You know, one of things I have hated hearing on this journey is ” you’re so strong”. I think most parents who have lost a child to suicide….for that matter ANYONE who has lost a loved one no matter what the cause of death is, those words make us cringe.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate that someone cares enough to reach out and offer their support and comfort. And I know that if the shoe was on the other foot, I would struggle to find the right words to say too.
But those words ” you’re so strong” , and they are usually followed by ” you will get through this” : I just hate them .
If I decided by choice to do something difficult : like when I decided to move more than half of the continent away after the breakup of a toxic relationship, yeah, those three words might have fit ( they actually didn’t : I didn’t leave because I was strong . I was a mess and I was just running away from my problems …but that’s a long story I’m not getting into). I have no choice in this. There is no strength involved at all. It’s not something I chose. Most days I just want to put my head under the covers and hide. Most days I don’t want to face at all. But no matter what : the sun rises every morning and I have to wake up and do….whatever the hell it is that I do. There’s no strength involved. Not at all. If I had any say in it, I wouldn’t do.
The truth of it is : I’m tired. And I’m weak. I have had to be strong and resilient all of my life and there just isn’t anything left. The slight gust of wind might send me tumbling to the floor now.
My life has not been easy. My youth was a turbulent one. My father was an alcoholic. And he was a violent and angry one. I remember when I was three, hiding in the locked bathroom with my mom and my big sister, while he went on a rampage. I remember my mom washing the blood from her face. This was a regular occurrence. And I remember always being afraid.
I was a mom for the first time at 20. And a mom, five and a half years later, to 4. I was married to a career soldier who was always away. I raised those 4 beautiful children mostly by myself. But the 5 of us were a team. My children were my best friends and my most proud accomplishment of my life. I made a lot of mistakes while growing up. But the 4 children I brought into this world were just beautiful. They were a true blessing. We moved on average every 2.5 years. It felt like we were having to start fresh more than most as my ex husband chased career dreams that took us to the arctic; to the east coast; to the UK and back; crisscrossing provinces and cities : my children always having to start new schools, and I: new jobs.
The kids grew up as kids do. The two oldest were close. Sam was the 3rd boy, followed by his sister. She was ” daddies little girl”. She could do no wrong in her father’s eyes. And she was a great kid. But Sam always seemed to be the odd man out. He never really found a place to fit in with his siblings. And as he grew older, he and his father fought. Alot.
We almost lost him when he was 17. No matter what he did, it always seemed to piss his dad off. Where his sister could do no wrong, he could do no right. One summer, it got particularly bad and he begged me to let him spend a week with his old friends 5 hours away in a small town where we used to live. I felt hesitant, but he and his dad really needed a break from each other. I drove him out, with the intent of going back 5 days later to pick him up. I had reservations about it, but I trusted him when he said he would stay out of trouble. I didn’t make it home that night. I got a call from his father when I was on the highway, telling me Sam had been rushed to the hospital. He was unconscious and unresponsive. He and his friends had polished off a bottle of Jack Daniel’s shortly after I left him. When he lost consciousness, his friends put him in a bath of cold water. Thank God whoever’s house they were at, the father came home and found him before he drowned. But Sam’s alcohol/blood level was enough alone to kill him. By the time I got to the hospital, he had been there for two hours, was wrapped in a foil blanket: was hypothermic, and was in an alcohol induced coma. He did survive the ordeal, and never really drank after that. What was really sad about that night, is that when his father called me to tell me I had to go back: he was annoyed at his son: no, he was angry at his son because it was an inconvenience that he was hospitalized. That poor kid could never win.
I spent 25 years in that marriage. I spent most of those years acting as a buffer between Sam and his father. When I was 42, I joined the military. I went through basic training with 20 year olds. I trained as an aviation technician and 4 years later, his father and I separated. Sam moved in with me.
I feel like I have always had to be strong to get through this life. Tonight, I spent 3 hours writing out a testimony in a class action lawsuit against the military for sexual harrassment. I’ve known for months that the due date for this was coming up. But what happened to me, was emotionally difficult to deal with and having to write out an account of what happened, was something I just kept putting off. And then in August, Sam died. I got a call from the law office dealing with the lawsuit today telling me they needed the details asap so that they could proceed as the due date was nearing. Today, was a particularly emotionally hard day: my grief was just bursting at the seams to escape, I worked late, and then I had to spend 3 hours on the lawsuit.
I am done. If I had nothing in me before, I definitely am running on a deficit of ” strong” now. I feel raw. I wish I felt nothing, because then I would be dead. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. Right. What doesn’t kill me leaves me exposed and vulnerable to the next blow.
No. I am not strong. Far from it.