It totally tests your parenting in ways that you’re so unprepared for. It tests your marriage in ways that you’re unprepared for. It basically tests every relationship you have because the way other people relate to him affects how I relate to those people. People who don’t want to talk about it or if I bring him up they change the subject that changes the way that I discuss him.
Strengthening a great relationship
My husband and I have a great relationship, we always have, but I feel like this definitely strengthened us too. We both feel the same way about things. We have this experience that no one else will understand like we do. Maybe that was meant to happen for us to grow.
My love seems stronger
I think the love I have for my husband just seems stronger than it did before, not that I didn’t love him, it just seems stronger.
Hurting in different ways
The first four months are just awful, you don’t want to get up, you don’t want to get on with your life, you don’t care if there’s a life. You and your partner will be hurting in many different ways and you can’t support one another. The hardest thing with relationships is you can’t lean on one another because you’re all hurting so much.
A child’s death can make a marriage stronger or weaker. For us, it made our marriage stronger mostly because we were fortunate enough to be on the same page about her treatment and on the same page spirituality wise, believing in heaven and believing that we were going to see her again one day. We cared much more about the quality of her life than the quantity.
We processed it completely different, and we are processing it as a mother and father completely differently. He was able to process it as he went along as she was dying but I was frozen. I feel like he is farther along in the grief process, however that works. It’s different for everyone. He had much more peace with it much sooner than I did. That didn’t make our marriage more difficult. He tried to be understanding and listened and he didn’t push me along to be okay with it. It helped us to understand it a little bit better.
“Moving forward” vs “living after”
In the time leading up to the memorial service, my husband and I were out for a walk one morning and he said to me “I think I’m going to take a week off after the memorial service and then I’m going to go back to work.” I think a real turning point for us in our relationship was my ability to say to him what my needs were in that moment, to let him know that I didn’t have anything to go back to, and that I needed him to take the time that he was being given. That was a hard thing for him to do because by going back to work, that meant to him in some ways, not to sit, if you will, with his grief, in that moment. I said, “I won’t be able to go on if you leave me in a week.” It was very hard for me to say that because my husband needed something different.
To express what my need was, it was a very real moment where you sort of have those out of body experiences where I could see our future if I hadn’t said that. It was a real choice because I didn’t want to argue with him. I knew why he was saying what he was saying, and I felt selfish in expressing what I needed, but in those few steps that we took between when he said it and when I responded, I really saw that this would have been the undoing of us if I had not said that to him. It would have bred an extreme amount of resentment and a negative energy in our relationship that we probably would not have been able to overcome.
I see that as a real turning point in our living, living without James. I really hate it when people say “moving forward.” I think it’s living after, to live in a different way. Had I not been able to do that, had I made a different choice at that moment in time, our lives would probably be different right now.
I have come to an understanding that every individual grieves individually. I would say that there were different times that were hard for us in grappling with that because my husband is much more emotional from a crying perspective. I don’t really cry, but I’m more of a memory kind of person, and I want to constantly be tactfully involved with those memories. So nine months after his passing, when James’s first birthday came up, I wanted to put some little ritual into place. Let’s just spend the whole day crying and watching videos and looking at pictures and my husband just could not do that. We had long discussions about what was important to him and what was important to me, and came to grips with we would be together in the house and that I would do what I needed to do and he would do what he needed to do and that we would be together in being together in the same space but not doing the same thing.
That was really hard for me because I really wanted him to do those things with me, but I also needed to have the respect for him and what he needed. At one point during the day he joined me and looked at the pictures but he didn’t want to be doing what I was doing. I think just being able to express that and just respect one another’s desired mode of grieving is tantamount to successfully managing a relationship through this level of grief.