“Stay strong,” they told me when my dad passed away.
Worst. Advice. Ever.
This is what I was told as a twelve-year-old who had never experienced even the loss of even an extended family member.
Stay strong. What does that even mean?
To tell someone to stay strong is to ask them to power through what is bothering them. However well-intentioned this message can be, it was constantly shoved in my face whenever I was feeling sad or missing my dad.
By friends, family, teachers, and counselors.
It made me feel like I wasn’t allowed to break down.
Like me being sad was a bother to the people I felt comfortable enough opening up to.
Like even they were expecting me to “move on already.”
But I didn’t want to.
I wanted someone to listen to me. To acknowledge me. And to acknowledge what had happened to me.
But everyone just told me, “Stay strong.”
So I tried.
I tried to ignore the pain. I thought that if I didn’t cry, or think about my dad, or mention his name, that I would be strong, and things would get better. Things would be normal again if I just tried to stay strong.
You know what “staying strong” led to?
It led to denial.
It led to anger and lashing out.
It led to depression.
It led to sulking with my friends.
It led to a total abandonment of who I was.
It took me a long time to realize that it was okay to break down. Breaking down is part of healing and it should not be stigmatized. It is simply not NORMAL to never cry, or express emotions, or feel sad.
It is our right as human beings to feel. To deny anyone of that is unnatural.
I’ve unfortunately watched friends lose parents as the years have passed by. Others who have not gone through it come to me for advice on how to approach grieving friends.
My advice to them? Feel however you want to feel. Feel it deeply and ride the wave instead of trying to stand against the wave when it comes rushing towards you.
Don’t EVER tell someone to stay strong. Those two words alone have the power to stunt the grieving process.
Tell them that they are allowed to feel.
Tell them that breaking down is a natural reaction and they shouldn’t feel ashamed.
And lastly – and this is so vital – tell that person that they are loved, and be someone who rides that wave with them instead of making them feel like they have to stand against it.