In the last three years I have spoken many times about the effects on bereavement and the loss of a child on a family, but I have never directly tackled and discussed the effects of the loss of a child on a marriage. This choice was motivated by a number of things. The first is that I think we owe our spouses, and even former spouses, privacy from disclosing their darkest days and moments to the rest of the world. Sometimes a little less sharing of life's horrors, particularly as they effect your loved ones, is in order. Until our spouse makes sense of what happened and can move beyond it, we owe them this time, unencumbered by eyewitness blog reports as to our estimation of their despair and/or resiliency. Secondly, adults, and men and women process grief and loss very differently. It's socially acceptable for me to cry and grieve, and talk to everyone I know, and even create a blog. A man, however unfairly, is expected to visibly grieve through a funeral and then move on and continue to earn a living, while not mentioning his loss and grief to clients, employers or anything else that might indicate how lost or how sad he might really be. Third, spouses move through grief very differently, and often they do not understand one another in their grief. I might be confused as to why my husband might be appearing to do well three months after our loss while I might not be. My husband might be confused as to why I don't want to vacation, or why I cry often. Unfortunately, the loss of a child is a major marital stressor, and without good communication, it can signal nails in the coffin of even a healthy marriage. Following the loss of a child, there are many feelings, including guilt and blame, and it's easy to become confused.
Our own survival in our marriage probably resulted from a number of things. First, my husband and I are very different people, and this was known to us long before we were challenged by Daniel's sudden departure for Heaven. I consist of connections and friends, conversations and words, cards, letters and blogs. I am a "verbal gerbil" and I cope with most things by talking about my feelings, as many women do. My husband is a fact and number man. His private thoughts are that "the thing wrong with most marriages is communication..........that is TOO MUCH communication !". He is quite happy sitting and feeling, without having to explain what is occurring, as is the case with many men. So after Daniel's passing, we knew that our responses would be very different, as we navigated the most terrible of experiences to happen to parents. He knew I would chatter, and I knew he would probably not, and so we entered the experience with more realistic expectations. Secondly, we were blessed in some ways by doing CPR together on Daniel. We found him together, we worked on him together. We were in shock together, and ultimately that day, we lost him together, when the medical helicopter staff pronounced Daniel dead in our home. I remember two things very clearly that day. One, was that my husband was supporting me as I did the best CPR of my life. He did not judge me, and he did not blame me, and he knew I did my best. The second thing I remember really well is that after Daniel was pronounced, some time after the initial call and our CPR, the sheriff's office CPR and ultimately, care by the helicopter ICU, was that I wanted to cry and wail. I looked at my husband, and I decided to wait. He too had lost his beloved son that day, and perhaps he could not take seeing his wife melt into a lost ball as well. I waited a couple of days for the privacy to cry so hard I couldn't catch my breath. I remember that my husband loved Daniel as much as I, and that we both lost him to Heaven that day. These things made it easier as the testier, sadder days came at intervals in the year which followed.
In marriage, some days you are in love, other days you are annoyed, a few days you are indifferent, and grief accentuates all of this. What's important is that you and your spouse understand this, and know that the important thing is to live to cycle another day, when happiness and joy together will eventually return regardless of the loss you have endured. Certainly, counseling is a positive thing for many. I also believe that the timing of such is important. Counseling too early in the course of grief might not be as helpful as later, and counseling too late may not be as helpful. Each couple must decide what they need to do, and how they can best support each other. This is tough when you are a hairs breadth some days from wondering if you wish you'd died rather than Daniel. Know that you will come through this. You may be war torn, with more grays, and less sure of yourself afterward, but you and your marriage will come through this.
The song selection I have chosen today is written and performed by Steven Curtis Chapman. He and his wife know a fair bit about loss and grief, as their youngest daughter died in an accident also in 2008 a few months before Daniel's passing. This song was written years before that, but it shows something about the commitment and strength that must be there before we all face life's hardest trials.