So what can I say about marriage after loss and in my experience, the loss of a child? Well, I could tell you that it’s no big deal, nothing changes and life is great. But why lie? What I will tell you that it isn’t the most prettiest and spectacular time of your life. It’s an exhausting, emotionally draining, isolating, lonely road where wedded bliss meets the ugly reared up head of the biggest monster of your life…Yeah, not going to sugar coat it…It can be ugly, real ugly.
Picking fights, arguing over dishes, finances, children and dirty laundry can make or break things. During deep raw grief, these little mole hills become volcanoes whose lava over time slowly hardens the softest of hearts, killing the life of a love that once was, sometimes without you even realizing it.
It’s no wonder why so many turn to alcohol or other substances to numb the pain and take them to a fantasy world. It’s an easy fix. A Band-Aid for the immediate pain. Sometimes, that’s all we can hope for. Yet there has to be something more.
At first, the days and nights were filled with quietness, quick unknown glances of emptiness and silent judgments. As the shock wore off, the couple is faced with sorrow, blame and guilt, on oneself as well as each other.
Let’s face it; the last thing one can worry about is their spouse. It takes all the effort that we have to get through each day; worrying about a marriage is equivalent to climbing Mount Everest, impossible for the majority and unexperienced. I was so ashamed and consumed with guilt, I couldn’t even think or imagine what my husband was feeling, nor was I concerned for those first few weeks. It was all about me. Barely able to take care of myself, I wasn’t able give anyone else a second thought and I didn’t care.
Some marriages, the small percentage with a firm foundation of faith, have no trouble weathering the storm as they are equipped with tools needed to endure the struggles to come out on top. They support and understand each other, protect and nurture one another, making the devastation of loss softer. And then there are those, whose faithfulness and commitment to the marriage is tested when their world has fallen apart. Communication becomes a giant scary monster which both is afraid to face.
Unfortunately, in too many instances, the sorrow, loss and depression will overcome the individual and marriage, driving a wedge too deep to remove. Those who once shared everything become total strangers.
I can tell you from my experience, my husband and I have learned a lot about each other and about marriage after losing our daughter. Working on opening those lines of communication, frightening, yet something we had to do were the key to sustaining the marriage.
There were absolutely times where we thought it was the end and wanted to give up, believing all hope had been lost for the future we once had planned. Grief can be a horrible disaster, ripping apart homes that were once filled with love, yet it can also be a beautiful blessing, taking you places you never can imagine, opening your soul to a side you never knew existed.
As we said goodbye to a life of familiarity we once knew and a daughter who brought us together and made us parents for nearly six years, life was turned upside down. Hearing her first cries, laughs, smiles and words, imagining the lifetime we would get to spend with her, brought us abruptly to her last breath, which silently ripped apart our hearts. We didn’t know what to do, say, or who to turn to.
Yet, sharing the death of a child gives you a deeper connection to each other in life. People may think they know, but they do not. Your spouse and you have a connection that no one else will share with you. Losing a child creates a bond that you can never find with anyone else.
Marriage can be lonely but remember, you are never alone. God is with you. My husband and I, together for now 13 years, made vows before God, family, and friends, to love one another for better or worse, good times and bad, is sickness and in health,…. ..well, you know the rest. And only four years into our marriage the worst and bad times smacked us in the face. We were young and fairly new in the parenting game, with no idea of the horror and hard times that were about to come our way.
Our faithfulness to God and each other was surely tested every day. It would have been so easy to throw these vows out in the wash; however, God always brought me back to reality when I needed it most.
Marriages are work, it’s not easy. You get out of it what you put in. Here’s some things I found to be helpful (in no specific order).
1) Counseling can be a life changer… I was one that never ever thought I would need counseling. And then there I was. How I got there and the importance of the right counselor is another story if its own. Any kind of loss, in our case, child loss stirred up a mass of childhood emotions for both of us that were hidden beneath the surface. It took us a good three years of counseling, both individual and as a couple, to finally see the big picture and come to terms with how we were going to live the rest of our lives. It became a choice. To stay married or not.
2) Communication is key. I will admit, I’m not the best communicator. I’m better with writing than face to face. After Lydia died, I didn’t want to talk with anyone, let alone my husband. I emotionally withdrew from life and my marriage. It was all I knew to do. Daily mundane tasks were extremely strenuous. It was even difficult to talk about the simplest things, like what to have for dinner, even the weather. The silence grew over the weeks and before I knew it, turned into months. It wasn’t until counseling that we broke that mold and enabled us to rebuild those communication lines to where they once were.
3) Focus on your own issues before you can work on marriage. I’m a firm believer that you must deal with your own grief, troubles, issues and experiences, and find a solution of what works for you before you can focus on a marriage. When you are so entrenched in your grief, you are not yourself. You are a complete stranger. When I looked in the mirror for the first time after Lydia died, I didn’t recognize myself. It was scary. I didn’t know who I was or what I had become. Later, I learned that I had to be alright with myself and stable in my own grief, before I could entertain the thought of a marriage. Sounds strange, but I’m telling you, it really knocks you off your feet taking you back to the stone ages. I felt lost like a little child, with no clue as to how to navigate the world nor a marriage.
4) God- Having faith and praying is essential. Many get angry with God thinking a loving God would never do such a thing as to take a child. There will be so much we don’t understand and want immediate answers to. However, we won’t get them. Regardless, it’s imperative to keep the faith. Believing that God has a purpose for our lives, has really influenced my grief and outlook. I had a conversation recently with an old friend who said that she loved reading my blog and couldn’t understand why I was so spiritual because she wasn’t. She couldn’t see God. I felt sorry for her. Yet her reading about my experiences sparked some inquiries on her part. In explaining, I told her what I will tell you all. If it wasn’t for my faith, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. All those days, months, years, praying for my husband, son and I, for peace and strength, without a doubt made all the difference. Reading the bible and any spiritual book I could get my hands on over the years strengthened my faith. Reading my journal over the years has brought peace of mind, showing me just how incredibly God worked in my life.
5) Don’t make any drastic changes, like divorce, moving, etc. It may be very painful and difficult to live in the moment and a home full of memories, but have faith and wait. Things will fall into place when they are meant to be. Everyone is different, however, there will be no regrets if you hold on as long as possible and pray. I’ve heard of many people who immediately want to move or those that get a divorce after a short time because the grief changes who you are. It unravels the life and marriage we work so hard to build. In grief, we scramble for answers, searching tirelessly for things to return to normal and often force the easy way. Great for the short-term, however, impulsive decisions often lead to regret later in life.
6) It’s okay to argue and disagree. Anger is normal. Marriages are composed of give and take, arguing, making up, apologizing, and being humble. Yet when we grieve, we can get angry. Angry over little things that cover up the reality that our loved one is not coming back. During those first few years, arguing became a daily battle in our house. Both so consumed with our own grief, it was easy to point fingers and find faults in each other. It’s very sad, but it’s much too easy to take it out on those who we love most. That’s why it’s essential that we remember that there is no “I” in marriage. We are a team and it’s about compromise, even when we don’t want to. In time, as the fog clears, you realize what matters most.
7)Connect with others who have similar losses. Support groups and such. We joined a support group shortly after Lydia died, and like I have stated in a previous post (My Ten Secrets To Survival After Losing A Child ) it changed my life. Hearing the stories of others and their journeys made a huge impact on me. It provided me with hope, showing me that it was possible to continue in this life and I would be able to smile again when the world seemed to have ended.
8) Talk about your loved one, after time passes, share happy memories, and do something to honor their memory. Slowly after about a year, my husband and I were able to tell of stories of Lydia, remembering the funny things she said and did. It was a bit awkward at first, not knowing if it was okay to smile or laugh. Yet together, about 2-3 years after Lydia died, I knew I wanted and needed to do something to honor her memory. After months of prayers and brainstorming, God provided the idea and on the 3 year anniversary, we started a non-profit in her memory (Lydia’s Love). To date, this has been the best thing for me and my family. Just knowing that her life made a difference and continues to bring joy to so many is priceless. Whether it’s a special food, activity, song or bake cupcakes on their birthday to hand out to others, do what is important to you and your loved one.
9) Be patient. Don’t push or rush the grieving process. Our minds leave us immediately after enduring trauma and loss. There were many times, during my moments of grief where I couldn’t remember anything. Sometimes it lasted for minutes and sometimes, for days and weeks.(And yes, after six years, it still happens to me quite frequently) Don’t get frustrated or irritated with your spouse. (or if you do, keep it to yourself 🙂 It could be weeks or months but you must persevere if you want to keep your marriage, and realize that men and women grieve differently at different times . I spent way too much time focusing on myself and my issues, thinking I was the only one who was suffering. I didn’t get it that others could feel the same pain. It was only after years that my eyes opened to consider what my husband had gone through also. There is no right or wrong way. However, when you see the other one hurting, try to be supportive and just be there, even if it’s in silence.
10) Take things one day at a time…One day at a time! That’s all you need to do. That’s all you can do at times and it’s okay. Don’t make commitments to others or feel bad if you don’t want to attend any gatherings or functions and you just want to sit at home alone. It’s okay. Do what you feel like.
As I have stated previously, in the first five years our marriage we survived the death of our daughter, best friend, grandfather, cousin, four surgeries , a mother and grandmother with cancer, and the birth of three new babies. It was overwhelming to say the least. No wonder we lived on the brink of disaster!
Even with three new children born after our loss, our marriage has been tested to the ends to the earth. We have been judged by each other, family and friends, yet we have persevered and haven’t’ given up when we thought there was nothing left. There were many nights when we went to bed angry, yet God gave us the healing words to mend our hurting hearts.
He knows what we need before we need it and put people in our path for a purpose.
Six years later, I know now that we can make it through anything…Yes, we have are arguments and disagreements, normal to every marriage. Yet for onlookers it may seem like it’s all the time, however, I invite you to look into our everyday life..You don’t see the good stuff and please don’t shed premature judgment on us because you don’t know. All too often, we judge others when we have not walked in their shoes or been in their hearts.
But with the weight of our loss baring down on us, I have found it has lifted and God has carried us through, showing us his plan for our lives and telling others of the many blessings He has bestowed upon us. So to sum it up, I’d say we are doing just fine.
“We may not have it together, but together we have it all.”
I think of this quote when I see the second glances at our family as we pile out of the dusty car heading into a store or restaurant, watching us as we hurry to shut the door in hope of stopping the floor debris from falling to the ground before someone notices. The looks continue when they see us all dressed in mismatched clothes, not a name brand on any of us,talking loudly while stumbling and squabbling at each other. It’s like some kind of organized chaos…We really don’t have it together, at all!! But we try! What matters is that we are together, despite our normal family arguments and sibling rivalry, and most importantly, we love each other. We are the way we are because of what we have been through. As we roll on down the road of life we join in chorus to our wedding cd of songs of the 80’s and look to embrace all God has to offer, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The words of Journey ring true…..
Under the big top world
We all need the clowns
To make us smile
Through space and time
Always another show
Wondering where I am
Lost without you
And being apart
Ain’t easy on this love affair
Two strangers learn to fall in love again
I get the joy of rediscovering you
Oh, girl, you stand by me
I’m forever yours
To my husband with love….You stood by me….I’m forever yours faithfully……