I’m afraid I also think that this is a useless, untrue and unhelpful statement. Not one that people tend to say very often to bereaved parents (although I have had it said to me), but I do believe it is another common misunderstanding at the heart of people’s thinking when it comes to how we can deal with trauma and loss.
I just want to test out the theory for a moment;
I would guess that the cold virus my four year old just had, made him; a pain in the ass, but ultimately stronger. However, when my grandmother contracted pneumonia at the very end of her life, it didn’t kill her but it weakened her so much that the next thing that came along did. What doesn’t kill you will not always make you stronger, it often makes you weaker actually. It could ruin your life… if you let it..
Which leads me to another confusing and unhelpful thing which is more commonly said to those who’ve lost babies; ‘it’s not what happens to you – it’s what you do with it that counts’.
This implies that coping with the death of our baby is something that we can be ‘good at’. I certainly fell into this trap early on in my grief. Worrying about how other people felt and about their ability to cope, concerned with how other people saw me, concerned with whether or not I was ‘doing well’.
These days I may finally be over trying to ‘be successful’ at coping with my loss. I no longer worry whether I am ‘doing well’. I have learned that I have to accept what has happened to my daughter because, to not do so, would be to deny reality. Deny mortality even. I’ve also had a lot of brilliant and helpful coaching. I’ve looked at my life story and how I can learn and grow from the challenges that I’ve faced. I discovered that the death of my daughter has offered me the opportunity to learn, develop and grow in a more meaningful way than anything else every presented before me. Where does that leave me? Celebrating the opportunity? You see – you are snookered however you try to ‘look at it’. Whatever you ‘do with it’.
There is no ‘being good’ at this. And there should not be pressure in that direction. For my part, I’d say that this pressure – either from myself or others – has significantly compounded the complexity of my grief.
Every single day since Liberty died, I would gladly give my life for hers. In a heartbeat. So how can I reckon up the learning and growth that I have experienced as a result of Liberty’s death? I still have no idea, but I’m working on it.
I can say though with absolute confidence that, it is NOT THE CASE that what doesn’t kill you makes your stronger.