Who said you had to be strong?

5 Feb

My dad died 3 weeks ago today.  And, I am grateful for a lot of things – he lived a great life for 92.5 years, we were all with him, his life was blessed, he only REALLY suffered for a few days, and we had time to say goodbye.

And sometimes I am good with all that.  But other times I just really really miss him and I can’t believe he’ll never sit in his favorite chair, or tell me what he had for lunch, or ask “are you making money?”

And so I sit in my rental cottage staring at the Long Island Sound.  The sound of the waves breaking is comforting.  And I cry.  And I wonder why I still think I need to be strong.

One day, while my dad was still alive, on the way to the hospital to see him.  I didn’t think I could actually go in.  It felt like an anvil was pressing on my head and a rope was squeezing my neck.  I could barely think or breathe.  I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I would start crying when I saw him lying in the hospital bed and never ever be able to stop.

I called up a friend.

“I just don’t think I can be strong,” I told her, voice breaking.

“Who told you you had to be?” she asked me.

“People, ” I answered.  “Them.  Everyone.”  I thought about it for a minute.  ” I don’t know who actually said it.”

“Well, it’s not actually a  rule in the universe,” she said.  “You don’t actually have to be.”

“Really?” I asked, feeling some of the pressure lift.  “Are you sure?”

::”Yes,”  she said.

I got to the hospital that day and was surprised to see my older sister crying in the hallway. The doctors had just told her that they could no longer help my father. We hugged each other and had a good cry together before we went back into my father’s room.

My dad passed away four days later in his own home surrounded by his wife, children and grandchildren.  We knew he was at peace, felt blessed, and that “he didn’t think life could be as good as it was.”

And sometimes I’m ok with it, grateful for all the good and knowing it could have been so much worse.  And, sometimes I try to just let myself cry cause I miss him so much.

I went to the gym one morning and saw a guy I knew riding the bike.  He asked how I was and I told him about my dad.  He was sorry.

“My dad was just diagnosed with prostate cancer,”  he told me.  “We don’t know what the prognosis is.”

We talked for a while.  He was feeling pretty negative.”

“I know how you feel.  When my dad was diagnosed, my mother didn’t get crazy like we all did.  She said until she heard the facts from the doctor, she was going to stay positive.  If you can stay positive like her, it’s helpful, but if you can’t, it’s also ok to cry.”

“I don’t think so,” he said.  “I need to be strong.  I’m a man.”

“Who said?”  I asked.

“It’s expected.”

“But who actually told you that?” I asked.

“A guy over there.  He was talking about how guys have to “man up.”  I don’t think it’s ok to show emotion.”   He started pedalling harder and harder.

“Well, I am personally giving you permission to cry.  It’s the unknown and it’s your dad.  If you need to cry or talk, please give me a call.  I am a really good empathetic cryer.”

He looked at me like he didn’t believe me.  He kept pedalling.

But then he smiled.  And he gave me an awkward hug from seat on the bicycle and whispered “thanks.”

So, if I can tell him he doesn’t have to be strong, then I probably don’t have to be either.

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