Monday, October 7, 2019

In Grief: When Child Loss Threatens A Marriage

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay 
[Reviewed and updated December 2, 2021]

It seems that the stress of a serious and prolonged illness in a child is likely to make a poor marriage worse, but it may strengthen the relationship in an already close marriage, thus balancing the statistics.  ~ Dora Black, The Dying Child

A reader writes: I lost my daughter 8 months ago and now my marriage is falling apart. My daughter was 19 and had a rare form of cancer that was very debilitating and caused her great pain. I stayed home to care for her and had to watch her get worse and then die.

I need to keep busy on the weekends and my husband (not her bio-father) thinks I need to deal with her death. I deal with her death every day I pass her room. I need to keep busy so I don't dwell on the "I should have" and the guilt I have when I feel the "I should have".

I don't know what to do, I have told my husband I need to keep busy and I would like to keep busy doing things with him so I don't feel alone.

My marriage is on the edge of ending. We fight every weekend and it is getting worse and just like my daughter I think this is going to be the death of my marriage.

I need help, and I am not sure what to do.

My response: I'm so very sorry to learn of the tragic death of your daughter eight months ago, and I can only imagine the depth of your pain. We are not supposed to outlive our children, and this is so against the natural order of things that it turns our assumptive world completely upside down, and we are never, ever the same.

Of course you deal with her death every day, as you will be "dealing with her death" for the rest of your life. You'll never stop missing your daughter, just as you'll never stop loving her. Death ends a life, but it does not end the relationship you have with your precious child. You are still her mother, just as she is still your daughter, and your love for her will last as long as you carry her in your memories and hold her close in your heart.

I'm not sure, however, that "keeping busy" with your husband is the most effective way for you to be managing your grief. You don't say what, if anything, you've been doing in that regard. Have you found an "in person" support group for bereaved parents? Have you met with a bereavement counselor? Are you doing any reading about what is normal in grief, what reactions you can normally expect, and what you might do to manage those reactions?

If you are trying to manage this death of your daughter all by yourself without any outside help, I strongly encourage you to think about finding someone (other than your husband) with whom you can acknowledge, express and work through your reactions to this overwhelming loss. To think that you can do this all by yourself is not realistic, and it really is not fair, either to you or to your husband or to your marriage.
You might start by contacting your local chapter of The Compassionate Friends.  Look for other resources as listed on the Death of an Infant, Child, Grandchild page of my Grief Healing website.  Find and read some of the books and articles I've listed here: When An Adult Child Dies: Resources for Bereaved Parents. Contact your local library, hospice, funeral home, hospital, church or synagogue for information about bereavement resources in your own community.

You've taken the first important step by writing to me, and I hope you will follow through with some of these suggestions.  I hope you will think of it as a gift you can give to yourself ~ because taking care of your grief is the best thing you can do right now to get your marriage back on track.

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below. If you’d like Grief Healing Blog updates delivered right to your inbox, you’re cordially invited to subscribe to our weekly Grief Healing Newsletter. Sign up here.

© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, BC-TMH

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