How Does a Marriage Survive the Loss of a Child?
By: Dave Willis
The worst tragedy a married couple could ever face is the loss of a child. There’s no pain deeper, and the intense grief can spiral into a cyclone of negative emotions that often tear the marriage apart in the aftermath of the tragedy. Of all the messages we receive from couples asking for help and guidance, the most heartbreaking come from couples who have lost a child. They often wonder if healing is possible in their own hearts and in their relationship.
Ashley and I have been through different trials in our own marriage, but we’ve never lost a child. We’ve had close friends who’ve walked this painful path, and instead of me trying to share my own ideas from an experience I’ve never personally endured, I want to share some hope from good friends who have walked this road and emerged with their marriage and their faith intact. I pray these stories gives you as much hope as their friendship has given me.
Jay and Mandra are the kinds of friends that anyone would love to have. To know them is to love them. When my family moved back to town a few years ago, Jay was the first one to show up to help us move in. He was also the last one to leave after single-handedly hauling most of our heaviest stuff.
One day out of the blue, a tragedy struck this amazing couple that would rock them to their very core. It was one of the worst phone calls I had ever received. I was at flag football practice with my six-year-old son when my cell phone rang. On the other end was the trembling voice of a Police Officer calling to inform me of what had just transpired.
Jay had been at home watching their three beautiful children while Mandra was out running some errands. Jay went inside with their baby to change a diaper while their four-year-old daughter, Jayden, continued to play in the backyard. Jay came back outside a few minutes later, but he didn’t see Jayden. He began to walk around the yard calling out her name, but there was no response. He went back into the house and began calling out for her, but there was still no answer.
At this point, he started to get panicked, so he ran out into the street to look for her and check with the neighbors, but nobody had seen her. In a moment of gut-wrenching terror, he realized that he had not checked the swimming pool. He hadn’t considered it sooner, because she was always so careful to stay away from it, but maybe there had been an accident and she had fallen in.
He sprinted towards the pool, and when he got there, he saw his daughter lying at the bottom of the pool. He instinctively dove and pulled her out to begin CPR. In desperation, he scooped her up in his arms and ran to the nurse’s house next door. She continued CPR until the ambulance arrived.
The next several hours were a blur. I arrived at the hospital shortly after receiving that phone call and I sat down with them in a private waiting room. The three of us cried and prayed and waited. We hoped for the best while trying to brace ourselves for the worst.
The doctor finally came in with a Hospital Chaplain beside him to deliver the news that we were praying not to hear. Their beautiful little girl was being kept alive by machines and there was nothing more they could do for her. A few hours later, with her mother laying right beside her in the hospital bed, Jayden was pronounced dead. It was the darkest hour a husband and wife can possibly face.
Through the tears and pain, they held onto their faith in God and their faith in each other. As Jay was reliving the scene in his mind and beating himself up for not preventing it, Mandra was calmly rubbing his back and saying, “It’s not your fault. You are an amazing father. You did everything you could have done. I love you so much. You’re such a good dad.“
That became a defining moment in their marriage. Many couples allow grief and tragedy to place a wedge between them, but Jay and Mandra chose to walk through their grief hand-in-hand and side-by-side. They knew that God was with them and that they would see their precious daughter again in Heaven. In the meantime, they were resolved to lean on each other and trust in God’s goodness even when they couldn’t make sense of the pain and loss they were experiencing.
Today, several years have passed since balloons were released and “Somewhere over the Rainbow” was sung at a touching Celebration of Jayden’s life at her preschool. Through their pain, Jay and Mandra continue to grow in their love for each other, and for their beautiful children, Chloe and Austin. Jayden’s legacy lives on in their hearts and in the many lives she touched in her four short years on earth. This family continues to inspire all who know them.
If you have experienced the loss of a child, please don’t lose hope. You won’t get over this, but you will get through it. What I mean by that is that “normal” will never be what it once was and on this side of heaven there will always be a deep wound you carry within your soul, but if you’ll trust God and lean on your spouse, you will get through the unimaginable pain you’re feeling and you’ll find moments of joy again.
Don’t try to do it on your own. Get counseling and find community support. Lean into your faith and know that you have a savior who will carry you through this storm if you’ll let him. Don’t judge your spouse for grieving differently than you do. Grief is like a fingerprint; it looks different for everyone. Support each other. Lean on each other. Face the pain together.
One of my best friends is a former co-worker named Wes. He and his wife Kellie lost their firstborn son to a rare genetic condition when he was only one year old. Graham was the light of their life and his death shook them to their very core, but they resolved together to face the tragedy with faith in God and support for each other.
They’ll always carry that deep wound until the beautiful reunion with Graham in heaven, but their home is once again filled with the sounds of laughter. They recently adopted twin baby girls who have brought such joy. Wes summed up the complex mixture of emotions he’s facing in this season by saying, “The heart is truly complex. I can at the same time say that I carry a deep wound, and yet, I’m a truly happy man.”
This is possible for you too. If you’ve lost a child, you’ll always carry a deep wound, but you can still find joy. I pray that the peace Christ brings would fill your wounded heart and bind you and your spouse even closer together in the days ahead. Don’t lose hope. Remember that because of Jesus, death isn’t the end of the story. In Him, all pain is temporary and all joy is eternal.
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