Since posting Donna’s Cancer Story, I have been contacted by hundreds upon hundreds of readers who have been moved, influenced, inspired by our girl. This has honestly been one of the most humbling experiences I have known. And, damn, if I’m not gonna need six months to respond to everyone, but I will.
One reader, a gal named Louise from Sweden, who found Mary Tyler Mom through the Portrait of Adoption post about Donna’s Cancer Story, wrote to me about the inadequacy of words to express what she wished to express to me. Condolences, support, thoughts, and blessings didn’t quite hit the mark for her. Instead, she wrote, “kraft och omtanke,” which loosely translates from Swedish to English as “strength and consideration.”
Louise didn’t explain what it meant in detail to her, but I got it, regardless. Strength and consideration is what bereaved parents need, she felt. What I liked about this expression is that it didn’t involve sympathy or a need to reason or explain what happened to Donna and what happened to us as a family when Donna was diagnosed. Lousie’s wish for us was simple and clear — strength and consideration.
Since she wrote in late September, I have found myself using the phrase when I am contacted by other bereaved parents. “Strength and consideration,” I write them as I sign off, and let them take it for what it is. To me, the wish of strength is clear and obvious. The wish for consideration is less so, perhaps.
When you look up the word consideration in the dictionary, this is what you find:
- the act of considering; careful thought;
- something that is to be kept in mind when making a decision;
- thoughtful or sympathetic regard or respect; thoughtfulness for others;
- a thought or reflection;
- a recompense or payment, as for work done; compensation;
- estimation; esteem.
There is so much to mine in these seven nuanced definitions of what is seemingly a simple word. Last night, on the Mary Tyler Mom facebook page, another reader posted a photo of her new tatoo — two acorns with the ‘choose hope’ mantra next to them. It was beautiful and kind of fierce. She wanted it on her wrist so that she would see and be reminded of the message to live life with hope; that hope is a conscious choice to be made every day. Anyway, I digress.
In the thread under the ‘choose hope’ tattoo photo, a reader asked others to wish her luck for the upcoming holiday season. Her daughter, who was born on her own birthday in November, had died at three years old on Christmas Eve. As you can imagine, November and December must be hell for this mom. For me, Donna’s birthday is much harder than her death anniversary, or “remembery” as her playmate coined it this year. (Remembery is my new favorite should be word.) Donna will never be five or six or seven or anything higher than four. To have these milestones so attached to a universally recognized holiday, as the reader does, must just suck.
I wished her strength and consideration. Our thread continued, as she asked after the consideration part, wanting to better understand it. I gave her my interpretation, which was that I took consideration to mean understanding with compassion; that Lousise in Sweden wished for me and for all bereaved parents strength and a compassionate understanding of the grief we carry. Grief is a burden, you see. It is heavy.
When I write to other bereaved parents, the Terrible Fraternity, I call us, sometimes I use the Swedish version, and sometimes, when I don’t have another computer or phone handy to look it up, I simply wish strength and consideration. I don’t explain it, just let people come to their own understanding of what it might mean.
The more I think about “kraft och omtanke,” I understand it more fully and appreciate its universal significance. Who amongst us doesn’t need more kraft och omtanke in our life?
I mentioned the humbling nature of the responses I have received and so often, when a reader gives me the gift of their own story, I am simply stunned with wonder and respect for them. So often, in the comfort of my own head, I ask myself, “My God, how do they do it?” The irony, of course, is that the reader wrote with the exact same feeling about me, “My God, how does she live with the grief and loss of Donna?”
So to you, reader, whatever your situation, I wish for you kraft och omtanke.
If you grieve, kraft och omtanke.
If you have miscarried, kraft och omtanke.
If you didn’t receive the parenting you deserved, kraft och omtanke.
If you are unemployed and there is no hope for work on your horizon, kraft och omtanke.
If you are caring for an autistic child, kraft och omtanke.
If you are a single parent, kraft och omtanke.
If you exist within an abusive relationship, kraft och omtanke.
If your self-esteem doesn’t exist, for whatever reason, kraft och omtanke.
If paying your bills every month is a stressful situation, kraft och omtanke.
If your car broke down in a rain storm, kraft och omtanke.
If you have five children under the age of ten and are a SAHM, kraft och omtanke.
If you are bullied, kraft och omtanke.
If you bully, kraft och omtanke.
If you feel no one understands you, kraft och omtanke.
If you’re stuck in a hundred different ways, kraft och omtanke.
If your name is Gwyneth Paltrow, kraft och omtanke.
If you have the burden of providing, kraft och omtanke.
If you are a liberal, kraft och omtanke.
If you are a conservative, kraft och omtanke.
If you hit a puppy in your minivan with your daughter in the back seat, kraft och omtanke.
If your toddler is working your last nerve, kraft och omtanke.
If your worry that same toddler will die of cancer, kraft och omtanke.
If you care for a special needs child, kraft och omtanke.
If you’re not as pretty as your sister, kraft och omtanke.
If you are a caregiver, kraft och omtanke.
If you love someone who is disappearing a little each day from Alzheimer’s, kraft och omtanke.
If you’re too old to cut your own toenails, kraft och omtanke.
If you or someone you love lives with mental illness, kraft och omtanke.
If you don’t know what to make for dinner, but your family is hungry, kraft och omtanke.
Strength and consideration, folks, to all of us.