by Kim de los Reyes
Strength. During the first months in the first year after Leona died, I hated the word; strength. I hated hearing everyone say, “Just be strong, Kim. She’d want you to be mighty,” which was a reference to the nickname we had given my daughter before she was born.
I grew increasingly annoyed by any of the other phrases, “You’re just so strong. I couldn’t imagine how you do it.” I’d feel the anger well up immediately.
I’d reply with some combination, “As if I had the choice. If I would’ve had my choice, I’d be with Leona. I want my baby.”
They’d get that horrified look, mixed with sympathy and pity.
As if they had broken me.
As if I wasn’t already broken, leaving that hospital without a baby, only to come home to a shared room with a prepared nursery.
Strong was waking up every day. Strong was everything it took to force my eyes open, to feel my heartbeat in my chest when Leona’s had stopped. I hated strong.
And I hated being the picture of strength that was so horrible they’d never let themselves imagine it.
Let alone speak of it.
I hated it more when it was used as the one thing that was supposed to keep me here.
“You can’t say that, Kim. It’s not a choice. You have to be strong for Leona. She’d want you to live and be happy.”
As if they even knew my daughter. Pouring salt in the wound about the fact that as Leona’s mother, I didn’t even know what truly would’ve made her happy.
But now, I’ve made a new meaning for strength. My fondly named, Dictionary of Grieving Your Dead Baby, is reframing so many words for me.
Giving new meaning to a life I didn’t ask for.
Now, strength is softness, vulnerability. It is accepting that being tender in the face of great suffering is the strongest thing there is.
Strength is allowing myself grace.
Whether I believe I deserve forgiveness and compassion – or not. It is permission to be perfectly imperfect. The grace to accept everything that makes me the human that I am – even if I don’t always quite know who that is.
Strength no longer moves to hide it or fade it or fix it.
Strength is no longer suppressed emotion masked in silence and stoicism.
Strength is my compassion now – to sit with pain and suffering, just as the word compassion means to “suffer with.” It is allowing myself the grace to feel every human emotion, indescribable, and sometimes within minutes, in the face of overwhelming uncertainty.
Strength is remaining soft and tender with my heart, but getting up, standing firm again. After every single fall to my knees, in the fires of hell that threaten to consume me.
It is that breath of air when I’m drowning.
Strength is still moving when my world has caved in.