Child loss is complicated enough. You hardly know how to cope with your own emotions, much less your partner's which can lead to a complicated mess.
When family and friends would ask how we were doing, I'd always answer "I'm in right field, my husband is in the bleachers, and my son has left the building." Looking back now, I think that answer was just a way to avoid the truth - we were a wreck. Individually and collectively.
My husband and I grieve very differently. That's normal. We are different people with different personalities. Yes, we are married and are very compatible in many ways, but we are different people.
I am a 'fixer' by nature; if there is something in my world that isn't working or needs to be remedied, I research the answer and set out to fix the issue asap. Well....we all know that child loss and grief cannot be fixed. Ever. But I sought out all the help I could find. I connected with a reiki specialist to help with my anxiety and who helped me open the flood gates that allowed me to grieve. I saw my family doctor who prescribed sleeping pills (a God's send!), and immediately found an excellent therapist. I also started to attend grief yoga and a local support group. I started journaling and meditating. I learned all that I could about connecting with spirit and how I could maintain some kind of relationship with my daughter in the after life. That is just the way I roll.
My dear husband on the other hand is a pure academic. He went back to work three weeks after Katie died and threw himself into his work which didn't leave anything left in his tank for my son and me. That's the way he rolls.
If you would have asked me at the six month to one year mark if our marriage was going to last, I would have said no, not a chance. We were hardly communicating because we were both so broken and needed to deal with our grief differently. Today, I would say that the tragedy of losing Katie has drawn us closer together. No one else in this world knows Katie like I do besides my husband. And no one else knows my pain like my husband, even if he manages his pain differently.
In time, that which divided us drew us closer together.
I had read articles that identified child loss as a reason why marriages crumbled and I was deeply concerned. Regardless of what the future held for the two of us, we had a teenaged son who was lost and needed us.
The fact of the matter is that only 16-20% of marriages breakdown and dissolve after child loss accordingly to research.
The data indicates that if your marriage (particularly your communication) was in good shape before your child died, then your marriage will likely survive and may even become stronger in time. Incongruent grieving, intimacy differences, and displaced anger are just a couple of the common stresses on marriage after the death of a child.
So, the question begs to be asked: how can you best support your spouse and your marriage after the loss of a child? No two marriages are the same, but here are my recommendations:
1. Be patient with one another. Know that no two people will grieve the same. Know that you must take care of yourself first in order to take care of others. My husband and I put our marriage on the back burner for a long time so that we could focus on our teenaged son, but we knew that it would simmer there until we had the energy and space to heal as a couple.
2. Say I love you often. I remember saying to my husband "I'm sorry I can't support you better in your grief but know that I love you." and he would say the same to me. It's all we could manage for a long time, but we each knew we had each other's back.
3. As soon as possible find a way to purge your anger so that you are not directing it at each other, because it is easy to do. No matter the situation or the circumstances in which your child died, it's easy to lash out at the ones you love most. Try journaling your angry thoughts, go for long walks, hot yoga, or find a punching bag. If you don't find a way to get rid of your anger, fear, guilt, or blame it will fester and it may end up destroying relationships. I've seen it happen.
4. Go for counselling; either together of separately. This is a safe place to unload anything that you may be feeling. A professional can help you sort through your feelings at a time when things are so terribly confusing. Go as soon as you can and keep going.
5. Find a support group just for bereaved moms. You will find other mothers who are likely struggling in their own relationships and who understand what you are going through completely. Share your feelings, ask questions, and never feel that you are alone. If you are feelings disconnection with your partner, likely someone else is feeling exactly the same way. Expressing yourself in a safe place can be very healthy.
No matter where you are at in your grief journey, there are always lots of questions and concerns. Loneliness can be the worst part, if you ask me. As soon as I found others who walk this path of child loss, I found comfort in knowing I had support and answers if I reached out.
I truly believe that connecting with other moms has been one of the best things I have done for myself. Please try to find an in-person group in your community because there is nothing like a hug from someone who gets it.
If parenting after child loss is putting pressure on your marriage, this blog might be helpful too.
You are stronger than you know. Love and hugs to each of you.
PS: I have created a free video course for grieving moms that you can request HERE.