For better or for worse, in sickness and in health. We say it and we mean it, but nothing will truly prepare you to see your spouse broken. As you watch the face you know so well fall, you feel their heart shatter. You catch little glimpses of the parent they want to be, but can't. The person you love is suddenly vulnerable from a loss you also feel; it's enough to wreck you.
You're broken too. Your tears work in tandem. How can you be broken together, but stay whole as a couple? Can you be both strong and weak at the same time? Suddenly, the life you planned with confidence is less certain. Your shared dreams become something you're afraid to mention. The silence between you is so loud, but at the same time, words are between you can be cumbersome; nothing feels right.
He looked so comfortable holding her. He never stopped believing she would be ok; he never seemed to lose hope. I never knew what it was to need someone like I needed Jon in our loss. I met the person he is when under fire. As the world shifted constantly beneath my feet, I depended on his hand to be stable and strong.
This month, I don't know where you stand in your loss and your relationship. I respectfully recognize that not every partnership survives grief. I mourn for any soul left alone in the wake of loss. Yet, my hope is that in examining the lies of loss that tested our marriage years ago, I can offer hope to those marriages searching for light. I am not qualified to mend anything; I can only openly share what I happened to our union when we lost Darla 5 years ago.
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Lie – Maybe we aren't meant to be a family.
Truth – We are already a family
'What is it about us together that didn't quite work?' I asked myself this over and over. If this is your first loss, you may wonder if you will ever welcome a child into your home. If this is one loss of many, you may wonder how many more there will be. If you have other children, you may wonder why you are just going through loss now. All these questions are valid and justified, but also, unanswerable.
Despite all the unknowns, celebrate this: you are a family because of one another. In marriage, the experiences that shape you become an inside story; they become a secret, something that only the two of you know. Memories, good or bad, are essential to strong marital bonds.
The night of our terrible ultrasound, we came back to our apartment and collapsed on the sofa after eating pizza. We fell asleep on our sectional with our heads sharing the same tiny sofa pillow, and woke hours later. As we pulled ourselves off the sofa and stumbled into bed, I remember Jon looked at me and said: 'After all of this, no one is ever going to understand one another like we do. No one will ever know what it's like to go through this, except us.' At that moment, I knew we'd be ok.
At their best, families are built on love and memories. They are a soft place to fall. If you allow your loss to draw you closer, you become more solid than ever. Do not allow fear and shame to cast doubt on what you are building. Together, you can survive the worst. In the highest and lowest points, no one else will ever fully know what the two of you know.
Lie – Your grief will look the same
Truth – Your grief will look different
Grief is not a uniform process. It plays by no rules, it answers to no one, it has no defined path. Sorrow operates in a cycle unique to each host. Because grief hurts and we want to pass through it, there is a temptation to try to measure progress. 'How much longer will I hurt?' But comparing grief is never a good idea; this includes expecting grief in your spouse to look similar to your own.
In our loss, I remember things became confusing when got out of sync. When one of us needed to talk, but the other needed to retreat, both of us were left with needs unmet. Over time, we learned to acknowledge and honor our difference in grieving; one was not better than the other, they were different means to an end.
It is critical to respect the work grief is doing in your heart. Be confident in what you are feeling, but check yourself if you are alarmed by anything. In the same way, respect the work grief is doing in your spouse, but voice concern if something seems off. Be a solid sounding board; protect the grieving process for one another. You are the only people who fully know what your special loss was like.
Lie – We must be in mourning forever.
Truth – We love and remember, but we keep living.
In the same way that grief does not have rules, it also lacks a timeline. When you feel ready to let life back in, vow to take new steps together. Because your grief looks different, you may be ready at different times. If so, wait for one another; be patient, be steady.
You are not dishonoring your baby's life by being happy in your marriage. Quite the opposite: you are honoring the family that created that life. Don't forget why you fell in love, and don't be afraid to let peace and calm into your home.
After we lost Darla, Jon and I signed up to run the same marathon. It was an audacious goal for both of us; a big leap, our first marathon, and not for everyone. Yet together, we became stronger and healthier than ever: we commiserated in the aches of learning to run long, we changed how we ate, we learned about hydration and shoes and compression sleeves. In a different way than our loss, we worked together. Through this, our relationship took on fresh life. We started something new, we kept going, we grew together.
As you heal, I so strongly recommend you spend time together doing something that you both love. Cook new recipes, see movies, be tourists in your own town, travel: embrace life again. If you have children already, include them in your new adventures. Give your marriage and family permission to flex and change; you will honor your baby in living and loving the person who was there with you through it all.
In preparing to write this, I spoke to a group of married women going through loss; one word echoed powerfully in nearly every response to 'How did you get through it?' That word was 'cling.'
'We clung to one another.'
This single word speaks volumes. It imposes no pressure to say the right thing, it just implies the simple act holding on for dear life. Accepting that things are shaking and unstable, you cling as you wait for things to be still.
If you are climbing out of the pit of loss, and if your other half is there with you, I pray that you cling to one another. I pray over your next steps together. If you are lucky enough to have a stable hand to hold, grab it and squeeze it.
Sitting in the hospital the night Darla was coming, I felt myself begin to shut down. I looked at Jon. He was sitting next to me, calming holding my hand as I squeezed desperately. The pain was becoming too much. But in this, I heard him asking the doctors all the questions I wanted to ask. I couldn't speak, but I knew that I could let go and I could concentrate on birthing her. I knew Jon would take care of us both. I shut my eyes and felt myself relax. Jon was with me in the pit; together, we'd climb out.
He became the steady force I relied on to keep going; he pointed me back to hope when fear felt easier. He affirmed my faith. He filled in the words when I couldn't find them. He held her with me. Darla's daddy: half of her, my other half, my only one.
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