Things have been a little quiet here on the blog lately. It’s been an emotionally turbulent time for my family over the last six months; hard news and unexpected changes seem to continually be cropping up despite our efforts to keep life uneventful. The most recent blow came when our baby of 13 weeks went to see his Saviour before his eyes even saw this world. I’ve never experienced the loss of a child before, and I’ve found myself without the right categories to think about all the ways in which this has affected me, my wife, and the life we never expected. These are a few thoughts that I’m working through as we grieve the loss of our precious baby boy.
I was driving back from a work trip, desperately trying to make it back in time for our scheduled scan. I missed the appointment and so agreed with Karyn over text that I should carry on towards home where Grandma was taking care of our younger children. I stepped inside the front door, and my phone rang with the news no one wants to hear. I was numb. I knew what I’d just heard but my mind was blank; I had no words and it seemed that I was suddenly enveloped into a bubble in which time stood still. In the hour that followed, I cried as my mind swirled with confusion, disbelief, devastation, and uncertainty. As thoughts of the family who needed me gradually crept back into my mind, the emotions seemed to dull a little and a kind of autopilot seemed to kick in as I began going through the motions of a regular weekday afternoon with 3 kids.
Is this what grief looks like for me?
Everyone Grieves Differently
I’m not naturally a very compassionate person. For me, coming up with the right words to love someone who is hurting (especially when you are sharing that hurt yourself) can be like trying to hit a bullet with a smaller bullet while blindfolded, riding a horse. In the midst of processing my own grief, the mental work required to also say the right thing—and not say the wrong thing—to another who is grieving takes everything I have, and I still only get it right part of the time. Here’s the lesson: everyone grieves differently. Men and women grieve differently, but more specifically—and most importantly—my wife and I grieve differently. Love requires that I take time to listen to, learn from, and care for my wife in ways that are meaningful to her, not necessarily to me.
I’ve been greatly honoured by conversations with couples who have walked this road before. They’ve shared their journey of becoming more self-aware as they come to understand how they cope with tragedy, but also of how tragedy increased their understanding of their spouse. Many husbands have shared with me how their experience was markedly different from their wives; often not showing a great deal of emotion until they were alone in the car, or after their households had gone to bed and they could fall apart on their own. Wives have shared with me how they didn’t feel that their husband fully understood the breadth and depth of the devastation this event had wrought, and only after the storm had passed had they realised that he had grieved too, just differently. By far the most encouraging thing said to me by these couples has been that it’s OK for me to feel the way I feel. The last thing you need while working through grief is the added weight of guilt that thinks perhaps the way you’re feeling isn’t enough, shows that you don’t understand, or reveals that you’re simply insensitive. I was so grateful to be reassured that my feelings are valid, my uncertainty about how to act and what to say is normal, and that many other husbands have felt this same inadequacy and simply tried their best to love their wives anyway.
We All Need Grace
There are two more things that I’m learning about dealing with tragedy and loss. There’s an extra large measure of patience, love, and grace required of a grieving person (which seems like an impossible ask) in order to not be offended by supportive words or actions which are well-intentioned but poorly delivered. In offering support for Karyn and I, not everyone got it right. As someone offering support, how do I best reach out? What words do I use? What are the unhelpful things that should be left unsaid? I’ve needed to remind myself that if a person has never had this (or a similar) experience, they can’t possibly know what poorly chosen word will trigger offense or hurt in the one grieving, and so their words should not be held against them. This is by no means an excuse for thoughtlessness from the person offering support though; because the same patience, love, and grace is also needed on their part to discern how grief is different for each individual, and to choose their words in a way which is sensitive to the one grieving.
At the time of writing this, it’s only been a few weeks. We’re still sad, and thoughts of our little boy still fill our minds; questions of who he would have grown up to be and how he would have affected the world around him. And yet our tears are undergirded by joy, because even though Remi was only with us for a short time, he’ll be part of our family forever. And we look forward to seeing him again; but on that day it will be with tears of joy.