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How I Learned the True Meaning of Strength After My Son’s Death

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“Breathe. Let go. And remember that this very moment is the only thing you know you have for sure.” ~ Oprah Winfrey

After my 15-year-old son Brendan died in an accident, I tried to stay healthy. It shattered my world. The shock left me numb, but when it calmed down, I knew I needed to be there for my husband and two other kids, Zach and Lizzie, still her 10 and her 13 years old and needed my strength. So I built a wall around my heart to get through the day. I went back to work and was teaching piano students in my studio.

But at night, tears flowed and my throat became hot. Her neck muscles stiffened and she hurt. He had a half-moon birthmark all over his palm. I didn’t even realize I had spent the day clenching his fists and digging his claws into my flesh.

Still, I was firm. It wasn’t until Matthew came across my piano studio that I discovered the true meaning of strength.

Every week he would burst into the room eager to play me a new song of his. He was a six-year-old boy with freckles popping on his cheeks. He threw his bag on the table, not paying attention to his books and pencils slipping down. He wiggled back onto the bench, grinned, and then slammed his hand against the key.

He played me his own stories about aliens and spaceships that hop from planet to planet. He threw his entire body into the song and attacked Key until he built a screaming wall of sound throughout the room.

I smiled. “I love your story.” I handed him the sticker he proudly put on his shirt.

Leo the lion was a stuffed animal and was on the shelf above my piano. He was so soft that the students could not resist reaching out and stroking his velvety fur, his arms and legs filled with tiny beans hanging over the shelves. rice field.

Sometimes he would sit next to the piano and listen to a slightly shy student playing. He would also carry him on the shoulders of his students. Let him sleep, I whisper.

With Matthew, I reached out to the lion and taught him how to play loud. Playing soft requires a lot of control. The students gently leaned forward and brushed the keyboard with their fingers as if they were tickling with a feather. They are very tentative and make very little noise. But that’s not the case when it comes to good play.

Most students love to play loud. They hammered their fingers into the keys, digging into the notes until they sounded like punches. I wanted it to sound rich and rich, not scream like.

I pulled Leo down and wiggled him like his arms were flapping. The lion lifted one of his arms and naturally dropped it down. “Leo doesn’t try to attack Key,” I said. “He just puts the weight of his arm down onto the keyboard.”

I dropped his leg onto Matthew’s arm a few times so he could feel the weight. I held it up in the air. “Don’t try to fight it when I let go. Put your arms down.”

It was difficult for him to get me to put his arm up. He just couldn’t let it flop. “You have to give up control,” I said. “Try moving your arm, then let go.” After a few times, he succumbed to the weight of his arm and fell to the keyboard. He looked up at me and grinned.

“That’s the secret to power,” I said. “Forte means strength in Italian, and to make a powerful note you have to let go of control. Raise your arm and then let go.”

That’s when I realized I had my strength all wrong

I tried to stay strong by controlling my grief. I straightened my back, stiffened my shoulders, and tightened my muscles. I swallowed my grief until I couldn’t breathe. Still, I did not give in to the weight of my grief. I stayed strong. If I couldn’t do that, I hid in my house and blew myself to pieces. I made it so that no one could see me without a shield.

But Leo the Lion reminded me that my definition of strength was wrong. Staying strong can mean giving in to pain. It may mean that you are strong enough to open up and show your heart even when you are full of sorrow.

I had to learn how to let go. It wasn’t easy for me. Like Matthew, I had to practice a lot.

I started by raising awareness. I scanned my body for signs of tension. I knew it was a sign of trapped emotions in my tissue. I told myself to be aware of my tension without judging it.

I no longer swallow my emotions. Instead, I leaned over them, gave each one a name, and acknowledged their presence. Yes, this is sadness. I felt the muscles in my arms tremble. Yes this is anger. I felt my stomach tightening. Yes this is disturbing.

Acknowledging my feelings made it easier to let go. One day I meditated and then journaled. Or I walked through the woods, listening to the whisper of the leaves rustling in the wind. I wrapped myself in a blanket, listened to music, and submerged in each sound until some of my emotions melted away. bottom.

I’m not perfect Some days I forget and put on a mask of strength and pretend I’m fine. But like my students, I’ve learned it’s practice. And I keep Leo the Lion on the shelf as a reminder of the true meaning of strength. I stop trying to keep control. I surrender to my feelings.

I stay strong by letting go.

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