About this series: We all need encouragement, to be reminded we matter. Sometimes the nearest and dearest to us get the least of that needed encouragement. We've all spread ourselves too thin at times leaving little reserved for the ones we've committed to give to most, our spouse. So we're going to do something about it. We're going to focus on the ones living right under our own roof, sleeping in our own bed. But no worries if you're spouse-free. You can apply the encouragement to someone in your life who needs it: children, co-workers, friends, family members. Any soul will do because we all long to know we are seen and heard. Wherever you see "spouse," substitute someone else's name. So grab a cup of coffee or whatever it is you're drinking today, and get ready to give a little. You'll be glad you did.
|even with loss, we can still grow roots|
On June 30, 1998, I sat at the edge of a tiny hospital bed with my husband and watched our 9-month-old son, Noah, die. The loss of my first and only child (at the time) rocked my world worse than anything I endured before or since. It has become for me a defining moment in everything that matters—my faith, my perspective, my hope, and my relationships—especially, my marriage.
I realize very few of you have experienced the loss of a child. But I know most of you have experienced other devastating trials that shook the very foundation of your marriage covenant. Maybe it was infidelity. Pornography. Job-loss. Depression. Chronic illness. Bankruptcy. A wayward child. An aging or dying parent.
All those things involve loss. Whether it’s loss of a dream or an ideal, of health or security, it’s still loss. And all loss involves grief. And all grief involves terrible stress on a marriage. In our nineteen years of marriage, Jon and I have experienced four of those things I listed, plus the death of our son. Our marriage has been attacked repeatedly—sometimes by poor choices we made, and sometimes by life circumstances neither of us expected. Statistically speaking, we should have divorced years ago.
But, instead of allowing our bad choices or unexpected circumstances to destroy us, we chose to fiercely protect and defend our marriage. Because of this, we have grown in depth and commitment to each other in a way neither of us could have anticipated.
It was not easy. And it won’t be for you, either. Significant trials wear you down, leaving you vulnerable and depleted. Depending on the nature of your situation, one (or both) of you may feel tired, irritable, angry, sad, helpless, or hopeless. Maybe you are pushing each other away rather than running towards each other for support. Maybe you can’t fully articulate your feelings or your needs, let alone try to recognize and meet your spouse’s needs. Maybe you truly cannot see how your marriage will survive.
All of that is normal. You don’t have to deny the toughness of your situation. But the toughness of the situation shouldn’t be the final word in your relationship with your husband. I am no marriage expert. I am simply living proof that a marriage can survive and thrive after repeated losses—including the loss of a child.
Now, here’s the part of the post where I wish I could introduce all the eloquent things I said and self-sacrificial things I did to save our marriage after Noah’s death.
I was a complete mess for about a year after we buried him. Basically, I cried a lot. So, if you wondered how I supported Jon…I’m pretty sure I didn’t. (Unless by “support” you mean “cry a lot.”)
Jon, on the other hand, was a rock. That’s not to say Jon is not perfect. He is not. Jon would be the first to tell you he has made many horrible mistakes in our marriage—some of which greatly contributed to our marital troubles through the years. But with God’s help, Jon was able to support me after Noah’s death in ways I didn’t even know I needed—ways that far surpassed any expectations I had of him. So, my forthcoming suggestions of how to support your spouse during a loss come solely from the way Jon supported me.
· Validate. After Noah’s death, no matter what I said and no matter how crazy, mean or angry I felt, Jon responded with, “you have every right to feel the way you do,” or “I understand why you feel this way,” or “I understand why you would say that.” He probably did not understand
everything anything I said, but he never judged or corrected my
feelings. This made me feel safe. It caused me to run to Jon before or instead
of anyone else.
· Touch. No matter where we were, if I would start crying, Jon would simply open up his arms and say, “Come here.” Then he’d embrace me until I stopped. Jon doesn’t always know what to say to me when I’m grieving, but that’s okay, because I don’t always want him to say anything. The human touch can be more powerful than the right words, especially between a husband and a wife.
· Liberate. Jon let me take the lead through my stages of grief. He never made me feel like I cried too much or withdrew too long. He never questioned me when I didn’t want to move Noah’s things from his room, and he never questioned me when I was finally ready. He gave me permission to grieve freely, which liberated me to heal completely (a critical step in repairing a damaged marital relationship.)
· Encourage. If I had a dime for every time Jon said to me, “It’s going to be fine.” I am not kidding when I tell you, he said this every. single. time. I expressed fear or anxiety about the future. “What if our next baby dies? What if I never stop crying? What if I never feel real joy again?” No matter what I asked, Jon would say, “It’s going to be fine.” I would often ask in response, “How do you know it is going to be fine?” and he’d say, “I don’t know, I just do.” Of course, he had no way of knowing whether or not it was going to be “fine.” But it always made me feel more secure that my husband had hope for me—hope for our future.
· Pray. Two weeks after Noah’s death, I became pregnant with our second child. Along with the obvious joy, I felt devastating fear. My prayers for this new baby seemed so inadequate—I wasn’t even sure I knew how to ask God for healthy babies, since my prayers for Noah resulted in death. Sometimes I was afraid to pray at all—that if I prayed for my new baby, she would die, too. Jon never questioned or challenged that fear. He would simply say, “I understand why you’d feel that way,” then put his hands right on my growing belly and pray. Every day. Out loud. And I’m not talking a trite prayer, either. I mean a full-blown, faith-filled, spirit-led, I-don’t-care-what-anyone-thinks prayer.
· Stand in. When I couldn’t answer the phone, answer the door or answer another question, Jon would take over. He never pressured me to respond, and often protected me from overly zealous people. I recall hearing him field phone calls or visitors saying, “She’s a real trooper…she’s so strong.” Not only was he helping in a practical way by talking to the person so I didn’t have to but also in an emotional way, by expressing to others that he believed in me even when I felt like I was falling apart. He always made me feel like I could still be strong and grieve at the same time—that grief was not a sign of weakness. (It’s not, by the way.)
· Ask. I know the dynamics of your marriage are completely different from mine. If you can’t see how any of these suggestions will translate into your relationship, the best thing you can do is ask your spouse what he needs. Just come right out and humbly say, “What do you need from me right now?” Listen to what he tells you. And then do it.
· Get help. It is unwise for you and your spouse to rely solely upon each other for emotional support. You are quite simply ill equipped to be everything he needs. This is always true, but it is especially so after a loss. Therefore, I highly recommend that you seek the love and support of your family, friends and church. If you do not have a stable support system outside of yourselves, seek professional counseling, either together or separately.
The enemy of your soul is always looking for an opportunity to destroy you and your marriage. If you are not vigilant in protecting it and your spouse, who will? God knit your hearts together—divinely, eternally. You may not understand your spouse’s needs, but you can trust God to direct you so you can become a safe-haven for him through any loss and its aftermath. And then your marriage will become a testimony and an inspiration, not a statistic.
Sandy Cooper is a freelance writer, Bible study teacher and author of her personal blog, The Scoop on Balance (www.thescooponbalance.com). Her passion is to encourage women to live a life of balance through intimacy with God and hearing His voice in everyday life. Her greatest accomplishments include surviving the death of her 9-month-old son (Noah), surviving a seven-year battle with clinical depression, and finding a laundry system that actually works (the search for which may or may not have contributed to the depression). She lives in Louisville, Kentucky with Jon (her husband of 19 years) and her three living children Rebekah (13), Elijah (11) and Elliana (6). But she longs for her eternal home where laundry piles will cease, life’s battles will make perfect sense, she will be reunited with Noah and stand face-to-face with the God who sustained her through it all.
Linking today with Jennifer, Tracy, and Emily.
Linking today with Jennifer, Tracy, and Emily.