When my sister Carmella died at age thirteen my parents were already separated. Her illness had taken a toll on the marriage. And, I’ll be quite honest with you by saying that it felt like our family was shipwrecked. Our faith in God was shattered. Friends seemed scarce. Family seemed even more scarce. And, my mom and dad shut down and stopped communicating with each other.
The end result of this strain and stress was a divorce. They both parted ways following my sister’s death leaving our family even more broken than it already was. Why? Why do so many marriages fall apart following the death of a child?
We’ll take some time to go over three or four reasons in this post, and you can add your own, if you’d like. It seems like 50% is the number that most authorities go with — half of the marriages survive following the death of a child, and half do not. Half is a significant number worth discussing!
From a quote in my book “Silent Grief” — “How can a husband and wife put back together broken dreams, push aside the feelings of guilt that often accompany child loss, and comfort the heavy hearts that never totally mend?” This is the question married couples must work on answering if they want to remain married.
1. The husband is a fixer and he can’t fix this. Men, by nature, fix things. The one thing they cannot fix is the fact that their child died and this takes a tremendous toll in a marriage. A wife is often looking for comfort from her husband and she is used to him fixing things for her and the family. While she is buried in her own grief, she fails to see that her husband is drowning in his grief, also. And, as a result couples often drift further and further apart rather than drawing closer together and leaning on one another for support.
2. Men and women grieve differently. Before our child died, I’m sure that most of us never took the course Grief 101. We didn’t have a clue how to do this thing called grief, so we stumble our way through each day feeling like we can’t breathe. Women tend to openly cry and show their emotions, but men (who are used to being the strong ones and the fixers) often withdraw and many times stop talking. They retreat to the garage or the local bar to sit and stare at the TV. Or they spend as many overtime hours as possible at work to avoid walking through the door at home where they know they will be greeted by their wife who is in so much pain that it’s hard to describe. Men are quiet for the most part about their grief. Women will let you know when they are in pain. Often a man’s absence is labeled “not caring” when in fact it might be that he is caring so much that he is unable to cope!
3. Mothers love their child in a different way and it’s hard to explain that to a husband. A woman’s body carried her child, nurtured that child, gave birth to that child. The two were attached — quite literally. The father’s attachment was not a physical one and it does make a difference! A father cannot understand the depth of attachment involved in carrying a child inside of his body for nine months. It’s impossible to describe this. It is my belief (not a proven medical fact just yet) that this attachment does not end at birth. Mother’s are known to have a “sixth sense” and I believe that refers to the special attachment they have with their child — the attachment that begins in the womb. Because of this, fathers often move forward in their grief a bit faster than mothers. And, this causes a lot of friction in a marriage.
He wants to go out to dinner, not always talk about their child’s death, and resume a sexual relationship with his wife again rather soon following the death of the child. Mothers are not always on the same page and may be months behind their husbands in their grieving. These are more things that can cause extreme conflict following the loss of their child.
There are so many more differences in male/female grief. The biggest divider seems to be the inability to communicate with each other. And, as we all know when communication breaks down it creates a difficult barrier to break.
I strongly suggest seeing a grief counselor who deals specifically in child loss. A counselor will help you learn how to talk to each other again. You will learn coping skills for your grief. You will learn how to forgive one another, how to move beyond feelings of guilt and you will learn how to recognize areas in your marriage that need some specific help. If your marriage was weak before losing a child, then you will really feel additional strains on your marriage and will need the aid of a good counselor.
My parents didn’t seek help. As a fifteen-year-old I watched them drift further and further apart and it happened fast. I will always believe that with some help they could have made it! Their marriage didn’t have to be a statistic and neither does yours.
Losing a child pulls us from every direction — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I believe with all of my heart that when you work together trying to understand the differences in grief that your marriage can survive this trauma and in many ways be strengthened.
God bless each one who visits here. If your marriage feels weak and battered from the strain and pain of losing a child, maybe it’s time to seek help. No parent should have to walk this painful walk alone!
PS Please check out the new link I’ve added to this blog on “Healing Food.” When we are grieving, we often forget to eat or we try to fill our empty hearts with junk foods. I think you’re going to find this part of the blog a real blessing!