Marriage and Grief
Led by Larry and Theresa Valentine

This is not a time when we can "fix it and retreat" as so often is the case in many marriages. We are each at different places as we start to grieve. We each have different expectations about grief and what we experience through our grief. This may be different from our expectations prior to the death of our child. Grief is about change and it is usually instantaneous and continual evaluation. Change is difficult in the best of circumstances and these are the worst circumstances. Marriage is difficult in usual situations, with national statistics of marriage ending in divorce over 50%. The statistics for marriages of bereaved parents is that over 75% end in divorce. With these statistics so high, it very important that we react to the changes in as supportive a way as possible and be even more mindful that we grieve differently and accept those differences. People do not always know how to react to the changes in us or to the changes in our situation in general.

One can only do one’s own grief work. Your spouse can’t do it for you and you can’t do your spouses work. Each parent loses something different in the loss of the child. Dad may have lost a fishing or tennis partner and Mom may have lost a shopping buddy or someone to cook for or with, for example. As the loss of the relationship is different so it is unfair to expect that our grief is the same and how we work through it will not be the same.

In our society, women have traditionally been assigned to be grievers and men are not expected to show their grief. How many times will co-workers and friends ask a man whose child has died, how his wife "is doing" and not even think that the man is also hurting just as badly. Culturally, women express what men are feeling. We must recognize this, guard that in our situation we let our husbands grieve as they need, and take charge to educate society that fathers are hurting just as badly as we understand the mothers are hurting.

We must communicate with our spouse what we are feeling and what we need to do our grief work. We can only do our own grief work in our own way. We can not do other’s work and we can not expect that they will do the grief work in the same way we do ours.

Frequently blame is a big problem following the death of our child. Blame is an easy scapegoat in dealing with grief. It is vicious when we transfer the blame we feel in the situation onto our spouse or someone else. It is hurtful to those relationships and does not resolve any of our guilt or grief, usually it puts both parties further back in their grief work and is destructive to the situation and the relationship. Take that blame as our own, examine why we feel the guilt, make the changes to your life to prevent that from happening in another situation and move on. If we chose to further feel the guilt and blame we must ask ourselves why we chose to hold on to it. If there is a reason to feel blame for others actions, help them to change the action so both of you can let it go. Carrying blame or guilt without resolving the situation is only destructive.

Don’t assume anything; be it feelings, remembering facts of our child and possibly pretending to understand where our spouse is at in their grief. Talk about those things. It helps us to understand each other as well as ourselves. Both of you will be able to get further along in your grief work and build a better understanding of each other and the relationship.

It is not uncommon to become angry about the death of your child. While anger is usually balanced in a couple, anger in grief may not be. Anger can become guilt, sadness or be shown in other ways. Be honest about the anger and how you are dealing with it. Talk about it with your spouse, without blaming, and it can become something you can work on together.

When there is a step-parent involved, it is not uncommon for them to become the "whip" of the natural parent’s anger. It is better to be aware of this and transfer this to a friend, as it is better to lose a friend than a spouse if you must have a whip and the whip does not understand what is happening.

We can listen to our own inner voices about grief but we do not hear our spouse’s inner voice so we can not always know what they are dealing with. It is best during this time to learn to deal with this together or at least be understanding.

All couples are not equal. They do not always shoulder the same responsibility, or have the same level of understanding and the same emotional responses. Try to recognize it and accept it. We are individuals before we are part of a couple. It was this individuality which attracted us originally and we must recognize it now.

Grief resolution is a slow process and solutions come slowly over time. As each of us is able, we become stronger over time. We don’t grieve in a vacuum and we bring "old baggage" with us into the grief process. We may bring past relationships into this new situation, there may be issues from that relationship we must work on as well as the grief. Realize this can make it more difficult to grieve, but with love, understanding, communication and constant work on both the grief and the relationship we can get through this with our marriage intact.

Society and logic says to bring the relationship together in grief. But both spouses have different losses, different issues, and different time to grieve. Respect your partner’s grief and their different frame of reference.


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