My heart would pound faster and faster against my chest. My throat would tighten. My bottom lip would tremble.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat.

Then I would only taste just one, single, salty tear.

Success.

This is how I avoided crying for the last 652 days.

I’m not sure when I made that decision. I’m not sure I was ever really in control of it either. But the day that my mom died became a day that marked the beginning of a slow metamorphosis into the person I am now. Half stone, half soul.

Now, when I say I haven’t cried in 652 days that is a small, white lie. There have been moments, of course. Who can honestly say that they made it through one episode of This is Us without shedding a tear? But, there is a difference in sobbing over the death of a fictional character and truly grieving a death that alters your entire reality.

Some time ago, a friend told me how strong she thinks I am. This has become an adjective that many have used to describe me in recent months. I’ve written about this before because if you know me, you know that lifting anything slightly above ten pounds is cause for a series of grunts, groans, and complaints. I have never been physically strong.

While it deals with entirely different body parts, I have also nevercategorized myself as emotionally strong. For years, I riskily wore my heart on my sleeve. I gave in too easily and gave up too much of myself to the unworthy.

So to hear the words, you’re so strong, again and again has baffled me. How can I possibly be viewed as strong when I never actually let myself feel the pain of my mother’s death? The day she died, I walked out of her hospital room and I shut off every emotion like a light switch, and I put my brain and my heart to bed.

This pained me to do, and it pains me to talk about and write about. I have always been emotional and sensitive. Some may even say delicate. I wanted to feel these emotions again. I wanted to feel something again. I wanted to feel like myself. And most of all, I wanted to feel strong, like I really was climbing this mountain that has become my life.

So one day not too long ago, something tugged a bit too hard at my heartstrings. And this light switch turned on, and it happened. I began to feel again. I began to feel it all.

It was at this moment where just one, single, salty tear turned into a free-flowing stream, and I truly began to feel the things that I tried so hard to suppress. Like the ocean during a storm, the tears beat raw and rough against my cheeks. I gasped for air, trying hard to not let it drown me.

This moment came again and again, day after day. Each time it hit me with more force until I was left open, like a sharp knife had pierced through my chest and exposed the intricacies of my body to the world. I realized only then, after days and days of bleeding out, that owning my sadness and owning my grief was going to make me strong. It was in my breakdown that I began to see my superpowers.

To grieve a parent is a complex emotion, as all of the love you have becomes tangled, knotted between confusion and torment. To feel this much so deeply is not something that comes naturally to all of us. To have loved and lost is a sorrow that altered me and my emotions moving forward. I will never feel emotions as I once did, but I cannot let that stop me from feeling anything at all. I want to continue to feel everything, the despair, the hope, and the happiness that I know awaits me.

Crying and letting yourself feel the loss of the love that had once cradled you does not make you weak. Shutting yourself off to the sunrises that lie ahead does not stop them from coming, but it will stop you from truly feeling the sensations you deserve. I implore you to dig deep and let your grieve rise to the surface. Face it, and let it tear you apart. It is in your breakdown that you will find your superpowers, too. You will find the strength to love and feel love long after it is gone. I know this because for the first time in 652 days, I can cry and feel and admit that I am strong. 

By Gina Aiello for ThoughtCatalog