Grieving as a Couple
by Marion McNurlen
Reprinted with permission from the Minnesota S.I.D.S. Newsletter (Vol. 10 No. 5, March 1991).
For everyone affected by SIDS, there are unique issues with which they're confronted. Daycare providers, single parents, surviving children, and couples all have unique experiences as they work to recover. The following article speaks specifically to these in a significant relationship.
You have probably heard statistics about the number of marriages that break up after the death of a child. I don't know accurate numbers, but I do know that great strain is placed on a marriage after such a tragic event. Many couples have expressed that their relationship has had to do a great deal of changing to survive. And a death seems to place a sort of magnifying glass on areas that had cracks before the death.
The grief process is a roller coaster of emotions. Couples interpret the ups and downs in a number of ways. Some say that they go up and down at opposite times so they can offer help to the other when they are down. Another way people see this is "just when I get to have a good day, my spouse is in the pits and pulls me down." It seems sometimes like you can't win! But I have seen many couples in the SIDS Parent Support Group and almost all of these have survived this loss with a good marriage, perhaps stronger then before. Those parents have taught me a number of things which help to keep a marriage strong through the grief crisis.
- Take time regularly for each other. Set aside at least a few minutes each day to talk. Take some time each week to get away: go for a walk, take in a movie, get a pizza. What you do isn't important, taking the time is.
- Remember that each of us grieve very differently. No one does it like their spouse. So be patient and non-judgemental. It is so easy to have thoughts like "he's not hurting enough", or "she's too emotional". The truth is that we each grieve in the way that is right for us. Respect the differences rather than be aggravated by them.
- Have other people you can talk to. No matter how strong a relationship is, each person must share feelings with others. No one person can help with all the feelings SIDS parents must deal with. The SIDS group is one possibility for new connections. Friends and family can often be available too. Many parents find they develop new friendships through the grief process, sometimes old friends just don't understand, but another SIDS parents become very valued.
- Hugging, touching, holding hands is very important to grieving people. Sometimes feelings of concern and caring can't be expressed adequately in words, but a hug gets the message across. Some SIDS parents find their interest in sexual contact is decreased, it is important to be patient with each other and realize that this will return as the healing process progresses.
- Find ways to have fun together. It is common for grieving parents to have a strong sense that it is disrespectful of their child for them to laugh. But laughter is very healing, you can deeply miss your child and have fun once in a while.
- Work with a marriage counselor. If your relationship seems to be having a difficult time, it is an excellent idea to see a marriage counselor familiar with grief. Often a few sessions will clear the air and get your relationship back on track. This grieving is very difficult work and a counselor can be a sort of coach through the rough spots.
Marriages can experience great strain through the grief process, but there is hope for all relationships to survive and, in fact, gain strength.