Today we are going to answer the questions we left you with at the end of our previous post (where we described the circumstances around our miscarriage). Paul is going to do much of the writing and his answers will be bolded and mine will be normal.
Our last post was difficult to write. It was surprising to me that after seven months, the memories and emotions could come back so forcefully. The loss of a child is a type of pain unlike anything I have ever felt. And yet, we both agree that writing about our miscarriage is worth the short period of painful remembering. Back in April we looked for help on how to deal with our grief and discovered an unexpected lack of blog posts or articles that spoke to our particular situation. We understand that every experience of grief is as unique as the personalities and life-circumstances of the people involved. So our goal is not to write a “how-to” guide for couples, rather we’d like to add our voice to those stories already shared in hopes that in the multivalent expressions of grief and hope, others might find healing.
So how do two people grieve together and yet feel that grief in separate ways? How do you keep from being frustrated at the other’s way of grieving?
To begin, I think we must recognize that grief tends to be antisocial. Sorrowing people, even ones with a shared grief, often want to be left alone with their pain. Yet solitude during the midst of suffering often stunts our ability to be encouraged by the truth of God’s word. Now, I admit that God should be the first person we turn to. As Liz discovered on the night of our miscarriage, there is great solace and comfort to be found in the loving arms of our heavenly Father (Ps 142:2). But after the initial impact of the situation fades and as sadness begins to settle into the days and weeks following such an event, our minds may struggle to run to God as they first had. It is at this juncture that two people need to turn first to each other and then to the support and kindness of others in order to be reminded of God’s goodness and love (2 Cor 1:3-4). I’m not saying people don’t need some time to themselves, they do, they need to process and consider all the hurt they are feeling. This is why denial isn’t profitable. Rather, out of the chaos of the event itself, a person needs to gather all the pieces of their broken heart and bring those pieces into the light of understanding. This process was especially difficult for me. I really did want to live in a sort of denial. Not a denial that I had been pregnant, but a denial that the pregnancy was valuable. Like many people have stated in other posts and personal testimonies, I believed that I would feel less pain if I denied the worth of a baby I lost early in a pregnancy. It’s easier to think of it as a failed attempt. Something to move on from and try to correct by getting pregnant again. I know that sounds really cold-hearted, but the heart grasps for something, anything to stop the pain when feelings run this deep. So rather than try to brush past this, I believe it is important to expose this way of thinking as one of the lies that Satan tries to tell hurting parents. To pretend like that tiny baby isn’t important because it didn’t achieve the markers that we typically associate with life (namely, a successful birth) is feeding into the same lies that make elective abortion an acceptable option in today’s world. A baby, no matter how small, is of great value to God (Ps 139:13-14) and should be mourned as such. We undermine God’s boundless love for each individual human being when we trivialize miscarriage. This valuing, and the accompanying emotional distress, might be difficult for some who’ve suffered this loss. But it is right, and biblical, that we should mourn the death of an infant – whether they are 9 weeks old, 23 weeks old or just newly born. Paul encouraged me to do this, and though I resented all the emotion that I was forced to expend in the process, when I came to the beautiful truth that I was a mother of three children and not just two plus an unfortunate mishap, it changed the way I moved forward through the pain. As we begin to truly contemplate our loss, we should also begin to open up ourselves and accept the help and companionship of other people. A wife needs her husband and a husband needs his wife and they both need family, friends, and the church as a whole to build them up in their time of need. Specifically, here are four ways in which Liz and I moved towards each other in our grief.
First, we found ways to let each other know we loved the child we lost.
This might seem obvious, but it was very easy for me to misunderstand Liz’s grieving process. Her seeming impatience with my grief communicated to me a lack of love for our child. To actually hear her say that she loved our child became a way for us to connect. It reassured me that we were in this together. That whatever else was said or felt, that child was loved by us as its parents. When Paul gave voice to his fear that I didn’t really love our baby, I was hurt and angry. I couldn’t fathom why he would even suggest such a thing! However, in a moment of honest self-inspection, I saw why he might believe this of me. I had bottled up my feelings. I hadn’t been quick to share my heart with Paul – in fact, I’d been less than thrilled to even talk about the baby. As I thought about my actions (or lack thereof) I began to see much of it as merely self-protection. However, in trying to protect myself from painful emotions, I ended up hurting Paul. As I learned to value our third child as a person, I began to more easily voice my love for and grief at losing him or her.
Second, we mentally gave each other permission to grieve in his/her own way.
Often, we think that we must understand all aspects of our spouse’s grief in order to move forward as a couple. But this is only true to a point. While it is helpful to gain a general understanding of their process so as not to expect them to act as we do (which can lead to bitterness and judgment) it may never be possible for you to gain more than that. In many ways, I still don’t “get” the way Liz grieved and I doubt she fully understands my journey of healing. But I do know that my frustration with Liz dissipated when I told myself that her way of grieving wasn’t better or worse than mine, just different. I agree with this completely. There was a change in my attitude when I realized our individual journeys through pain might be different. We had differing time frames, emotional struggles and means of encouragement. I realized that all of those things could be dissimilar, yet we could still love and support each other. I think of the love passage (1 Cor 13:4-8) – love will be patient (when one spouse is still hurting), love will be kind (and not judge them for feeling differently), love will think no evil (assume poor motives) and will bear all thing (the weight the other person’s hurt…even if you don’t want to anymore.) True love, the sacrificial kind, never fails. Rather than rely on undependable emotions towards each other, we must rely on the truth stated in this passage. Love must be stronger than our feelings.
Third, we found ways to fill the situation with truth.
There is something in every human heart that asks the question “why?” We ask it of God and we ask it of each other. From Job (Job 3:11), to David (Ps 73:16), to Jesus (Matthew 27:46), it is a human response to tragedy. Partly, we ask this because of the shear wrongness of tragedy. Life was never supposed to be like this—it was brought here via another wrongness, sin (Rom 5:12). And partly we ask this because we know Christ and long for his claims against sin and death to be realized (Rev 21:4). But in the here and now of our life on earth, Jesus did not promise his children that all hurt would cease, but rather that he would be the giver of peace in the midst of trials (John 16:33). As we search for answers, we must always run to the truth God has given us in his word. For example, I specifically remember Liz stating several times how she “knew where her child was” and how she “knew that God loved her child more than she ever could.” Of course, these expressions of truth were often mixed in with my verbal expressions of dismay and darkness. This was to be expected and we both understood that affirming the truth while simultaneously weeping under the burden of pain was part of the paradox of Christian sorrow. We sorrow. But NOT as others who don’t have any hope (1 Thess 4:13). This was the truth that I held on to most often—that death hurts, but that we trust in the God who overcame death because of his love for us.
Now, admittedly, sometimes our answers to the question “why?” begin to seem too simple, like trying to answer mind-boggling questions with pat answers. We can verbally affirm the truth that God is always good, always wise, and always loving but still feel that weight of the question. This is why simply repeating the right answer to “why?” is only part of what God gently calls us to do. We must also recognize that in those moment of despair when the answers to “why?” seem like nothing more than hollow platitudes, we must run to God for “grace and help in our time of need (Heb 4:16).” Thus, Liz and I had to remind ourselves not only of those truths about God’s sovereign character, but also that this same God calls us to rest in his ever present grace and strength. That his arms are open for those times when even the right answers weren’t enough to soothe our weary hearts.
Fourth, we moved toward each other, even when we didn’t feel like it.
I said before that grief is antisocial. It makes you want to be alone and be left alone (but not really). One of the best things that Liz and I did for the health of our relationship was to spend time together without the (happy, yet extremely chaotic) distraction of our two boys. In the month following the miscarriage and with the help of family and friends from our church body for babysitting (talk about ministering grace!) we were able to take time apart from our hectic lives and just be with each other. Over a meal, or a walk, or even an afternoon sitting on our back porch, we would simply talk. We talked about the miscarriage and what it meant for us, but we also talked about anything and everything else that was on our hearts. I distinctly remember thinking “we might make it through all this” when an offhand remark one of us made sparked some small but discernibly real laughter (and it seemed like ages since we had done that). God used those “sessions” (I feel like calling them “dates” would cheapen them somehow) (and I feel like calling them “sessions” makes them sound like therapy…but whatever :), those hours of unhurried time with each other, to heal us. I would say that this one aspect of our healing process was almost the most valuable. Paul was the one who came up with the idea and went to the trouble of asking people to babysit so he and I could be together. At first I didn’t really appreciate his efforts. But during the emotional turmoil following the miscarriage, those hours together ended up being very precious. God graciously opened my eyes and reminded me of why I love Paul so much. I saw God’s goodness in a tangible why when I talked and laughed with my husband. We had been through a horrible experience, but our mutual trust in God helped us strengthen and reaffirm our mutual trust in each other. I was reminded of Ecclesiastes 4:12 , “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Paul, God and me…it was the powerful cord that kept my heart stable and kept my faith from being overpowered.
These four ways of moving towards each other during a period of shared grief helped us this summer. We hope they will also help you. Remember, it’s most important to often talk to each other without judgment, always grasping for the truth of God’s love in the midst of difficulty. If you have other things that God used to help you as a couple, please share them in the comments! Also, if you have a blog post you wrote or an article or post that especially encouraged you, please leave the address. We would like to compile a list of helpful sites. It is encouraging to read about God’s hand of love in the lives of other believers.
- Article on mourning after a miscarriage
- Article on miscarriage from a pro-life perspective
- Paul’s blog post written after the death of a close friend’s infant son
- A book describing the biblical support for why we believe unborn children go to heaven
- A book describing some of the ways to minister to couples who have experienced miscarriage or early infant death