I realise not everyone who reads this is married, or even in a relationship, and we all have unique experiences, but I wanted to give my perspective of marriage after loss, which some may relate to or take comfort from.
One of the first things we heard after Abi had died – quite unbelievably really – is that ‘most marriages fall apart when a child dies’. It’s true, we heard this and read this as we were handed leaflets about getting ‘help’.
So, as well as coming to terms with the huge shock of losing Abi, we then faced the ‘likelihood’ that our once happy life would be forever shattered by her death and no matter how hard we fought it we’d be so broken that we couldn’t stay together. Our lives literally torn apart.
It was, to say the least, a very bleak time.
Yet here we are, four years after Abi’s death having just marked our 18th wedding anniversary.
It’s undeniable that the huge stress of death – and the death of a child – has an impact on a relationship. One day we could be so close we were almost the same person, the next we seemed to be poles apart as we rode out different waves of grief.
Because the loss of a child changes you, it’s inevitable that it changes your relationships too, and the relationship with your spouse or partner is often one of the closest you have apart from the one with your child.
The love we felt for each other hasn’t changed, if anything it’s stronger and we don’t argue about ‘silly’ things anymore (well, not as much). We are quicker to forgive. We move on to finding joy again as quickly as we can.
But that’s not to say we haven’t had a tough time of it. Our marriage is strong, despite the stress, but it’s changed. Your child’s death changes not who you are but your outlook; the things that are important to you shift and grow. You can so easily live on two different parallels though:
One of you is grieving ‘too much’. The other is not grieving ‘enough’.
One of you may want more children. The other doesn’t want another child (and risk more heartache).
One of you may want to move house. The other may need to stay put.
One of you may find it hard to work again. The other may seek solace in being busy.
One of you may want to talk about your child every day. The other may not want to be reminded.
One of you may find faith. The other may lose it.
One of you may fall out with family. The other may be the one who keeps family close.
One of you may take offence at misguided comments. The other may be forgiving of others.
One of you may want to campaign for injustice or charity. The other may want a quiet life.
One of you may crave intimacy and reassurance. The other may find it hard to express love.
One of you may openly develop depression and anxiety. The other may hide their true feelings.
One of you may laugh. The other may cry.
From these examples it’s easy to see how a couple can so easily find a void in their relationship as they try to find a place for their grief. These don’t all apply to us but elements of each do, and I’ve heard from others who have found the same.
The strain is immense yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end.
The hardest thing for me in the first couple of years was not that I’d fallen out of love or that any of the things above were too much to bear. It was that my own grief was so consuming that I wanted to leave to find the space to ‘be with it’. I had, I suppose, several ‘fight or flight’ moments and the grief was constantly telling me to run!
I could be overwhelmed by the smallest things – sorting a pile of washing – and just want to run away from it all, because I didn’t want to sort washing for us all who were alive, I wanted to sit in a quiet room and grieve for my daughter. I wanted to cry and wail, curl into a ball, not pretend I was okay and go through the motions of life.
I wanted to start afresh. Where I wouldn’t have to look into my husband’s eyes and know that he is hurting too, where I wouldn’t see Abi’s birth, life and death in his face every day, where I could give myself new things to look at that would ‘mask’ the painful memories. At times, this feeling was suffocating but I pushed through it.
I knew that, for me, leaving was not a healthy option. I ultimately loved my husband, and we had other children, but my grief was constantly whispering in my ear that I would be better off letting it run my life. I could leave if I wanted but I knew I’d be left alone allowing the grief to eat away at me, it would always be the reason why, it would redefine my whole life. And it was that which stopped me, in those deeply depressed moments, silently crying over the washing basket as I wrestled with myself.
My marriage has survived so far and we are together because we want to be, we love each other, we desire each other, we treasure our family. The grief has found a place and we seem to have adjusted, but I always have a nagging doubt in my mind as I hear of ‘delayed reactions’ where one of the parents has a crisis later on in life.
As you know, we have added two more children to our home, both so quickly after losing Abi, we barely had time to breathe! Yes, it’s been the most wonderful blessing but we have also had to find a place for our marriage amidst the sleepless nights, weary bodies and minds and fractured nerves! Having another baby doesn’t ‘solve’ any problems if you’ve lost other children, if anything it creates new ones, but it’s still such an amazing part of our life and I know that God has turned our pain into a blessing.
There’s no denying that while we try to be fair, we treat our younger two differently to how we treated our first three when they were younger. There’s more love, fewer rules! We don’t love them more than the others, just differently. Our parenting style has shifted, we still have the same principles of parenting, it’s just we perhaps give them more of our time and are more patient and forgiving. We don’t fret about the hours of sleep lost, and now treasure the little ones running into our bed in the middle of the night for a cuddle. We’re of course also experienced now we are older and know what we’re doing. My husband is an amazing father, he always has been but he takes an even more active role in parenting now and helping around the house. It’s things like this that help keep a marriage together when you’re juggling so much.
The statistic that most marriages break up after a loss hasn’t actually been proven, yet it still remains something people believe. Of course, some marriages do fall apart but the death is likely to be one of a number of factors that decide the relationship is over.
Like any difficult time, in a marriage it’s important to ride out the waves together, even if that means you’re not on the same wave, as you’ll both be together when the waters have stilled again. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, or even today, and I don’t know how life will affect us, but I think I know now that we will always try to stay together, and I feel blessed we have made it this far!