Child Loss: Can My Marriage Survive?

A few decades ago, faulty research methods made popular an inaccurate statistic that a disproportionate number of marriages fail after a couple experiences child loss.

Like many urban legends, once fixed in the minds of many, it’s nearly impossible to dislodge.  

And that is more than unfortunate because when marriages falter (and they often do) after child loss, lots of people just give up because they think failure is inevitable.

But it’s not. 

Marriage is hard under any circumstances.  It requires sacrifice, compromise, communication, change and most importantly, commitment.

Any stressor makes it harder. 

I can’t think of a bigger stressor than child loss. It’s no surprise that many marriages tend to flounder in the tsunami of grief, sorrow and pain that follows the death of a child.

But grief rarely causes the problems that surface, it simply makes them unavoidable.

Suddenly all the energy that was once available to deflect, to distract, to pretend is gone.  And things that have gone unaddressed for years or decades can no longer be ignored.

charlie brown too tired to cry

It’s important to make that distinction because if child loss is the only reason a couple can’t find their way, then giving up might make sense.  Anyone who lives with child loss knows that the pain, sorrow and missing will never go away.  We become better able to deal with it, but it is something we will carry for life.

If, however, child loss is simply the force that shook other problems loose, then working on those specific issues is not only possible, it’s doable. 

wedding rings

Here are some common conflicts in marriage that surface after child loss:  

Different ways of expressing (or not expressing) emotion.  Men and women often grieve differently.  You and your spouse may have always dealt differently with strong emotions but until it was grief, it went unnoticed.  Sometimes these differences cause conflict because one spouse cries openly while another rarely mentions their missing child.  To the open griever, it feels like her spouse doesn’t care.  To the secret griever, it feels like his wife is dramatic and out of control.  If you don’t talk about it, the gap grows wider and can become unbridgeable. 

It’s OK to grieve differently.  But it’s not OK to blame someone for grieving differently.  Ask questions.  Give grace.  Listen carefully.  Grant space. 

style of grieving marriage quote

Blended family dynamics that have gone unaddressed.  Some bereaved parents are no longer married to the mother or father of their child.  They have remarried and are part of a blended family.  Any differences in grieving styles between spouses can be exaggerated when the biological parent feels like the stepparent “doesn’t get it”.  Sometimes the bio-parent becomes bitter that his family circle has been broken while his spouse is spared.  The list is practically endless but nearly always starts with things in the relationship that were always there-favoring one child over another, a sense that the stepparent never cared for her spouse’s children as much as for her own, or other silent resentment.

Before you assume that the only reason your spouse isn’t crying at all or as much as you is because it wasn’t HIS child, think carefully about it.  Have there been rumbles in your relationship before?  Consider the full sweep of how your spouse treated your missing child-is there ample evidence that he or she loved your child well?

Don’t jump to conclusions.  Ask questions.  Give grace.  Listen carefully.  Grant space.

listening is a postive act

Underlying health problems.  Sometimes child loss causes or uncovers health problems.  If you or your spouse suffer from heart disease, diabetes or other chronic health issues, the stress of burying a child can make any or all of them worse. Child loss can also push marginal mental health to the point of requiring counseling and/or medication.  Chronic pain tends to get worse.  Thyroid medication often needs to be adjusted.  All of these things can make someone grumpy, short-tempered, less likely to extend grace and mercy.  Add that to the stress of child loss and it’s no wonder spouses may find themselves at one another’s throats. 

One spouse may be motivated to take better care of him or herself while another may give up and give in, refusing medication or treatment for the most obvious health problems.  Frustration and a sense that the unmotivated spouse is making life harder for everyone adds to family stress.

If you find yourself or your spouse acting out of character,  a thorough physical examination and blood work can expose underlying health problems.  Appropriate medical intervention will make a huge difference.  Counseling is often an important part of that intervention.  

Old wounds.  Child loss is such a deep wound!  It frequently uncovers other, older wounds as well.  You or your spouse may have wounds from earlier in your marriage or from earlier in life before marriage.  Many, many times we cover these up and *almost* forget them.  But when a heart is shattered in the aftermath of burying a child, all those tender places become exposed.  Whatever tricks we’ve used to keep them hidden just don’t work anymore.

If you feel like you are reacting disproportionately to everyday stresses, stop and listen to your own heart.  Is there an offense behind the offense you think you’ve suffered at the hand of your spouse?  Is there an unhealed wound shading the meaning of words and actions that otherwise wouldn’t upset you?

 

heart baloon girl

I could list a dozen more examples of the complex reasons a marriage may struggle after child loss.  

I won’t.  

Marriage is a commitment.  A difficult, trying, time consuming, energy zapping commitment under the best of circumstances.  

 

Child loss may be the worst of circumstances.  

But remember that child loss alone is rarely the reason a marriage flounders.  

Look deep.  

Grant space.

Ask questions.  

Strain to hear what your spouse is really saying.  

Give grace.  

We can’t bring our children back but we can choose to fight for our marriages.  

They do not have to become another casualty in this life we didn’t choose. 

hands across table

 

 

 

 

Unbroken

I call my parents pretty much every morning.  

It was a habit started years ago after my mother had a bad spell and ended up in the hospital.  I like to start my day knowing how she and my dad are doing.

The other day Papa and I were talking about the movie, “Unbroken” we saw a couple years ago.

There’s a scene where the main character was forced to hold a heavy beam over his head in a Japanese POW camp for hours.  If he let it fall, he would be shot and his torture over. Malnourished, mistreated and disheartened, he somehow found the strength to do it.

He endured.

unbroken movie beam

His courageous example lent courage to the others in that camp.  His victory was in not giving up or giving in, though he bore the scars for the rest of his life.

These past months have been difficult ones for both of my parents.  Mama’s fall, heart attack and multiple hospital stays have left her very different than she was last summer.  Someone needs to be with her all the time.

That means my dad-who has no physical limitations-is as housebound as she.  

Papa is absolutely committed to caring for Mama and he’s doing a great job.  

But it’s hard on a heart to be confined when you are surrounded by so many chores that need doing and so much wide open space that begs you to get out in the sunshine.

He is enduring.  

And I am thankful for his example.  

So few of us will have an opportunity to do really grand things that make headlines.  But most of us will have a chance to be faithful in hundreds of small things that make up meaningful lives. 

courage doesn't always roar male liion

Quiet, everyday commitment to not giving up when life is hard and rest seems so very far away is victory even when it doesn’t feel like it.  

It speaks courage to other hearts to hold on.

Truly.

Always.

 

be strong you never know who you are inspiring

 

 

Why Do We Turn Away?

The news goes out over Facebook, over phone lines, over prayer chains and everyone shows up.

Crowds in the kitchen, in the living room, spilling onto the lawn.

It’s what you do.

And it’s actually the easiest part.  Lots of people, lots of talking, lots of activity keep the atmosphere focused on the deceased and the family.  The conversation rarely dips to deeper waters or digs into harder ground:  “Where was God?”;  “Why him?”;  “Why do ‘bad’ things happen to ‘good’ people?”

But eventually the busyness and noise gives way to stillness and silence.

That’s when the harder part starts.

The long hours of nightime darkness that invite questions that demand answers.  The quiet hours of daylight that insist on playing a home movie of the years that went before. Forcing me to wrestle.  Tossing me in the ring of trying to reconcile this tragedy with my worldview.

And many people turn away from the spectacle.  

Even good, loving, Christ-following friends find it hard to stick around and watch.

Because it challenges their worldview too.  

It makes them wonder if what they have always believed about God is true.  It makes them fearful that if it could happen to my son and to me, it could happen to their child and to them.  Ir raises questions, they’d rather not answer.

And they don’t have to answer them-YET-because their lives haven’t been turned upside down and inside out.

So they run.

They stop calling, they stop coming and they keep their distance in public spaces.

It hurts.

A lot.

It’s human nature to avoid pain.  No one marches headlong into suffering. Empathy requres energy.  Compassion demands opening your heart to the hurt hiding inside someone else’s.

I understand, truly I do.  

If I could find a place where sorrow and longing couldn’t find me, I would stay there forever.  But I can’t.  I have to carry this load, I have to face the tough questions, I have to work hard to give my heart a chance.

It is so much easier when others come alongside.  I feel so much stronger when others choose to call courage to my broken heart.  I find great comfort in knowing that someone is willing to risk their own comfort to bear witness to my pain and struggle.

Please don’t lower your eyes and hide.  Raise them and help heal.

I know it’s hard and you don’t have to, but please don’t turn away.  

compassion is a choice

 

 

 

 

 

New Year, New You?

January is the month of resolutions and new beginnings!

So I boldly declare that THIS year I will (take your pick):

  • Lose weight
  • Eat only healthy food
  • Exercise more
  • Read more books
  • Declutter my house
  • Spend more time with family
  • Spend less time with electronics
  • Blah,blah,blah

Wouldn’t it be grand if all it took was the turn of a calendar page to make all things new?

How wonderful if I could wipe the slate clean and start afresh just because the earth had made another round of the sun!

But the average length of time these commitments last is just 7-10 days. (Which by now, most of us have already found out.)

Why?

Because we can rarely make sweeping changes that go against habits and character traits just because we say it aloud or write it on a special piece of paper.

new-years-resolutions-list

Life’s not like that.

Life is an amalgamation of thousands of small and a few not-so-small choices that combine to make me who I am.

Choices become habits and habits become character.

And then there are the other thingsthe things I didn’t choose-that slam into me and violently reshape who I am-ready or not.

How I respond to what I can’t control continues to remake who I am.

There is ONE resolution that can remake me from the inside out.

There is one habit that that will not only make THIS year new, but will make ME new.

There is a single choice that I can make every day that will affect me and everyone around me.

It’s not hard, but there will be resistance.  It doesn’t require special equipment, but it requires commitment.  I don’t have to be in shape-as a matter of fact, the more out-of-shape I am, the more remarkable the transformation.

If I place my heart in the hands of Jesus by sitting in silence with Him each day, reading His Word and asking Him to open my eyes to the beauty He places in my path-even this rocky road of child loss-He will renew my mind and transform my character so that I am conformed to His image.

He is the Potter.

The work is His.

I am the clay.

he who began a good work in you

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Repost: New Year’s Resolution

The funny thing about New Year’s resolutions is that they are pretty much the same, year after year.  We all have particular struggles and the turning of the calendar seems like the perfect moment to commit to action to try to overcome them.

But most of us fail miserably and find ourselves back at precisely the point from which we started, regardless of our best efforts to change.

Read the rest here:  New Year’s Resolutions

Surrender

“Follow Me,”  Jesus said to the twelve.

“Follow Me,” Jesus said to me when I was just a child.

“Yes,” I replied-not knowing or counting the cost. 

If it was a single commitment without opportunity for turning back then it would be easy.

But it’s not.  

Every day I have to face the question, “Did God REALLY say?” Boy that serpent knew just where to aim the spear of doubt so it would cause the greatest damage.

Can I believe that God is in control?  Can I believe that He is good?  Can I believe that He loves me?

Can I believe all those things when my circumstances scream, “NO!”

But I HAVE to believe.  

Because if I can’t trust God, then I am without hope.  If I can’t rely on His Word then there’s no foundation and no future.  If He is not Who He says He is, then I should just quit now.

So I find myself at the foot of the cross, again.  Facing my fears and having to choose: Who shall I serve?

choose this day lion

Surrender is hard.  Daily surrender is harder.

I cannot remake my heart.  I cannot breathe life into my own breathless soul. 

I can only place myself on the altar and allow God’s Spirit to do it for me.

So here I am.

Again.

Brothers and sisters, God has shown you his mercy. So I am asking you to offer up your bodies to him while you are still alive. Your bodies are a holy sacrifice that is pleasing to God. When you offer your bodies to God, you are worshiping him in the right way.

Romans 12: 1 NIRV

 

 

Loving the Wounded

God bless the inventor of Band Aids!

That little tacky plaster has soothed more fears and tears than almost any other invention in the world.

Skinned knee?  Put a BandAid on it.

Bee sting?  BandAid.

Tiny bump that no one can even see?  Oh, sweetie, let me give you a BandAid.

Simply acknowledging pain and woundedness is so often all that is needed to encourage a heart and point it toward healing.

It’s the same in the world of emotional, psychological and spiritual wounds.

But we have yet to invent the BandAid for those.

band aid and heart

Instead, frequently we ignore, refute, minimize and pass over the one in our midst who holds out a hand or a heart saying, “I have a boo boo.”

Believe me, I understand-so many of these wounds are incurable, they are uncomfortable to think about, hard to look at.compassion and stay with you

But often the only thing the hurting heart wants is acknowledgement, a moment of time, a face turned full into theirs, eye-to-eye and unafraid to remain alongside through the pain.

Just as a BandAid bears witness to the wound underneath, our compassionate presence can bear witness to the deeper wounds no one can see.

When we choose to lean in and love, to listen and learn, to walk with the wounded we give a great gift.

compassion is a choice