“When a Child Dies” #12 . . . the aloneness of grief
We’ve all said it—all of us who are married. At least we’ve said something like it: “for better, for worse.”
But how could we have possibly known how bad “worse” could be. We imagined aging, failures, mistakes. We did not imagine losing a child.
Of course, many who lose a child are single. But don’t suppose that being married removes the burden of the aloneness.
For in grief, we go our own way.
The eyes of our beloved bear the sadness of our loss. Plus, you rally one day and are brought low by the other’s wretched sadness; then you feel like you’re slipping into a deep abyss just as your spouse is whistling in a temporary reprieve from the hurt.
If you imagine marriage as the perfect place of solace for a grieving soul, you may be overshooting. You imagine marriage halving the sorrow; in some ways it doubles it. For you’ve lost a son or daughter; but you’ve also lost your marriage as you knew it.
Grief takes you into places that can’t be explored arm-in-arm, soul-in-soul.
One of Robert Frost’s most piercing poems is “Home Burial.” Behind the poem is the loss of a child (a grief that Frost knew all too well!). But within the poem is the loss of a relationship. The husband is trying to suck it up and get on with life; the wife is blinded to life’s goodness by the constant sense of loss.
He saw her from the bottom of the stairs
Before she saw him. She was starting down,
Looking back over her shoulder at some fear.
She took a doubtful step and then undid it
To raise herself and look again. He spoke
Advancing toward her: “What is it you see
From up there always? — for I want to know.”
She turned and sank upon her skirts at that,
And her face changed from terrified to dull.
He said to gain time: “What is it you see?”
Mounting until she cowered under him.
“I will find out now — you must tell me, dear.”
She, in her place, refused him any help,
With the least stiffening of her neck and silence.
She let him look, sure that he wouldn’t see,
Blind creature; and a while he didn’t see.
But at last he murmured, “Oh” and again, “Oh.”
“What is it — what?” she said.
“Just that I see.”
“You don’t,” she challenged. “Tell me what it is.”
“The wonder is I didn’t see at once.
I never noticed it from here before.
I must be wonted to it — that’s the reason.
The little graveyard where my people are!
So small the window frames the whole of it.
Not so much larger than a bedroom, is it?
There are three stones of slate and one of marble,
Broad-shouldered little slabs there in the sunlight
On the sidehill. We haven’t to mind those.
But I understand: it is not the stones,
But the child’s mound —-”
“Don’t, don’t, don’t,
don’t,” she cried.
(The full poem can be found here.)
The couple is so wounded by grief that neither can stop to understand the other. Grief separates rather than pulls together.
I mention this to say that those who come alongside those who’ve lost a child need to be aware that no part of life is untouched by the loss. Marriage is different; parenting (with surviving children) is different; work is different; church is different.
Grieving parents need patience, hope, silence, help, encouragement. (Note in posts 1 and 2 the preference for silence or brief expressions of love in the earliest days.) Their world is falling apart. When you get a chance, remind them that there is no blueprint for grieving. Encourage them to get help when they need it (from friends, minister, therapist, etc.).
A new world can be constructed—including a renewed marriage. (Some couples look back and see that their relationship is deeper and richer than they ever could have imagined—though they hate the journey that took them there.)
But it will take time. Lots of time.