Parenting After Loss: He Knows

This blog post was first published at Still Standing Magazine.

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As the years pass, and I spend them parenting after loss, I’m amazed at how our son, Keegan, responds to having a brother whom he has never seen. Keegan is 4 years old. And he knows. He knows that he has a big brother.

While pregnant I was concerned about parenting after loss. I wasn’t sure how my heart would handle it. Quite honestly, I wasn’t sure if my heart could handle it. But somehow my heart can love on earth and beyond. So, Keegan, he knows. He knows my heart. Yes, parenting after loss is so hard in what they know.

He knows that he has a big brother.

I imagined sitting down with my son one day to have “the talk”.

I didn’t know what I would say during this talk, but I imagined the day would come and I would have to tell him. Tell him all about his brother who lived for seven days. But he knows.

It all happened organically. No intentions or plans. It just happened.

Related: Siblings Grieve Too

We took our son to the gravesite of his big brother when he was about 6-7 months old. I bawled during that visit. Actually, my husband and I both cried our eyes out that day. It may be one of the few times that I’ve felt pure anger about our loss. I was angry that my sons would never get to know each other. Angry that we were visiting a cemetery instead of planning his 7th birthday party. I was angry that my son was staring at a headstone instead of his brother’s face. And I was angry that my heart was still broken.

I was angry.

Angry that he knows!

We had another visit about a year later. This time our son was a little older and we cried less. It was his first formal introduction. We didn’t explain much, but we told him that we were visiting his brother. I was worried about how his two-year-old mind would process such information. I didn’t know how it would make him feel. What he would say.

 

But, he knows. Now every time we pass a cemetery that looks similar, he smiles and says “my brother is there.”

He smiles!

He smiles because he knows.

As time continues to pass, he sometimes speaks of his brother. While playing, he’ll smile and say he’s playing with his brother.

Related: Brotherly Love; How Sibling Loss Shadows the Surviving Child

When he learns a new trick, he’ll smile and say his brother taught him.

Our son Colby died nearly 7 years before Keegan was born. And he knows.

I was afraid of him knowing. But the thought makes him smile. Every time, he smiles.

That makes my heart happy.

He knows.

And he smiles.

 

Photo Credit: LKP Studio


Marriage After Loss: My Man Is From Mars

This blog post was first published at Still Standing Magazine.

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Back in the 90’s John Gray, Ph.D. released a book titled Men Are From Mars, Women Are from Venus. The book became somewhat of a staple in pop culture and is lauded as an essential tool for couples who want to develop more satisfying relationships with their partners. This idea that men and women are from different planets highlights the reality that not only do we communicate differently, but as John explains, men and women “think, feel, perceive, react, respond, love, need, and appreciate differently.”

This concept shows up front and center when dealing with child loss. My man is from Mars!

In the days and weeks following our son’s death, I remember looking at my husband and thinking, “Is he even upset?!”

I was struggling daily to hold it together. Seems like every breath was laced with pain. It was an internal battle of should I cry today or end it all. It was serious for me. I was fighting for my life. I couldn’t work, sleep, or eat, and I could barely talk. Numb. Empty. I felt like a shell of myself. Completely changed.

My husband, however, seemed much like himself. He was upbeat at times. And went right back to work as if nothing ever happened. He continued to take care of our home… and me. It’s as if this was all familiar to him. He knew what to do.

How is that?!

My husband was taught how to grieve when he was six years old. His father was killed one night and he was told the traumatizing news the next morning before going off to school. He’s shared with me that he was very confused and didn’t know what to think or say at the time. The six-year-old boy inside admits that no one actually knew what to say. But he knew what he had to do, get up and go to school.

While I attempt to understand how our son’s death has affected my husband, I’m often expecting him to reveal emotions that he was never taught to express. In many ways, he was actually taught to suppress those emotions. And now as a man, he has learned to embrace and conquer confrontations without fear. Even in times of grief and loss.

Allowing space for healing in our relationship has been critical to our journey. I’ve had feelings of resentment because my husband appeared to move on with the rest of the world. My frustrations bubble up when I feel that he is disconnected from the depth of my pain. I want him to feel what I feel. Respond like I respond. Act like I act.

Related: 5 Tips For Holding On To Your Marriage When Grieving

 

I eventually let go of those expectations. It was all unfair to him. Besides, I’m from Venus.

And I’ve accepted that my man is Mars!

Mars is his six-year-old self’s bedroom.

The bedroom that taught him how to grieve.

The place that taught him to suppress his emotions.

That moment that taught him that even in times of grief, get up and go to school.

Yes, my man is from Mars. And if we truly want to heal our relationship, we have to go into that bedroom and confront Mars.

He can cry on Mars. It’s okay to be disappointed, angry and hurt on Mars. He can express his true feelings on Mars.

Mars is his safe haven. Our safe haven.

My man is from Mars.

And our healing is on Mars!

Related: Grieving Dads: On The Importance Of Your Self-Care

 

Photo Credit: whoislimos / Unsplash


Marriage After Loss: Will Death Do Us Part

This blog post was first published at Still Standing Magazine.

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This blog post was first published at Still Standing Magazine.

I thought we were okay. I really thought we were okay. Until that late night when we sat cradled on the floor crying into each other’s arms. The cloud of death was hovering over our lives and we were not okay.

It was the first time that we had cried, together. We finally admitted that death was destroying us. Death was destroying our relationship. It was death that was tearing us apart.

My husband and I were newlyweds when our one-week-old son died. Child loss can be devastating to any relationship. But experiencing the death of our firstborn son during the height of our honeymoon period came with its own kind of trauma. Everything that we believed life to be had changed. The sheer joy of our wedded bliss was shattered. As a new wife, a new mother, I was empty. We were empty.

But we were together, so I thought we were okay.

Days after our son’s death we received a visit from a hospital counselor. She came to our home, sat on our sofa and delivered one of the most piercing statements that our newlywed ears would ever hear. This certified counselor stated with an unpretentious air, “Most couples don’t survive infant death.”

I don’t recall her offering much guidance on the loss of our son. She didn’t give assistance on how to make funeral arrangements or who to call for help. It’s as if she came for one purpose, to let us know that we probably wouldn’t make it.

As the years passed, her words rang loudly in my ear. Most couples don’t survive.

Death had gripped us, but I thought we were okay.

Our relationship has been pretty solid over the years. We’ve experienced growing pains, but we’ve always been together. Until that night that we admitted to one another that we were hurting and afraid. We were afraid to be vulnerable and love deeply. Love that deep can be painful. And for us, it was traumatic. Death made loving traumatic.

We were trying to wrap our minds around the fact that we had buried our firstborn son. We were facing our individual pain, guilt, and grief of losing a child. But together, the brokenness left us afraid. Afraid to love.

By fearing the pain of losing one another, we had become afraid to love.

The residue of trauma!

I’ve always imagined putting the pieces of my heart back together so that I could live. But I never considered that I needed those same pieces in order to love.

I wanted to be okay. I wanted us to be okay. Despite my pain, I wanted to love.

As we sat on the floor that night, cradled in each other’s arms, we cried ourselves to sleep. The next morning we awakened and greeted each other with a smile and tender kiss. The room was filled with such euphoria. The air was peaceful and angelic. Our tears had cleansed us. They healed us.

We got up off the floor, together. And we were okay.

Death did not do us part.

For what God has joined together…

Yes, we are okay.