I come from a very long line of strong, independent but loving women. Woman who themselves have been tried and tested, and who gladly stood up to any obstacle that came their way. My grandmother, Ethel D., was the matriarch of my family before she passed and I wanted to be just like her. She was the one who people, family or friend, called whenever they needed anything. She was the organizer, the cheerleader, the disciplinarian, and so much more wrapped into one woman.
One year, we lost one of my very close Great Uncles and at his funeral I totally broke down. I couldn’t have been more than maybe 10 years old but I understood that I would never be able to see him again and I was shattered. I remember almost falling out right in front of his casket and my dear Grandmother stood me up and told me words that have stuck with me. “Be strong. Don’t cry child. Be strong for them.”
For years, I internalized her words fearing to ever cry in front of people or even in private. I had to be what she need me to be — strong. No tears meant no fears. No tears meant I was strong than any other person walking. No tears.
But as I began to lose my Grandmother to Alzheimer’s, I soon realized that I didn’t understand what she really meant. One afternoon as I visited my grandmother, I was being a careless teenager. You know, a teenager that was excited but cocky about going into my Senior year of high school. I felt that I ruled my little world and as a new ruler, I pushed the verbal boundaries more than I should have. And that day I pushed a boundary with my Grandmother that received an unexpected result. After talking back to her, just one too many times that day, she blurted out to me “Shut up you stupid little girl”. And my world stop.
I couldn’t believe she would say something to me like that. My Grandmother never spoke unkind words even when she was at her highest level of pissivity. But that day, she spoke words that broke my heart. And I broke out and started crying. Just as quick as she yelled at me was just as fast as she came back to the sweet “mother” I knew.
“Why are you crying? Don’t cry.” She told me. And then I told her what she had just said and then she did something I had never seen before. She cried. She broke down with me. The woman who had spoken words of strength into my soul, seemed to have forgotten her own sermon. But then my tears stopped and I held her. I let her cry and tell me about the horrible disease that was changing her. In that moment, I understand what her earlier words actually meant.
Sometimes, there are moments in our lives when we want to cry because we are hurt. We are in that moment hurting for ourselves but sometimes, in those same moments, there are others who are hurting oh so much more than we are. In those moments, we need to “be strong for them”. We need to stand up and support them through their pain, not dismissing our own, but becoming selfless enough to be strong when they cannot.
This week, be strong for those around you that are hurting more than you can even imagine. Hold them up. Stand with them. Let them know that tomorrow will come and their strength will rise again. Even if you must do it through your own tears, do it. They need you. They need your strength today, so that they can be strong for you tomorrow.