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Enduring Loss Together ~ Marriage Letters

Dear Scott,

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.

couple crying

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.”

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  1. The peace and depth that exude from you and Scott amazed Maile and I when we met you in person. You give hope to everyone, that while we cannot always control the storyline that life hands us, we can endure with hope.
    Shawn Smucker recently posted..Hope Will Circle Around AgainMy Profile

    • Shawn, it is so good to hear that. We can’t really assess ourselves accurately, but we do wish to leave hope behind.

  2. Any comment I post on this seems trivial. I am so moved. Thank you for sharing this letter of your story.
    Amanda @wandering recently posted..enduring loss togetherMy Profile

  3. So beautiful, Joy. In every way that’s real.
    Sarah@EmergingMummy recently posted..In which I think we all remember somehowMy Profile

  4. Makes anything I say feel superficial. This is holy and real. I can only sit and feel and believe it quietly.
    Megan (FriedOkra) recently posted..Heart BounceMy Profile

  5. Oh, Joy, this is fantastic. This “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” is what I used to tell the grieving families I worked with. We give each other space and we keep at it. I’m sorry that you and Scott have walked this road together but I’m glad that you have continued to walk through it together.
    HopefulLeigh recently posted..Top 25 Lady-Bloggers Who Love Jesus and Happen to Be SingleMy Profile

  6. Joy, it’s not even possible to read this without lumps in my throat and tears fighting to come out. Everything you have been through, every tear you have cried, God, he collects every one of them. And the fact that you and Scott and be so vulnerable week in a week out publicly like this is amazing – something rare enough in private, but far rarer like this. You both are beautiful, and we love you.

  7. You and Scott have such a deep, rich story of your life together — filled with pages of love and loss. Thank you for writing about it — for young couples like Colin and I to have something to look at and feel confident that through storms and sunshine this can last.
    Lindsey Talerico recently posted..Enduring loss together… (Marriage Letters)My Profile

  8. Made me cry big beautiful “I’m right there with you” tears. Oh how I need to write this kind of letter to my husband. Will do so tonight. This series you’re doing is so touching Joy. Thank you for giving us a window in to the raw, real, tender heart you have for your husband. It inspires me to cultivate that too. Blessings over you in your post-grief journey to lose that cynicism. I’m right there with you…
    Laurie Wallin recently posted..The Powerful Influence You Have {Yes, I mean you.}My Profile

    • I sort of fell into cynicism because I hate bad surprises. I figure if I’m expecting the worst, at least I won’t be blindsided again. But it’s a horrible way to go through life, and I don’t want to stay there. Praying we both rise out of it.

  9. I found your blog through a friend on Twitter and I was not expecting to read what I did.

    I am so very, truly sorry. I too, have lost a child to heart defects. My Corbin was three months old and lived through three heart surgeries before his heart stopped. My heart just broke reading your story and I feel your pain.

    My last memory of Corbin is not pretty. I totally understand you not wanting to remember her with tubes and wires. Thank you for sharing, your strength shines through your words.

    Sending love and peace. <3
    Ruth recently posted..Baby’s First TestMy Profile

    • Oh Ruth, I’m so very sorry that you’ve lost a precious little baby to heart defects. It breaks my heart to discover just how many of us are out there, enduring this same kind of loss. I pray that you are finding peace and can dwell on the better memories of him. Thank you for your kind note.

  10. I really needed to read this today. Needed the reminder that we all grieve in our own way. I’m falling apart at the moment as we head towards the 13 birthday of Livvy, I’m angry and so desperately sad that she is celebrating in heaven and not with me. My husband is the opposite of me totally. So calm and strong, sometimes I question his love for her, I mean why isn’t he screaming out broken hearted. But as your letter states we all grieve In our own ways. I have to respect his way too.

    • I think we are similar to you and your husband, Sara. Mine keeps his dark thoughts and grief much quieter, much more too himself. I suspect it’s partly the way he is, and partly that he doesn’t want to load me down with any more. He may be right to see it that way.

      I’ll be praying for you as you approach her birthday. Much love.

  11. Wow, Joy. Sitting in a pitch black bus in the dusty outskirts of Amarillo, trying to muffle my crying so I won’t wake the children. What a potent letter, so full of your heart and experience. I felt so blessed to have met you and Scott last month, but now to hear a bit more of your story, I feel all the more blessed. Thank you for sharing this.
    Maile Smucker recently posted..The Space Between 3 and 33My Profile

    • Does it sound ungrateful of me to say that I really wish God had given me the gift of making people laugh instead of making people cry? We are so thankful to have met you and Shawn too, and we’re really looking forward to seeing you again in a few months. :)

  12. Joy, yes! I think you are right, it is better together. I am so encourage by you & Scott. Thank you for writing this for us all to read.
    erin a. recently posted..This is Spring, Here & NowMy Profile

  13. This is absolutely beautiful! I am so sorry you and your husband have had to suffer so much grief and pain in your marriage, but you attitude is truly uplifting and encouraging. As a fairly newlywed, and new mom, I wish there were more “experienced” marriages like these for us newbies to look up, be mentored by, and follow the example of.
    I love this part of your letter ” 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.”… Our way is not right way for everyone… our spouse’s way does not always have to make sense to us… we need to learn to love the differences of those around us…. and never give ourselves (in marriage especially) the permission to quit!
    May God richly bless, and protect, your marriage in the days, times, challenges, and blessings ahead!

    • I wish there were more “experienced” marriages like these for us newbies to look up, be mentored by, and follow the example of.
      EXACTLY. That is one of the reasons that Seth, Amber, Scott and I are writing these. We hope to at the very least be a voice that says, “You aren’t alone facing this struggle. Others have been there and made it through, and you can too.”

  14. This is so good. My best friend died in a car wreck in high school, and his parents began to drift apart in the grief and eventually divorced. It is such a tragic thing, and I am so encouraged by the fact that you and your husband are fighting to not let that happen. So much wisdom in this, thanks for having the bravery to share your story. I am certain God will use it.

    • When our relationship was strained the most, I still knew that losing our marriage would just add insult to injury. I couldn’t bear the idea. But I can see how at times, bearing the grief of another in addition to your own just seems impossible.

  15. I may be your biggest fan, Joy.

    Thank you for telling it like you do.
    Amber@theRunaMuck recently posted..Marriage Letters: On LossMy Profile

  16. I read this when you posted it a few days ago and I am still thinking about it. What beautiful words. This was a blessing to read.
    Margaret recently posted..To Love God is a Wonderful Journey: My love for John Paul IMy Profile

  17. So.Beautifully.Done. Thank you, Joy, for your honesty and your deep commitment to the flourishing of your marriage despite the pain experienced in your life together. Love & prayers to you both.
    Diana Trautwein recently posted..Mother Letters: The Stuff of HeroesMy Profile

  18. The two most important messages I take away are:

    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 don’t know what lies ahead, but I do know this: I’m in this marriage with you for life. No matter what.

    Thank you for sharing Joy. I’m certain that the Lord will use your pain and brokenness to minister to others who are hurting. Pray that each day the Lord will continue to comfort and heal your hurting hearts.
    Susan Wachtel recently posted..Five Minute Friday – Community Bible StudyMy Profile


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