I never envisioned spending the first day of Easter weekend in the ER, my body racked with flu-like symptoms brought on by a miscarriage in process.
But here I was.
My husband Ted and I sat in a small waiting room, surrounded not by our three young daughters, but by strangers. All with urgent aliments of their own.
Nothing felt especially good about this Friday. Although I suppose that first Good Friday didn’t seem that great at the time either. It too was one of loss.
Seven hours, an ultrasound, countless nurses, and a doctor later, I entered the operating room for a D&C. That night, we returned home. Physically weary and emotionally raw.
That was four years ago.
Each spring, as the earth wakes from its winter sleep and comes to life, I can’t help but reflect back on the little life we lost. To the grief that characterized the weekend. This year though, I find myself pausing on an aspect of that dark holiday I hadn’t thought about before.
The suffering Ted and I experienced together ultimately made our marriage stronger.
It didn’t have to. It could have easily weakened our bond. Grief counselor and author Ashley Davis Bush writes, “How a couple handles their array of grief feelings has the potential to either drive them apart or draw them closer together.” It’s true. Stress and anger and the shock of loss have a way of being divisive. Maybe you or someone you love has even experienced its hostile affects firsthand. If so, you know grief is rough on the marital relationship.
So how did it make our marriage stronger?
What I believe made a difference for us is that we intentionally faced it together. As a team. Not isolated, but united. It was us fighting through the loss hand-in-hand, not back-to-back. We depended on the God of all comforts, as 1 Corinthians 1:3 calls Him, to sustain and strengthen us not only individually, but as a couple.
This doesn’t mean we didn’t have our moments. That we weren’t ever short-tempered or impatient or misunderstood one another. We certainly did. Truth be told, we were rarely at the same place in the grief process. It took me a lot longer than it did Ted to work through the trauma and subsequent depression. For him, it was a straight, direct path from one side to the other. For me, grief has been, as C.S. Lewis described it, a long, winding valley. One I still travel today.
But we didn’t – and still don’t – let these things come between us. We were determined to work through them no matter how difficult. We processed the experience differently, but we resolved to travel it together, as we both trusted God and His faithfulness to us. And I think that’s vital.
When a temper was short or impatience surfaced, neither one of us took it personally. At least, not longer than an hour or two. We both realized that perceived offenses were the result of us being grief newbies. And when misunderstanding arose, we tried our best to sort it out. Sometimes that meant giving each other some space first.
For us, Ashley Davis Bush captures beautifully what we experienced. She writes, “One of the urgent lessons that loss has to teach is that life is fragile and must be savored. If you can take that lesson to heart and honor each other in the process, you may find that the grieving process – whenever it occurs – has the potential to knit a fabric of intimacy and intensity that you’ve never before experienced."
That Good Friday in the ER, as painful and unwelcome as it was, changed our marriage for the better. (Who writes that kind of sentence?) I’ve come to realize that I can reflect back on that holiday season and not only ponder the one I lost, but also the beauty that has sprouted from that sad soil.
Ashleigh Slater is the author of the forthcoming book, Team Us: Marriage Together (Moody Publishers, June 2014). With almost 20 years of writing experience, she loves to unite the power of a good story with practical application to encourage others. Ashleigh and her family reside in Atlanta, Ga. To learn more, visit AshleighSlater.com.