“True strength is smiling when you want to cry, laughing to hide the pain and going on, no matter what.” – Nishan Panwar

I saw that on someone’s Facebook page.  It was a reply to a status update about a friend’s tenuous health and uncertain prognosis. The original status had said that things were not going great  I’m sure the reply was meant to be supportive, but it bothered me. Actually, I felt a physical response to it so unpleasant that has lingered on for days.

True strength?  Is true strength hiding our real selves and putting on a mask that feigns positivity? Is true strength shielding friends and family from the pain, both physical and emotional, that we are going through, not allowing them to be available to our real struggles?

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I think true strength is being willing to be vulnerable. Crying when you want, or need, to cry. Showing the pain. Telling people you are hurting. Sobbing so loudly and physically that a simple tissue will just not do. Talking to friends and family about the fear and anxiety you have about the illness, and even about the possibility of death. Isn’t that the harder thing to do? Doesn’t that take so much more strength and bravery?

So many of us hide the pain. We put on a brave face, minimizing the real struggles we are going through. We quote lines about more positive days ahead. We stay silent in the pain, and come out for brief moments to fake a smile and pretend that all is well. And that’s not to say that it’s unhealthy to be positive, to look for the bright spots. But to be real takes the most strength.

And what about going on, no matter what, even when the fight is so clearly being lost? Isn’t strength about knowing when, and being willing, to stop fighting, if it is what you want? To embrace the life we are given and make decisions about how you want to live, rather than denying the fact that we are dying? To face our mortality and prepare ourselves, and those around us, for it’s ultimate reality? 

We all know that we are going to die. But when faced with it up close, we tend to deny that it is going to happen at all. Doesn’t it take more strength to accept the reality of death?

I hope my Facebook friend knows that she can truly be strong with me. And she can tell me when and if she ever decides to stop fighting. I can handle it.