Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Saying It Out Loud

"...his name is Voldemort, so you might as well use it, he's going to try and kill you either way."

- Professor McGonagall
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:  Part 2

Over time, I've mentioned the book on grieving that I started and never finished, but I never mention its title or author, so some of you have asked me privately about that.  The reason I did that, I think, is that it's a little like Voldemort:  if you didn't mention his name out loud, he would remain in the shadowy past.  Of course, that wasn't really the case, now was it?   But, I was horrified by the things I was reading and couldn't believe that this would be/could be my life:  the wreckage of the rest of the family dynamic that the author chronicled over and over again, the years of dark despair before people felt like life began to return to them.  I didn't have time for that!  I had a mother whom I had to care for.  I still had a daughter who was alive.  I had eight - count 'em - eight dogs and a herd of deer who relied on me.  And then there was a marriage to think about.  I just couldn't accept what the author spelled out in those pages.

As it turns out, she was right.  About everything.  The book, After the Death of a Child:  Living with Loss Through the Years by Ann K. Finkbeiner wasn't really trying to leave its readers devoid of hope, I don't think.  Rather, the intent was just to lay out the road hazards so we would know what we would be facing and perhaps avoid the pot holes.  But I didn't see it that way.  I don't know what I needed or wanted at that moment.  Some sort of magic wand, I guess, that would make it all better.  There isn't one, as it turns out, so all that is left is the ability to know and prepare for what lies ahead.  So, I should have thanked her book for that honesty, not feared it, I guess.  And, I can tell you now, as that relates to marriage, it's actually amazing to me that any marriages survive, as opposed to my original shock and dismay at her proclamation that 75% of them will not (I've subsequently read up to 80% in other sources).

Candidly, I don't know fully where my marriage stands in that category.  We're still married, we're still a committed couple, but we've spent significant periods of time away from one another.  Would we have done that, even been willing to do that, if Kelsey had recovered?  Who knows?  Maybe we would have exhausted ourselves so significantly to pull her through that we would have ended up looking at one another and decided that we just couldn't be together anymore.  But, I think it's probably more likely we'd have settled down to looking forward to grandchildren and checking off our bucket lists.  As it stands, I think we're fighting a battle still to see how our marriage will end up.  Things are still unsettled, in part because there have been subsequent traumas that have continued to strain at the bonds we've fought hard to maintain, granted.  Still, there were so many falter points along the way that I have to confess that I accept those dire statistics now.

I indeed get how most marriages just can't withstand the strain, now having lived through these last few years.  As I've said over and over, grief is a personal thing.  And you work through it at a different pace and in different ways than anyone else, spouse included.  And you need different tools.  Some may blame God while others turn to Him.  Some will throw themselves into causes, others will become introverts.  So, while I'm no expert, here is what I would suggest if you really want your marriage to survive:

  • You have to talk to one another and accept the other one's point of view.  If your partner tells you they need to go to church everyday, and you can't stand the thought of it, then don't stand in their way.  Conversely, tell them honestly that you can't stand the thought of it, and don't go with them just because you think you're supposed to.  You'll end up resenting your partner.
  • Don't shut one another out.  You're both hurting, and no one will understand it more than the person sleeping next to you.  So use that as a strength, not a burden.
  • My honest advice is don't do this alone - defining alone as just the two of you.  Get some counseling.  Your exploring unknown territory:  use a guide.
  • Don't blame one another.  Easy to do - we do it all the time to our spouses:  take out our frustrations and fears out on the person closest to us, assuming always that they'll forgive us.  It's not a good thing in the best of times, it's poison now.  Your spouse will be wrestling with enough self blame.  They don't need yours too.
  • Be patient with one another.  Above all else.  Give it some time to sort itself out.  
And, finally, it's never about the love you have for one another.  Remember that.  Don't sacrifice that love to the fire of grief if you don't have to.

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