A week ago I was trying to describe to someone how I was trying to be brave about facing into grief and loss. When she started her reply, it was clear she hadn’t understood what I meant.
She went on about the negatives of ignoring the pain of mourning and then we got onto another topic, something about how I didn’t want to inconvenience others by sharing my sadness with them, and how that seems at odds with the less than rigid personality I usually seem to have. You know, minor stuff.
Afterwards, I circled around our miscommunication concerning the word brave. I couldn’t understand how she could have missed what I meant.
See, the word “brave” used to mean being stoic, stuffing feelings down and putting on a “brave face” for the world to see.
It doesn’t mean that anymore, at least not to me. I’m not sure it ever held those connotations as deeply for people my age as it might have for Baby Boomers and those who came prior to that era. For them, I think there was an emphasis on keeping up appearances, not airing dirty laundry, etc. For goodness sakes, women vacuumed the house in high-heeled pumps. There was a different requirement for deep privacy, privacy even between spouses, friends, siblings, etc.
To a small degree, I understand that. For whatever reason, there are times when I don’t feel comfortable with people knowing my “bidness” (said the blogger with a public blog that contains words and thoughts that are read by the public). There’s a hesitancy in me in sharing too deeply with those I might not know as well or not sharing on my own terms.
However, there is a strength that comes with being open. The things we guard are shown to be less powerful when we share them with others. The secrets we keep shrivel when exposed to the light.
Brave means to be willing to be open about heartbreak, hurt or sadness. Brave used to be about concealment, but now it is about a willingness to shine light on those areas we try most to protect. So when I said I’d been trying to be brave, I meant the opposite of what was understood (hello Communication 101: intended message vs. received message). I meant that it was hard work being brave, hard work to press in to the pain, to acknowledge the loss and the absence and how that impacts the interactions and rhythms of a whole family group.
It’s tiring to be truthful about such heaviness. Someone told me that a person can only handle a certain amount of “high emotion” (my term) and that a feeling of being numb can be a healthy part of the grieving process. It’s the person’s way of giving themselves a break, whether they plan it or not. Numbness allows a respite, but only for so long. Even in the numb, there is still a way to be brave about the reason for the numb.
It’s a matter of trying to lean into rather than away from the things that scare us or that which we’d rather avoid.
[In case you, like the person in the conversation that spurred this post, have a more traditional definition of the word brave, please let me direct you to the work of Brene Brown . Her books about vulnerability, authenticity, shame and courage have changed the way many people view those topics and the way they interact with the world around them. Seriously. Go read them.]
[I promise that we WILL talk about something else someday. Truly. And it will be grand. This is a hard season we’re entering, and I know I’m not alone in viewing “the holidays” as a little bit dangerous rather than a season of light and wonder. There will be light. There will be wonder. And there will be pieces of the patchwork quilt that are missing, making it all feel threadbare and incomplete. We’ll eventually get used to it — what else can we do? This year, however, a trip to Florida seems like a good plan. Christmas in Florida, with palm trees and sand, just doesn’t sound like you could really feel like you were celebrating the real thing. (No offense, Floridians. It’s all a matter of what you’re used to.) And something that lets us ignore the absence of one of our own? That may be worth the cost of airfare.]