WHAT HAPPENS TO A MARRIAGE WHEN A CHILD DIES?
The couple, unlike when they laughed together, vacationed together, shared downfalls together,
suddenly finds at the time of the greatest tragedy in their lives and at the time of their greatest need - that each is an
individual. They must mourn as individuals. Separately. In the back of each couples' minds. they believed they could lean
on each other as they mourned. But, it is difficult to lean on someone already doubled over in pain.
One doesn't expect to outlive a child - the fact appears to contradict nature. Funeral directors
have observed that often the grief of parents is much more intense than any ocher kind of grief. The death may be that of
a baby, a school age child, a young adult, or even a "child" in their middle or senior years. The grief of the surviving parents
seems to so on and on.
Some marital friction is bound to occur in any marriage. Friction becomes compounded with the
death of a child. It is not easy but it does help co understand the various problems that may arise. eventually, with time
and work, the grief will soften and the marriage survives.
"Til Death Do Us Part" may seem like the end of marriage when one of the spouses dies. It may
also be true when a child dies. According to the Society of Compassionate Friends, a ten year old self help organization for
bereaved parents, "an astounding seventy percent of marriages where children have died. become endangered and in divorce."
Harriet Schiff, author of The Bereaved Parents, puts the marriage break up figure even higher. She states, "Some studies estimate
that as high as 90% of all bereaved couples are in serious marital difficulty within months after the death of their child."
Couples have shared tragedy, disaster and grief, but these emotions do not necessarily create a tighter bond. Often, instead
of holding them together the band becomes so taut that it snaps. These statistics point out the devastating effect the death
of a child can have on parents. They also point out the need to understand what one is experiencing and how important it is
to value the marriage.
Severe marital friction in bereaved parents way develop out of the ordinary, everyday differences
of just plain living. Sometimes the trivia can pull a couple apart. You lose your patience, your sense of proportion. You
hurt so much you have no tolerance. Allowing petty. little things that you could handle before co become gigantic irritants
is a major cause of marital breakdown.
Everyone grieves differently, and couples frequently take up opposite styles. This situation makes
it harder for spouses to support or understand each other and requires a great deal of tolerance and respect for differences.
However, this variety of grief in couples may allow the family to keep on functioning.
Some parents want to change everything while others do not want to disturb anything. One parent
may want to put all pictures. mementoes and reminders away. The other parent may almost make a shrine of pictures and of the
child's room and things. When one parent is having an "up" day, they resent their partner being down. The reverse is also
true, when you are having a "down" day, you can’t imagine how your spouse is able to feel so "Up".
Even something as basic as weather can affect the marriage. The sunny days may bring hope and
warmth into one partner’s life while the other spouse can’t feel happy on such a nice day that their child isn't
there to enjoy. The spouse who doesn't like the sunny days usually finds that the grey, rainy days don't bother them whereas
the other spouse's mood matches the grey, rainy day.
Another problem is whether to discuss the dead child. Some parents can be at opposite ends about
this. One may speak all the time about the child who has died and the other may never mention the child and may even refuse
to let their partner speak of the child. Often the happy memories can be discussed by both but not the death and grief.
On the other hand, mutual protectiveness may become a cause of marital friction. You may think
that telling your partner how devastated you are feeling may make your spouse if possible. There is the hurt from the death
of the child, then the additional hurt to see your spouse in such pain. However, usually spouses do "read" each other even
if nothing is said. It is better to speak than to push it down only to have it surface in other ways.
Socializing after the death can be looked at differently. Sometimes one partner will take the
attitude that "We shouldn't enjoy ourselves now that our child is dead" whereas the other spouse may seek the opportunity
to b a with other people. sometimes a spouse may even refuse to continue having sexual relations. This denial of pleasure
with friends or as a couple may have a serious impact on the marriage. Another consideration is that often some family members/friends
will distance from the grieving parents. This is not out of malice but more from not knowing what to say or do. Also as bereaved
people there are times that we are not the best company. This isolation by others adds to the marital strain.
Differing views of religion, even between parents of the same faith, can be a problem. One partner
may turn away from religion or have a stock answer while the other mate may search for answers within their faith and find
It may look as if our mate is not hurting as much as we are. We way not realize it but we may
feel jealous of how well our mate seems to be doing. Unresolved grief turns inward and may becomes destructive both mentally
and physically. Sometimes one parent will internalize the grief, ending up in a severe state of depression. One parent may
be so obsessed with grief that he/she cries continually causing much turmoil to the other parent and children.
It is crucial to recognize your vulnerability and not to take your spouses reactions personally.
With the death of a child the nervous system is raw. We experience deep and often mysterious feelings. It is scary and unnerving.
This severe pain of grief brings out the humanness of both parents. We can see both the good and the bad sides of ourselves
and our mates. The temptation is to dwell on the negative. It is important to recognize the feelings and to see the negative
side but then to work on the grief and to concentrate on the positive. Remember marriage is challenging at its best. With
the death our ability to love is really tested.
We do not want to "overload" our spouse. By trial and error, in time, a couple can learn to grieve
together by developing ways of understanding each others needs more fully and by committing themselves to the recreation of
their marriage. It is important, to value one's marriage.
Hope For Bereaved Parents, 1342 Lancaster Avenue, Syracuse, New York, 13210