Love and Loss: Can Marriage Survive the Death of a Child?

5 years ago

This post has taken me a while to finish and here’s why; I have several friends who have lost children to cancer in the last month. One child was the same age as my youngest and that friend and I have been pregnant together for all our kids. That one hit home, still makes it hard to breathe and I wake up every day praying for her and her sweet family. I know Christ is with that family, offering them comfort, His Holy Spirit and lots of extra love during this trying time. Yet, I also know that we are human and, even with an eternal perspective, grief can feel like it’s ripping your soul, shaking your faith and making the mundane things in life, like breathing, seemingly impossible.

I wondered how my friend and her husband would survive. I wondered if they would feel guilty having another child or even considering it one day. I wondered if they would feel guilty taking refuge in intimacy (which can be quite cathartic, actually). I wondered a lot of these things and then I started to read. As I started to read and write this post, another tragedy occurred, one that took 20 children back to Heaven and made it impossible for me to write for a few days. Again, I found myself wondering what I would do if my oldest (who is in school) didn’t come home one day and never came home again.

I couldn’t process that level of grief and just had to run it out. Returning from a business trip late last Friday, I laced up my running shoes and went for a run in the moonlit rain. Tears mixed freely with the rain as I grieved with the nation for the loss of those little ones. What, I wondered, would their parents do? How would they tell the siblings? How do you adjust to such a traumatic fissure of the family? How can a marriage survive so much loss?

The good news in this seemingly depressing post is that the age-old wives tale that a death in the family spells the death toll of a marriage is incorrect. While I am not a counselor, the therapist-penned pieces I read compared a tragic event to a spotlight. If your relationship is going well and you naturally turn to each other, chances are that is how you will handle the recovery process. However, if there are cracks in the relationship, the added grief, stress and frustration will likely add a large burden.

I firmly believe that no matter where you are in your marriage, when loss comes, as it does to us all, if we turn to God and pray together for strength, we will have angels and the loved ones we’ve lost surround us, giving us much needed peace. Some feel this presence more strongly than others, but it is real, it is there and we can find solace in the strength of our faith and knowing that Christ’s healing balm can bind up our wounded hearts and help us make it through another day.

I don’t know what it’s like to lose a child, but I have had the sacred experience of holding my grandmother’s hands as she passed from this life to the next. Her breath weakened and stopped, I felt her leave the room, felt her come back when I called to her and told not to go. Her breathing resumed, shallow and light. Then I felt like my grandfather’s arms were on my shoulders, letting me know it would be all right. I told grandma I loved her and said it was okay, we would be okay. She took her last breath and left her body.

There was such peace in the room. My husband came back in, cousins, aunts and uncles came and went, but I sat there, never letting go over her beautifully old and wrinkled hands. She and I were very close and I felt her relief at being released from her sick body. I felt her exhilaration at being united with her husband and going to a much lighter place.

For a moment, in that room that bustled with people streaming in and out, I felt a little bit of heaven on earth and it was the most spiritual, sacred experience I have ever had. Birth is a beautiful thing, but a death can also be filled with spiritual poetry. If we can see past our loss to the beautiful gain of our loved one, it can truly make our burden light.

Grief and loss will affect a marriage. It cannot be ignored. Counselors are there to help shepherd you through the process and I highly recommend having a professional or spiritual leader available as a person of refuge and solace. I know that the power of prayer is real. While I cannot get on a plane and visit every family in Connecticut or see my friend several states away, I can start and end each day praying for them.

I know that God doesn’t want us to ache with the pain of loss forever and that Christ felt that pain as part of His atonement for the world. It is my hope that when loss visits a marriage, that the couple is enfolded in the loving arms of Christ and is able to weather the storm with His abiding love as a support.

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