“Your strength in the face of this tragedy has been amazing.”
“You have faced this with an amazing grace and strength.”
“Your strength is such an inspiration.”
I read these and many similar messages again and again, mostly from other parents, in the days, weeks, and months after my 17-month-old daughter Hudson died from a very sudden and very aggressive bacterial infection.
I also heard many times over how incredible it was that I was able to survive her death, that I could still manage to get out of bed every day, that I hadn’t just curled into a ball forever.
Though I was grateful for all of these well-intentioned messages, at times they felt almost oppressive to me. I never felt strong. I never felt amazing. I felt pretty terrible most of the time, actually. Was it abnormal that I did survive? If I managed to pull myself out of bed every day, was I doing something wrong? If I didn’t crawl into a hole for the rest of my life, was I not grieving my daughter enough? And what would it mean if one day, I couldn’t get out of bed?
In these five and half years since my daughter died, I’ve thought about this notion of strength so many times. I realize now that what people were really looking for as they watched my grief unfold was reassurance that they, too, could survive this terrible thing if it happened to them. They wanted to know that it was possible. They wanted to know that they could keep getting out of bed day after day with the knowledge that they would never see their children again.
You may want to know the same thing.
What I want to tell you now is this. I was no stronger than anyone else after my daughter died. While I may have had a choice in how to go on after the death of my child, I had no choice in whether to go on. I went on because I had to. I kept breathing because that is what a living body does. I kept putting one foot in front of the other because that is how a living body gets around.
Whatever strength I had, you have it, too. You have whatever it takes to survive this and much more.
It’s the same strength that helped you grow a tiny being in your belly in the first place.
It’s the same strength that helped you push that baby out of your body.
It’s the same strength that got you through the many sleepless nights of that first year or more.
It’s the same strength that got you through the terrible twos, the battle of the threenager, and the roller coaster of a year that is four.
It’s the same strength that got you through the vomit all over the backseat of the car, the poop smeared all over the nursery floor, and the seventh cup of spilled milk in the same day.
It’s the same strength that got you through those trips to the emergency room for your child’s high fever or incessant cough or broken bone.
It’s the same strength that allowed you to send your baby off to his grandparents or the babysitter or daycare or preschool or kindergarten to let someone else take care of him for a while.
It’s the same strength that got you through the first, third, and tenth time your child’s heart was broken, by a friend or a bully or a love.
It’s the same strength that held you back on that first, third, and tenth time you wanted to step in to keep your child from falling or failing.
It’s the same strength that helps you get out of bed every day to be there for your family in the face of what sometimes feels insurmountable.
You have the same strength I do, because the strength is love.
I went on because I had to. I was able to go on because of love—my love for my daughter, my love for my husband and my family and my community, and their love for me.
How did I survive?
I survived because of love.
How will you survive?
You will survive because of love.
You have everything it takes, already right there inside you.