The opposite of strong isn’t weak. It’s soft. Strong in your gut, soft in your heart. My (Facebook) friend – Courtney A. Walsh, Author and Empowerment Extraordinaire – has used the phrase “softstrong” enough times that it’s stuck with me, and I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out what it means to me.
This morning I accompanied my mom to the veterinarian’s office with our cat, Bella, who had taken a turn for the worse last week. Bella was born on my grandparent’s farm nearly 13 years ago. As a kitten, I watched Bella’s mom lead her litter out to the bean field where she taught them to hunt for grasshoppers. Bella has lived at my parents’ house and at my house back and forth over the years where her hunting prowess expanded to insects of all kinds. Once, she carried a grasshopper in her mouth into my mom’s house so that she could play with it for a bit.
She knew my dad. She lived with me when I brought my son home from the hospital. And this morning, I got into my mom’s car knowing there was a possibility that Bella was going to be put down.
I agreed to go with mom because I love her, I knew it would be difficult for her, and I wanted to offer her support. It wasn’t easy for me, but more so than it was for my mom. That’s softstrong.
I insisted on staying by Bella’s side when she drifted into her final sleep, petting her, telling her I loved her, and thanking her for being such a good girl. That’s softstrong.
I let the tears slide silently down my face and off the tip of my nose where they pooled onto the counter as I stroked Bella’s neck and kissed her forehead when she stilled. My job wasn’t to fall to pieces. My job was to be there by her side. That’s softstrong.
I wrapped her in a towel from my college days and held her in my arms on the ride back to my house. It was the first time I had held a lifeless body – surprisingly squishy and pliable. I buried her in the backyard, next to Cat, another one of my cats, who Bella grew up with.
My son asked, “Grandma, what’s that?” as we shoveled dirt back onto the grave.
“What do I tell him?” my mom asked with a shaky voice.
“A towel,” I answered to them both. “It’s a yellow towel.”
“Oh, okay mommy,” my son responded. He isn’t quite two. We’ll leave it at that for now.
What I experienced today – the insistence of doing something difficult because my feelings of love trumped the difficulty – that’s softstrong. It’s the partnership of love and strength.