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This was some of the best advice I’ve ever heard. After my husband commissioned to the army, we moved to Southern Georgia where he received his leadership training in the jungle and I received mine at soirees.
One night we had a Q & A with the wives of senior officers, hosted by the wife of the Command Sergeant Major; the senior ranking non-commissioned officer of the installation responsible for tens of thousands of soldiers. She had almost two decades of experience, and of all the stories and wisdom she could share, there was only one she made a point to tell.
Back in the early 2000s, right after the war began and conflicts were raging, her husband, like so many, had little notice before deploying for combat to the Middle East. He was nearing the end of his 18-month stent when she received the call that he was not coming home as planned, and would be staying out a few more months, with no timeline of when he would return.
The moment she hung up the phone, her reaction was simple; crawl into bed – curl up in the fetal position – and cry.
“Cry, cry, cry.” She said that’s all you can do at that point. “But”, she counseled, “you don’t let anyone see and when you’re done, you just have to pick yourself up and keep going.”
I’ve thought about this advice a lot since that night as there are three great lessons to learn:
1) The obvious: it’s ok to grieve, it’s ok to breakdown, to be scared, sad, and crushed. It’s not just ok – it’s necessary – to let it out, even in the most humble and primitive manner. Identify what you need; find your bed, figure out your fetal position, then let the emotions loose – and enjoy the catharsis.
2) But be careful where and when you let it out. We live in a time where the more open, honest and raw you are, the more attention you garner. But there is wisdom in being selective about who you invite in. This woman was talking specifically about the other spouses in her husband’s unit she was responsible for, but mostly, her kids. She needed to hold herself together to brace for their breakdowns.
This is true, especially in times like these. Our kids need our strength. This doesn’t mean you have to be fake or dishonest, but they’re still kids; whether they say it or even realize it they look to you. They need parents who are going to be the adults in the room, parents who are capable, parents who lead with strength and stability.
3) Pick yourself up and keep going. Put the pieces back together, the best you can, and just keep moving forward, one step at a time. We cannot live in the emotions; we cannot dwell on the disappointment or fear. We must do life as usual; the best we can. Grieve for what is out of your control – then let it go. Focus on your sphere of control and work within that. It will get easier.
I’ve been told most of my life how strong a woman I am. While I am one who always appreciates the flattery, I must say I have had my fair share of these ‘curl up and cry’ moments. It is not a sign of weakness to admit you’ve reached your breaking point. It’s what you do after you break that matters. (This is where I shine.)
And if you have to crawl back in that bed a few more times, go right on ahead. You can always pick yourself up tomorrow.Published in