With everything that I have gone through in the last year I have been called strong a lot and I have repeatedly denied that I am strong to the surprise and confusion to most people. See, I don’t see myself as being stronger than the average person, I don’t know that there is anything about me that contains more strength to deal with situations others can’t fathom. What I am is Finnish, (well half), and we are different than you. We are different than Swedes and Norwegians and all the other Scandinavians and it’s more than our square heads or complete lack of profile. There is a cultural belief so deeply ingrained in us that it’s difficult to explain it to outsiders. What we have is sisu.
This is what happens when the strength is gone, our reserves completely empty and we keep forging ahead anyway. Head down, face into the wind, complete stubborn absolute determination to keep going. It’s hard to describe if not explained in context so here it is. Matt died and two weeks after that the last person left and I was alone. I worked full time, ran Matt’s bar, sold my farm animals, let his truck get repossessed, and started packing to move into a two bedroom apartment from a three bedroom house with an attached 2 car garage, 4 car unattached garage, and a barn. I wasn’t strong at this point, I had used my last bit of strength doing what I knew Matt wanted by removing him from a ventilator. I had nothing left and I was empty but I kept going. I sold 3/4 of our possessions, I worked desperately trying to get a grip on the bar, and I faced eviction from my house (because reduced to one income I couldn’t make the rent). There was no strength left but I had determination and honestly, there was no other path I could take so I worked every day for two months and made it happen.
I guess a lot of widows don’t have to deal with the enormity of this right off the bat, they don’t have to pack up everything, go through everything, and decide what stays and what goes within weeks of their husband’s death but for me there was no other choice. I had to do it so I did. Strength was not a part of it because if I was strong I wouldn’t have had the same thought every day driving home from work, the same curiosity of what would happen if I drove my car into the ditch at top speed. When that thought became more attractive than what I was dealing with I followed the only path I had available to me, I found myself a therapist who let me rail at him with rage I can’t even express to this day. It’s not strength, it’s stubbornness that moved me forward through my grief. I didn’t have the luxury of letting someone else handle my life, I couldn’t stay in bed and ignore the world, I had shit that had to be accomplished, not just for me but for my family as well. So I trudged on finding things that helped me move forward.
Maybe I’ve moved through the stages of grief faster than others because of this. For the first 6 months I didn’t have a moment where I wasn’t moving at top speed, where I wasn’t running my ass off trying to hold everything together by the very edges of my fingernails because I was too angry and too stubborn to give up and give in. People label it strength because they are looking on it from the outside completely unaware of what it was like in the storm. Even the people I called every day trying just to get through that day didn’t see because they weren’t there and honestly even as open as I am I didn’t share everything, I kept a whole hell of a lot back. Every day I did things I had to do because there was no one else to do them and in the process it changed me to my very core. I am not the person I was anymore and part of me is sad about that.
What I’m not sad about is the choices I made or the way I wound my path back to really living. I would argue that I am living more now than I ever did in the first 31 years of my life. I have no opinion on drama and I’ve let friends go. I try to complain less and focus instead on other things that make me happy. I spend time with people who make me happy and avoid people who don’t without apology or explanation. I have very few expectations of other people or of life itself other than to be fully present in each day without putting things off because I learned the hard way that there isn’t always later.
Some people are naturally stronger than others but everyone possesses the fortitude to continue on and keep moving. Strength fades but resilience does not, do not allow yourself to wallow, move forward and one day you will realize that just like spring, happiness returns when you aren’t seeking it.