I remember being in the NICU with Gianna and someone mentioned, in passing, how high the divorce statistics were after losing a child. Perhaps this was an untimely comment, but it stuck with me.
That happened almost immediately after Dave and I were in the hospital recovery room when we were told Gianna would most likely not survive. We were talking about end of life decisions for her and in complete shock. I had walked into the hospital the day before expecting to walk out with a baby in my arms. It seemed so overwhelming; the entire scenario was almost incomprehensible. That is when my husband reached for my hand, bruised from so many IV’s, and told me, “This WILL NOT bring us apart. We will not let it destroy our marriage or us. We are in this together.” It was in that moment I felt the deepest, most profound gratitude to the good God in Heaven that he brought me this man. In my saddest and darkest time, he reached out to be my rock, my guide, and my light, despite his own sadness and darkness. He wasn’t going to allow the stress and adversity of this situation to chip away at the foundation of our relationship. And during such a tumultuous time, he knew we needed to stay more united than ever. Thank goodness he had the clarity to see this need, because my mind was clouded by the physical pain from my C-section and from the emotional pain of Gianna’s situation.
Four years ago on our wedding day. We were blissfully in love and were so excited to now build our lives together. We were also blissfully ignorant of the trials to come. Dave and I knew that we said “for better or for worse” at the altar on our wedding day, but we never thought that included burying our first born just a short year and a half into our marriage, coupled with other huge transitions in only four short years.
I actually have a hard time looking at our wedding photos now, because I look at how happy and innocent we were and it reminds me how different we are now after the loss of our daughter. Losing a child radically and permanently changes you and I think as I look at our wedding pictures, I grieve the life we might have had if we hadn’t lost Gianna. We are different people now, and it is hard to imagine myself or our marriage before her traumatic loss. And since her loss, our marriage has been a journey to discover the “new” us, attempting to embrace our new identity as child loss parents.
There is no doubt we’ve had ups and downs in our marriage as we each struggled to process Gianna’s loss. But there is one thing I can say after these four years…we are now closer than we ever imagined we could be. We are more united than we ever imagined possible. We have been broken to the core and have seen each other at our most definite worst and most vulnerable states. And it is in that weakness and vulnerability where we see each other as we truly are, accept each other as we truly are, and allow ourselves to be loved for who we are.
Yes, we have our tough times. Yes, we aren’t always understanding or patient of each other’s grief processes. Yes, the burden of our child’s death can sometimes seem to suffocate life’s joys. But I have never forgotten what Dave told me that one, sad day in the hospital. It has been my mantra through everything. We will not let anything break or divide us, and in that lays our strength.
I can’t give much marriage advice but I can share what has helped us in very difficult trials. In adversity, most people react by either retreating into themselves to deal with the hurt or by lashing out to those closest to them because of the pain. I’m the type that lashes out and it’s been a long process for me to realize that in difficult moments, my spouse is not my enemy. He is not there to hurt me. He wants to help lessen my pain and help me find a way through it. I’ve also had to learn to communicate my feelings in a calm and courteous way, and then lean on Dave for support, as well as letting Dave lean on me for support. However one reacts to pain, facing trials together make a couple infinitely stronger, where they glean strength, comfort and healing from one another.
Facing whatever lies in our path is doable if we approach it as a team, not as enemies. When I feel the urge to lash out or retreat to my own corner, I try to take a moment to breathe, look at my spouse, and remember they are there to help, not hurt. We are teammates, and together we can face anything that comes our way.