“Losing a child is a marriage killer”. The words hung in the air like a dense fog. I’ve known this person five minutes and THIS is what she’s telling me? “Yes,” I replied, “I’ve seen it happen to many couples.” [insert awkward silence]
Although the conversation seemed strange at the time, what I came to realize in the following months was that this was a grieving mom sharing her heart with me. Even though our daughter’s cancer had come back, she was still happy and active and showed no physical signs of being sick. It was ridiculous to think we would ever lose her. But that’s the real crappy thing about cancer—it can turn a corner in the blink of an eye.
One hundred three days later, my husband and I found ourselves watching our daughter’s body be placed into the back of the funeral home’s van. Even in the weeks leading up to her death, I quietly observed the differences in the way people grieve. I saw the way fear, anger, sadness and denial all play a role when we’re wrestling with an inevitable loss. Grief is the most raw, personal, complex human emotion we’re capable of because it can manifest itself in so many different ways. Some lash out in anger. Others withdraw from life. Many mask feelings by self-medicating. Outwardly they tell different stories, but grief is the true master of behavior.
Any grief can wreck a marriage or relationship. Losing a parent, a sibling or a friend may leave one partner reeling without seemingly impacting the other. When you’re so deep in your own feelings it’s hard to understand why your partner doesn’t appear to be as bereaved or grieving the same way you are. Why aren’t you weeping? How is it that you sleep at night while I lie awake? Don’t you miss her? Don’t you think about her all the time? The anger and resentment easily builds to the point where all communication stops. You sit in silence.
For many months, as we prayed for complete healing for our daughter, I also prayed for God to save my marriage. I prayed we would be able to recognize each other’s needs and support one another through those moments. I knew in my heart that we would grieve differently and that was OK. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of watching other couples walk through child loss in the same way we have and that stranger (who is now my friend) was absolutely right. It is a marriage killer because it’s an easy “in” for Satan to place a foothold of bitterness and anger.
“He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds” – Psalm 147:3. Leaning on this verse made me realize that only God would be able to provide a way for my husband and me to grieve together. It wasn’t just the two of us in mourning. God mourned our loss with us because He understands what it’s like to lose a child (lucky for Him, He got his son back after three days). He allows us to see each other’s pain even when it looks different from our own. To give each other the space (or a hug) when it’s needed and, most importantly, to destroy the enemy’s plan before it can take up the empty spaces.