I smile when I’m happy, when I’m being polite or because I think someone is amazing. I also smile when my heart is broken, hoping no one will see past my teeth. Those kinds of smiles are hard. They take all the muscles in my face to sustain, and my throat contracts to keep my heart from escaping.

For a long time following my car accident and spinal cord injury, I observed my loved ones. I saw hurt in their eyes, but we all silenced it to protect one another from pain.

“You are so strong,” people said. “She has such a positive attitude.” I did and I do. I was optimistic and determined, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t hurting or that I sometimes don’t feel pain and the loss of a life I once had. I felt I shouldn’t show sadness or anger because it would make others feel them too.

Many times I wished someone would just ask me how I was doing and wait long enough to hear the truth. But I was too scared and didn’t want to share my burden, so I’d quickly answer, “Great! How are you?”

In recent years the hurt I see in my family’s eyes is not as intense and fragile. We are allowing ourselves to talk even if it’s difficult. Moments where we recall the details of a wreck, hospital smells or coming back home in a wheelchair may lead to tears and even laughter in between.

It feels good to cry. I feel relieved — another reason to smile.