Pray for it. Then act on what God is prompting you to do.
The words you share with us are important. Even if you say the wrong thing, can only think of platitudes, start a comment with “well, at least,” once we get past our initial shock, we appreciate that you tried to connect. Saying nothing and avoiding us is devastating. It doesn’t have to be that way.