Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Face of Courage, The Heart of Strength

~ Joanne Cacciatore, PhD, MSW, FT, Founder of the, in Peoria, AZ

What characteristics define courageousness and strength?

Many would say that courage is facing inherent fears. A person with an intense fear of heights would be courageous to parachute from an airplane, wouldn’t he? Instead of running from the debilitating fear, he stood and faced it. And what about strength? A person with demonstrative strength, perhaps a professional body builder, will not run from a challenge. He works out everyday, learning the skills necessary to increase his potential and toning muscles in preparation to lift that arduous bar bell.

The grief process has captivating similarities to the physical challenges posed to athletes. Yet, while athletes are admired and revered by society, many families in the grief process say they feel isolated within their own community. There is a misconception that compelling emotions should be repressed- that a person who openly shares tears is powerless and vulnerable.

There are those individuals brandishing the “carry-on-chin-up” stoic posture after a tragedy. Too often, these individuals are praised for their courage and strength. Some are commended on how well they are doing with pat-on-the-back encouragement. They have seemingly “carried on” with life, and put the tragedy and pain behind them. Some are admired for maintaining such unemotional composure, mistaking this “business-like” acumen for courage and strength. Others remain surreptitious with their emotions thinking others will view them as weak.

But take a look at the real defining characteristics of courage and strength. Does it take more courage and strength to bury the frightening and overwhelming emotions? Or does it take more courage and strength to deal with the grief- to look into the face of sorrow- to stare into the heart of pain? Those who have wept- really wept from the depths of the soul can answer that. Is there any emotion more harrowing, intimidating and physically exhausting as those experienced during those times of deep grief? Certainly not.

So which individual is truly the strong and courageous one? It must be the one who faces the pain full force- the one who has the courage to tell others the truth about their sorrow- the one who, instead of running, stands and faces the inconceivable challenges of grief- the one who isn’t afraid to share the raw emotions of grief with others, to encourage understanding and compassion- the one who will reach out to others in grief and help carry another.

Those are the defining attributes of true and indisputable courage and strength.

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