My voice has reached new decibels lately. I say this with a deep sigh. It’s not something I’m proud to share.
All these emotions of grief just continue to build like a Jack-in-the-Box, hiding quietly under the lid, until after one too many cranks of the handle then “POP!” And the sneaky clown shows his sly smile.
Many people have warned us about the marital statistics of people who lose a child. I haven’t had the gumption to look them up, but apparently, they’re not pretty. When it comes to our circumstances, our marriage is apparently a disaster waiting to happen, like a Jack-in-the-Box. And we’ve been trying to avoid the “pop” but it is hard. Marriage is hard. Don’t let anyone lie to you. Some days marriage is butterflies in my stomach, ear-to-ear grins, and hearty laughter, but other days it’s excruciating, lonely, frustrating, and raw. God made it that way — for iron to sharpen iron — and though the process produces sharper, more effective tools, the daily grind can be painful.
Recently, we were sitting in the hot tub that friends gave us as part two of the Rest and Recovery Fund. (Thank you so, so much for that.) We sank into the water and hoped the heat might melt away the stress of the day and maybe some of our grief.
It was around 8:00 at night, and the neighborhood was dark and quiet. The thin layer of snow on the ground reflected the moon’s light. The trees towered over us in a strong hush.
Josh turned the jets on turbo, and I clung to the side for dear life as the water bubbled up around me. But something else was beginning to percolate inside of me, too. So much for patience, I couldn’t wait any longer.
“Why did you say that in there?” I asked, referring to a comment Josh had made during dinner that hurt my feelings about a topic that seems to keep coming up, but never really gets put away. My invisible, accusatory finger was, once again, quickly in his face.
Then he responded with a slightly raised tone, because, once again, I wasn’t hearing what he was trying to say.
The battled continued right where it had left off. Back and forth between our two equally fierce and passionate view points. How could he be saying these things? Doesn’t he know I’m hurting right now?
I sat forward in my seat, ready to fight to the death with an oh-no-you-didn’t eyebrow raised, my lips pursed, and followed my expression with a vicious stab at his character.
So he rolled his eyes, which only turned up the heat in me.
And by now we had been having an all-out shouting match for five minutes over the gurgling sounds of the hot tub. In a fight or flight situation, I tend to lean toward the cowardly fowl, and my anger was begging me to take flight.
I want to get out of this hot tub!
“Can you just turn off these jets so I can hear?” I barked. My adrenaline was pumping and my heart racing as I crafted what dagger I might say next.
Humiliation set in as I realized how loudly we were yelling at each other over the hot tub jets. I was certain there were neighbors sneakily watching us from their windows, shrouded by their curtains.
When did we become yelling people?
In an embarrassing attempt to save face, I said, “Quick, laugh loudly so they know we’re not going to kill each other.”
I gave a very hearty laugh.
Then, back to my anger, and now with whispered tones, we tried it again. From the beginning.
We were talking in circles, saying the exact same things over and over again, and I started crying when I realized he still wasn’t getting what I was saying. I was not communicating my hurt to him in a way he could understand, and I was not understanding why he was so upset about my views of the situation.
I want to get out of this hot tub!
Instead of finger pointing, yells, and accusatory ‘why’ questions, we tried the gentler, “So what I hear you saying is that…” and “When I hear ____, it makes me feel.” This took many tries, back and forth, over and over, as we continued to re-tell our understanding of the situation and to get more and more pruny in the now lukewarm water.
We decided to move the conversation inside.
Over time, as we volleyed our thoughts and feelings, the spectrum of misunderstanding began to narrow, and then in a surprising moment of revelation, his words became clear to me and hit me square in the chest. Hours — literally, hours — after this conversation had begun, I finally understood what he was trying to say. Not just heard it, but understood it. I understood him.
And I realized how much I had been hurting my husband.
He has thoughts and feelings that mean a lot to him.
He is grieving, too.
It’s not all about me.
Ashamed, I now had tears in my eyes for the ways I had unintentionally but painfully wounded my partner and friend, the man who only wants the best for me and for us. Now my accusatory finger was pointing at me.
“I’m so sorry I hurt you, Josh,” I said gently. “I had no idea what I was doing. I want to do better in this. Will you please forgive me?”
In this season of grief, of missing our little boy more than I have ever missed anyone, of crumpling into a pool of tears at least every other day because I can’t breathe in the sweet scent of his little head, of being unsure about what our future holds and wondering if I can trust God’s plans and that they truly are good, of the war that happens in my mind and heart every morning when my eyes see the first light of a new day — it’s in this season that I still have to fight the belief that it’s all about me because “I’m grieving”.
I’m not alone in this. Josh is grieving, too, and I can pull away from him because I think he doesn’t get it the way I get it or because he doesn’t say the perfect thing at the exact moment I wish he would. But he’s trying; he’s here. We are here together, and we are both feeling a lot right now. Where satan would want nothing more than to rip us apart, we keep clinging, even when it’s hard.
I pledged him my Love until death do us part on March 28, 2008. I think we said something about “in good times and bad times, in sickness and health.” Those two younger versions of us had no idea what they were going to face in the years to come, but we meant it. And I still mean it, even though it’s hard right now at times with all these emotions flying all over the place.
Today more than ever, I know that Love means grit. It means elbow grease, and sacrificed time, and difficult conversations when you’d rather be watching the next episode of your Netflix marathon. Love means honesty when it’s not pretty and apologies over being “right”. It means keeping your weekly date night together even when you’d rather stay home so you can focus on just the two of you for a couple hours. It means doing whatever you can to raise the other to your level of happiness or more. It means that intimacy might mean a 2-minute hug in the kitchen with your bodies squeezed as tightly together as they can be and then a tender, knowing look into each other’s eyes. Above all, for me right now, love means tending to someone else’s pain when you’d rather focus only on your own.
And the thing is that despite our tears and pain, we are choosing the ugly, messy, unraveling work, and new cords are bound between us that will take even stronger blows to break now. (Not that I am asking for the opportunity to prove it. I’m just saying…)
Anything good is worth working for. The reward comes after the work. A closer friendship, a deeper love, an unbreakable trust — that is most certainly worth the work, even in great pain.
And now, a shameless admonition:
If you’re not married yet, wait for someone who’s willing to do the work. Find someone who will proclaim with you that divorce is not an option. Life is going to throw you some curve balls — there’s just no way around it — and you will want to be a team of two who gives all they’ve got, who isn’t afraid of a little mud and sweat, who lavishly gives more than they take, who doesn’t give up when the going gets tougher than they ever thought possible when they were standing in a long, white dress or a tuxedo in front of all their friends and family. Be that person.
And if you are married, gosh, it can be so hard sometimes, can’t it? Bills have to get paid, kids have to be fed, floors have to be cleaned (well, occasionally), and you two are very different individuals who may, on occasion, forget why they even got married in the first place. But try to remember. Try to occasionally turn off the telly so you can have a face-to-face conversation on the couch. Try to hug each other for a full two minutes. Try to do kind things for the other person like you did when you were dating. Try to have a weekly date night and stick with it, even if it’s just a date on your back porch.
I’m not a marriage expert or anything, but Josh and I are in the real life trenches right now. But at least we’re in the same one together, fighting side by side, right? So, don’t give up. Don’t leave the fight. The work is hard, but it’s worth it.
And when you are in a hot tub, or a living room, or a car, deciding whether to run from the difficult conversation or see it through until there is understanding, I beg you: just stay in it.
Morsels of wisdom from Proverbs 15:
A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.
Gentle words are a tree of life…,
A wise person is hungry for knowledge…,
The heart of the godly thinks carefully before speaking; the mouth of the wicked overflows with evil words.
If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise.
If you reject discipline, you only harm yourself; but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding.
Fear of the Lord teaches a person to be wise; humility precedes honor.
(vs 1, 4, 14, 28, 31-33)