Alstromeria, the Peruvian lily, is my favorite flower. I love its brilliant color, its deceivingly delicate appearance, and its grit. I say grit because alstromeria lasts longer than almost any other cut flower. The bouquet in this pitcher is now fourteen days old, and still, the stems stand tall and the petals hold on. And yet, if I shook the pitcher holding them, every perfect petal would detach and float to the ground. Alstromeria seldom fades, wilts, or turns brown, but when it falls apart, it does so all at once.
TBI caregivers can be a lot like this flower. We often stand tall and hide what’s hurting us. We keep marching forward and most people don’t see the signs that we’re fading. We may look fine to the outside world even as our hearts are breaking and our brains are fogging from the strain of exhaustion and worry. But if someone shakes us up with a simple question like, “What are you really feeling? What are you going to do?” we might instantly fall apart.
When I was younger, I thought strong people were the ones who never cried, who always took bold action, and magically knew exactly what to do. The strongest could “go it alone.” Hugh’s brain injury taught me to see personal strength in an entirely new way. I found that I was stronger when I had others to lean on, when I asked for help, and when I reached out to other caregivers, doctors, and therapists to figure out options before making important decisions about therapies or medications.
Over time, I learned that I needed to draw strength from others to keep from falling apart. The building blocks of my tower of strength turned out to be simple yet powerful moments that made up my days: a long embrace with my daughters, a heart-to-heart talk with a sister while shedding a few tears, or accepting a favor from a friend.
What makes us strong? I can only say what I now believe. Strength comes from being vulnerable enough to seek knowledge — knowledge shared by others who understand our situation from experience, or knowledge shared by experts. It comes from feeling connected and understood. My strength doubled when I stopped trying to be strong, when I reached for and accepted the help and love offered by family, friends, and the community.
I keep bunches of alstromeria in my home as often as possible. It’s the flower Hugh always gives to me for my birthday or our anniversary, so its very presence releases happy memories in me. These beautiful flowers never fail to remind me that I can be strong and fragile at the same time, and that’s just fine with me.