We’ve lost a lot in our almost 14 years: pets, keys, tempers, money, time. We’ve lost our way, and we’ve lost our youthful innocence (and now I’m trying to lose the cynicism that took Innocence’s place). None of this was too much of a surprise, really – anyone who lives and loves should expect to lose something.
We didn’t expect to lose healthy average childhoods for two of our children. We didn’t expect to bury our daughter before she turned nine years old.
We were clueless and overwhelmed (completely normal) first-time parents. My pregnancy and delivery was textbook, and when Elli emerged all slippery-white and squawking, we had no reason to think she was anything but healthy. After all, the womb is a safe place, we thought. We were blissfully ignorant of the children who were born sick or with defects. We were stunned by the one-two-three-punch of Elli’s struggles to breastfeed, her severe jaundice, and discovery of her malformed heart. We had no idea this news was only the beginning of an avalanche of escalating losses. The next morning, the words “I wish I could say ‘but the good news is’ but I can’t” buried us in grief and fear. She had almost died right there in the NICU, and they were preparing us for the worst.
We faced (still face) losses differently. I’ll never forget our dilemma when the doctor gave us the terrible news about her cardiac arrest. She was still alive, but barely, and you didn’t want to go back and see her.
You said, “I don’t want my last memory of her to be with all those wires and tubes and machines hooked up to her.”
I understood that, but I didn’t want her to die surrounded by strangers. I wanted her to hear our voices, my voice, the one she’d heard through the womb for 9 months (or however long a baby’s hearing works). I wanted to comfort her and hold her til the end. But I didn’t want to do it alone, and I didn’t want to leave your side. I waited as you wrestled. You must have seen the desperation in my face because you finally agreed to come with me (after our pastor went back and then told us what to expect).
We’ve been giving each other space and time to be different ever since. I tend to pour it all out as I ride the roller coaster of loss – the anger, the guilt, the tears, the numbness. You process silently, giving only small briefly glimpses of where you are. I have to watch carefully, ask questions, and sit in silence while you find the words to express yourself.
We’ve lost so much since those first days. I suppose one could say that we have a lot of practice giving each other space to grieve in our own way, and making mistakes (like taking each other for granted). You learned how desperate I was for your return from work every evening and how critical it was for my sanity to let me know you were on your way home. I’ve held your hand wordless as we heard we faced complex medical issues with a second child. You’ve pulled me close when I crumbled sobbing onto your chest in the midst of a long slow kiss. I’ve entrusted you with my failures – when the strain broke me and I lashed out with pots banged, doors slammed, and walls punched. You’ve pushed me to accept the help I desperately needed but proudly resisted, gently scolding me when I threw my grown-up tantrums when things in my house weren’t done my way.
I wish I could boil this down into a fool-proof formula for every other couple who is facing or will face devastating loss together. We’ve found two parts of the formula: giving each other permission to grieve in our own way (even when it doesn’t make sense), and refusing to give ourselves permission to quit. I cling to the idea that facing this together, even with all the complexity and stress of two different people yoked together, is far better than facing it alone. So far, we’ve defied the odds predicting that couples who face raising a special-needs child and who bury a child will also endure the loss of their marriage.
We’re in a good place now, but we’ve felt our way through some dark painful terrifying days when we both wondered if we’d make it. We’re still working it out, one moment at a time, listening and waiting and loving each other.
I don’t know what lies ahead, but I do know this: I’m in this marriage with you for life. No matter what.
This week’s Marriage Letters prompt was “Enduring Loss Together.” If you joined Scott, Seth, Amber, and I writing this week’s letters, link up below. Or share your thoughts and lessons learned about enduring loss together the comments. Next week we’ll write “On Outside Influences.”