"The sea's only gifts are harsh blows, and occasionally the chance to feel strong. Now I don't know much about the sea, but I do know that that's the way it is here. And I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong."
- Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild
My opinion towards the word "strong" has changed quite a bit over the last 4 years.
When people first called me strong (after losing Derek) I was angry. Do I look strong? Do you not see my pain? Who is strong at a time like this?
It was understandably fitting that I would be devastated, and seemed obvious to me that that's how I carried myself. But to call me strong almost seemed like an insult to Derek or my love for him. I didn't feel strong- I felt weak and vulnerable. And just because I was able to put on a brave face didn't mean I was ok. Perhaps at times my shock and confusion was mistaken for strength.
After speaking at Derek's funeral, all these people told me how strong I was. I wasn't trying to be strong, I just knew that what I had to say needed to be said... I wanted to get my message across clearly that the world lost an amazing person tragically and unnecessarily. That my life would be forever changed, and he would be physically missing from all the momentous events in my life. To me that wasn't strength, that was simply being honest. I was once again annoyed by the use of this word to describe me.
I also got to the point where I didn't feel like people could understand what I was going through and so I kept most of my feelings bottled up. This wasn't because I thought I was the only person in the world who had gone through something like this, but because every situation is different. No one will understand the relationship I had with Derek because they didn't have it. My friends couldn't compare by imagining if they lost a sibling- because their relationships were all different. (And you also can't possibly imagine the pain until you experience it yourself). No scenario is the same and so I found myself pretending I was fine in public to avoid having to try and explain what I was going through. This often got mistaken for strength.
As the years have passed, however, I've become proud of this word. I am strong. I am resilient. I have my scars but I have pushed myself to make it through the bad days. The days where I didn't want to get out of bed, didn't want to talk to anyone, didn't want to act like I was ok to avoid making people uncomfortable by my sadness.
I've learned that strong doesn't have to be a word with negative connotations; undermining the person you were before. The so-called "weak" person that has suddenly surprised people with their strength and will. To me, strength can simply mean that you pushed yourself to make it through. Even if you had some bumps and bruises on the way, or in my case lots of tears, you came out on the other side even if you didn't always want to.