This is one I’ve been mulling over for a while and I feel like it’s worth writing about. With my husband’s blessing I’m sharing, and he doesn’t even feel the need to preview it. Hopefully he won’t regret that decision!
Doug and I got married on August 21, 1999. I had just graduated from Virginia Tech and we were ready to face life together. We said those vows, complete with the words “For better or Worse”. When you make the vows you aren’t really thinking about the scenarios under the “worse” category, but those things come. Sometimes they are minor things that feel huge. Sometimes they are HUGE things that feel impossible. We had our share of “for worse” in the first 15 or so years- a child born with a heart defect, a job loss with 2 very young children shortly after we purchased a new home, another child with health issues, financial struggles, and the purchase of a VERY old (1901) house and everything that comes with that.
Under the for worse category the last thing you probably imagine is the possiblity of the death of a child. It is every parents worst nightmare. No one should have to bury a child. Ever. Not a baby, or a toddler, an older child, a teen, or an adult child. Yet it happens. It happens more than many people realize, and it can happen to anyone. When it happens it creates shockwaves in every aspect of life- in life with surviving children, in life at work, at church, in every single facet of life. So of course it will impact a marriage.
Long ago I heard a statistic that most marriages do not survive the death of a child. That this type of loss is too much to take, and it causes marriages to weaken. But here’s the thing. It’s not true. That statistic was made up many years ago, based on anecdotal evidence by one person. That person wrote about it and it became viral, long before viral was ever a thing. People STILL believe it. I see it mentioned often in a Facebook grief group I belong to. Do some marriages fail after the death of a child? Yes they do. Is it just the death that makes that happen? Not usually. The divorce rate among bereaved parents is right around the same as it is for everyone else.
I am definitely no expert on this. Doug and I have been married for 18 years now, but we’ve only been on this new part of our journey for 2 years. What I have learned though is that grief happens. It happens when it wants to happen, and it seems that a key piece of preventing it from chipping away at our marriage is to respect that. We realize that we can’t fix it for each other. We can be there and help each other get through but this is something that can’t be fixed. When he’s sad he needs time alone. When I’m sad I need to go to the cemetery, and over these 2 years I have been able to do that whenever I have needed to. Early on it was many times each week. Now it’s about twice a week. And my wonderful husband has not once asked me to not go. We both recognize that we are thankfully not alone in this journey, but there are things about it that we do have to do alone.
Marriage is HARD WORK. Under ideal circumstances it is difficult. Under terrible circumstances it can feel impossible. What I know is that I am so thankful to have Doug by my side. I can honestly say that we are stronger now. We are on this unique, shared journey. We understand each other better than anyone else does. We miss this child more than anyone else possibly can. In a world that has been shattered we have kept our marriage strong. We are in this together- for better or worse.