How I learned the true meaning of strength after the death of my son

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

I was trying to stay strong after my 15 year old son Brendan died in an accident. It rocked my world. The shock stunned me, but when it wore off I knew I had to be there for my husband and two other children. Zack and Lizzie were only ten and thirteen and needed my strength. So I built a wall around my heart and fought my way through the day. I went back to work teaching piano students in my studio.

But at night my throat burned with unshed tears. My neck muscles ached from holding me rigid. I had crescent-shaped bruises on my palms; I didn’t even realize I was spending the day with my hands clenched into fists and my nails digging into my flesh.

Still, I stayed strong. Until Matthew ran into my piano studio and I discovered the true meaning of strength.

Every week he would burst into the room eager to play me his new song. He was a six-year-old boy with freckles bouncing down his cheeks. He threw his bag on the table, not caring that books and pencils slipped out. He squirmed onto the bench and grinned at me before slamming his hands into the keys.

He played me his own story about aliens and a spaceship hopping from planet to planet. He threw his whole body into his song, attacking the keys until he built a wall of sound that screamed across the room.

I smiled. “I love your story.” I gave him a sticker, which he proudly stuck on his shirt. But then I reached for my lion.

Leo the lion was a stuffed animal that sat on the shelf above my piano. He was so soft that the students couldn’t resist reaching up and stroking his velvety fur. His arms and legs – stuffed with tiny beans – hung over the shelf.

Sometimes he would sit by the piano and listen to a student play when they were a bit shy. Other times I put it on a student’s shoulders. Put him to sleep, I would whisper, a gentle reminder to keep her shoulders relaxed and down.

With Matthew, I grabbed the lion so I could teach him how to play loud and soft. Playing soft requires a lot of control. The students lean forward gently, their fingers stroking the keys as if tickling a feather. They are so timid that they hardly make a sound. But not when it comes to playing forte.

Most students love to play out loud. They slammed their fingers into the keys and dug into the note until it sounded like a hit. I wanted the note to sound full and rich, but not like a scream.

I pulled Leo down and wiggled him so his arms flapped around. I picked up a lion’s arm and let it fall down by itself. “Leo doesn’t try to attack the keys,” I said. “He just lets the weight of his arm fall into the keys.”

I dropped his paw on Matthew’s arm a few times so he could feel the weight. I then put a rubber bracelet around Matthew’s wrist and gently lifted his arm by the bracelet. I held it up. “Don’t try to fight it when I let go. Just drop your arm.”

It was difficult for him to let me guide his arm. He couldn’t just let it fly around. “You have to relinquish control,” I said. “Let me move your arm and then just let go.” After a few times, he gave in to the weight of his arm and let it fall into the keys. He looked up at me and grinned.

“That’s the secret of forte playing,” I said. “Forte actually means strength in Italian. And to play a note with power, we have to give up control. We raise our arm and then let go.”

And that’s when I realized I was doing Kraft wrong

I tried to stay strong by controlling my grief. I stood up and flexed my shoulders, my muscles tight. I swallowed my sorrow until I could hardly breathe. And yet I have not surrendered to the weight of grief. I stayed strong And when I couldn’t, I hid in my house and let myself be broken. I refused to be seen without my shields.

But Leo the lion reminded me that I had the wrong definition of strength. Staying strong can mean surrendering to the pain. It can mean being strong enough to let go and show my heart, even if it was full of sorrow.

I had to learn to let go. It wasn’t easy for me. Just like Matthew, I had to practice this over and over again.

I started becoming more aware. I scanned my body for signs of tension, knowing that it was a sign of emotions trapped in my tissues. I stayed patient with myself, just like I did when Matthew played with too much power. I reminded myself to be aware of the tension without judging it.

I couldn’t swallow my feelings anymore. Instead, I leaned into them, calling each name and acknowledging their presence. I felt the tension in my shoulders. Yes, that is sadness. I felt the muscles in my arms tremble. Yes, that is anger. I felt my stomach clench. Yes, that is fear.

Once I acknowledged my emotions, it became easier to let go of them. Some days I meditated and then wrote in a journal. Or I would go for a walk in the forest and listen to the leaves blowing in the wind. I wrapped myself in a blanket and listened to music, sinking into each note until it melted some of my feelings. And some days I just let myself be sad without counting it as a “bad day”.

I am not perfect. There are days when I forget and put on my mask of strength and pretend everything is fine. But just like my students, I’ve learned that it’s an exercise. If I forget, I remind myself to be patient. And I have Leo the lion on my shelf as a reminder of what strength really means. I stop trying to be in control. I surrender to my feelings.

I stay strong by letting go.

How I learned the true meaning of strength after the death of my son

About Linda Broder

Linda Broder is a meditative musician who believes joy and wonder can be found amidst unimaginable sadness. After losing her teenage son, she discovered creative expression as a path to hope and healing. In her book And Still the Bird Sings, Linda shares her story of hope, resilience, and everyday miracles. Sign up for their free 30 Days of Hope program at lindabroder.com/hope.

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