Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Marriage and grief

Grief has so many dimensions and dynamics. It is unique to each and every person. One's response to grief can never be anticipated. When I look back to the moment we learned of Matt's death, I will never forget how I froze, trapped in a chasm of disbelief, my brain failing to register reality. I will never forget seeing my husband throw the phone across the front seat to our neighbor, sounding as if he was hyperventilating, simultaneously screaming “NO!” as he scrambled frantically to throw open the front passenger car door. I remember seeing him stumble, then fall sprawled out onto the grass area of the Kwik Trip parking lot, letting out an inexplicable cry, a cry from the depth of his soul that I have since heard referred to as “the death cry.” I always thought I would be the emotionally expressive one, but instead I just shut down. (Let's be honest, as parents there are unspoken moments where we allow our imaginations to pick up the Pictionary “this is what I'd do if my child died” card, drawing the scene in our minds.) This was so not the way I pictured it.

I don't think anyone acts the way they think they'll act at the moment of their loss, at least not if it's sudden and unexpected. Yet, putting themselves in the grieving person's place, there are people who persist in their pre-conceived notions and expectations of how the bereaved should behave. The truth is, grief is irrational. Grief makes people do things they'd never do and say things they'd never say. One eye-opening lesson I've learned in this season of grief is not to judge and not to assume. Grief results in humility and grace if one is willing to learn its lessons.

Quite unbeknownst to me at first, respect was another lesson of grief. My Dh and I knew immediately, and without a doubt, that we were going to handle the death of our son very differently. And we knew that was o.k. We respected one another's different response to our loss almost instinctively. We acknowledged that it was going to require allowing each other to express our grief uniquely, individually. I believe the fact that we recognized that necessity is one of the reasons our marriage has grown stronger.

Grief invades every facet of our life. It has required open communication, patience, and understanding in our marriage. I have seen a side of my husband that I admire more than words can say. He is amazing and has been more than patient and understanding as I have struggled with numerous health issues since Matt died. An aspect rarely shared or discussed in regards to grief is it's effect on marital intimacy. One GriefShare video addresses the topic of marital relations after the loss of a child and, although we found it helpful that they explained the differing thought processes that wives and husbands have when it comes to connecting intimately in the marriage bed, it was very brief.

Still dealing with grief one year later, we know that some days we aren't always going to be on the same page. He might be having a good day, while I am struggling, or vice-versa. But we've worked hard at respecting and being sensitive to each other's grief journey.

As we move forward together through this season of sorrow, we continue to redefine our “new normal.” In many respects, I feel like the work has only just begun. Yet as I look back to over a year ago, I know we have come so far. Doing the hard work of grieving, lamenting to the LORD, and being honest about our grief has played a huge part in determining and shaping our healing.

My Dh and I have experienced one of the most devastating events that a marriage can undergo. Thankfully, we both chose to turn to the LORD in response to it. Our choice in reaching out to God reminds me of what our Pastor said during our marriage counseling. He stated that marriage is a bit like a triangle with three people: you, your spouse, and God. You and your spouse are at the bottom of the triangle, one on each side, and God is at the top. As each of you grows closer in your walk with the Lord, you grow closer to one another. That analogy has always stuck with me. “...A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Eccesiastes 4:12) My God is who He says He is, and I am immensely grateful for my husband and my marriage.

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