Am I strong or brave or courageous?
Strong – Not easily disturbed, upset, or affected:
Brave – ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage.
Something that constantly grated me during the time that mum was sick were the amount of people, who in discussions said that I was strong.
“You’re so strong Jo”, was the sentence I heard over and over again in the 3 years that mum fought her cancer battle and in the 2 years since she has passed.
I heard it so many times, that I started believing it to be true. I would put on my game face when it mattered, when people were watching, when I had no other choice. I was being relied on by my mum, my dad, my brother, the rest of the family.
I had no choice. I couldn’t lose my shit in front of anyone.
I wasn’t strong, and I did lose my shit, often. But very rarely when or where anyone could see. Often in the car after an appointment, hospital or nursing home visits. Or at home when no one was around to see me have a melt down.
I wasn’t strong when mum first told me they had found a small 4 cm tumour, and that it was cancer. The C word. She told me this just days before X-mas. I was brave when we got together that Christmas, with wonder on my mind of how many more Christmases we would get to spend together. Having courage to talk about what all this meant and what were were going to do, even though I didn’t really want to.
I wasn’t strong when we found out that mum had be stitched up and need a colostomy bag, because her tumor what so low in the bowel, that was the only option. I wasn’t strong when we were told that she would have to endure chemo and radio and subsequent surgeries. I put on my brave face when we visited the surgeons, oncologists and specialists. I had to find the courage to ask all the questions, get all the information; help make the best decisions.
When mum’s friend wheeled her into the radiotherapy room in a wheelchair because she was so sick she couldn’t walk, I knew it wasn’t good. I was brave, I put on my brave face again. Went into the bathroom and cried. Dried my tears, brave face and back out to the waiting room. Went into “what do I need to do now” mode. Speak to Radiotherapist. Ring dad, husband, brother; make a plan, get mum to hospital. Speak to Oncologist, what’s the best care she can get, when can she get it. This is not being strong. This is doing what needs to be done in the face of despair and heartbreak.
Every day without fail I would put on my happy but brave face and go in and sit with mum; read her the paper, tell her the footy scores; then walk out after 2 hours and sob in the car where no one could see me. This is not being strong.
I had to pull together all my courage to ring numerous nursing homes and tell them of my predicament with mum, explaining it over and over again. Every phone call I was trying to hold it together; but I was constantly being treated like it was a business transaction. There was no compassion or care. I had to fight for this. Is this being strong or brave? I don’t know.
I wasn’t strong when I lost my shit at the Director of the Nursing Home, accusing her staff of not showing mum some dignity her last days. Not one of my finest moments; and I’m sure if anyone else saw this exchange they wouldn’t say that I was strong. I was furious and courageous. I had the courage to step up and confront the Director about the care that mum was or was not getting. I remember pleading with the resident doctor to give mum some medication for her pain. That she needed it now and not in 6 hours’ time when the on call GP would make his rounds. I lost my shit. The care that I thought should have been better or different or given; wasn’t until I spoke up. If I didn’t it would never of changed.
People thought I was strong because I was not afraid to talk about it. If someone asked how mum was, I would tell them. I wouldn’t lie, I would tell the truth, as raw and sad as it was. I had the knowledge, so I talked about it. It helped me come to terms with the whole shitty situation. This isn’t being strong. This is being realistic, and brave and vulnerable in putting my thoughts and feelings out there, if people chose to ask me and listen to me.
People were telling me I was strong as I was dealing with and seemingly coping with a lot of “stuff”. Dad was dealing with this stuff too. He was the brave one. The endless running around, driving mum (and dad), to and from appointments. Chemo, radio, hospital, GP, specialists. I went to nearly every one of them. I kept swinging between feeling obliged to go, because I was the daughter; to dad asking me to come because he wanted another pair of ears to hear things he may not hear or comprehend or understand. Then it was because I wanted to go, I wanted to know the how, when, what, who – this was my way of coping. I felt in control of the situation if I knew the facts. If I knew the facts I could help dad understand. If I knew the facts I could help mum deal with what ever she was feeling and going through.
I wasn’t strong the day of mum’s funeral. I sobbed uncontrollably when I greeted friend after friend, family member after family member. Being told I was strong, or to be strong. I just wanted to get through the day, and the next day, and the next one after that.
I felt mental exhausted from being “strong” that I had forgotten to be happy.
I stopped doing the things I love.
I stopped being a good friend.
I don’t want your sympathy from reading this post; I want you to think next time you are with a friend or family member who is going through shit, to think about not telling them that they are strong. Instead, tell them that they are brave and/or courageous. Be empathetic. Put yourself in their shoes and think about what would make you feel comforted in this situation. Feel with them, not for them.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing for me to be able to see and acknowledge that this is what I was feeling. I can now see that I wasn’t strong; but brave and courageous. These 2 things have been character building for me; they are things that I have drawn on in the last 6 months as I have started my “emerging” journey. My journey of being happy, finding and doing the things I love; healing and dealing.
What do you think? Was I strong? Brave? Courageous?