Helping Your marriage navigate the death of a child

Rev. Deb Koster

August 26, 2013

The death of a child is one of the most stressful challenges that a relationship can endure. It is not natural for the young to die before the old.  In our modern world, the death of a child is not something we expect to face in marriage and no one can prepare for it. Losing a child is incredibly stressful for a marriage, but it does not need to be the end of it. Navigating grief together can bring you closer if you can care for each other as you walk through your pain.

  • Allow for different expressions of grief. Relationships can survive significant loss if each partner is given permission to grieve in their own way. Grieving is a complicated process that looks different to each individual. Some people will weep openly and shed lots of tears while others grieve privately. It will be important to understand that there is no clear path through grief. The way is often cyclical--even after we think that we have grieved and moved on, small things will catch us off guard and bring all the pain home again. The calendar marches on and brings memories of different times spent together. 
  • Avoid the guilt and blame games. Wallowing in our guilt or blaming another for the loss will not bring back what we have lost. We will lose the blessing of today if we are weighed down with anger or guilt. We want to make sense of our tragedy by assessing blame, but the reality is that this does not change our situation except to add to the hurt we are already experiencing. Dwelling on what-ifs and if-onlys can be an abysmal trap. We need to let God heal those open painful wounds.
  • Seek support. There is so much pain involved in losing a child and individuals will have a very difficult time if they attempt to process their grief on their own. It is wonderful if you have a supportive family or friends to help you process your grief. A church community can be a life line during a crisis. It is important to have support in managing your grief either from within your current support system or to manufacture one with a professional counselor or a grief support group. It is not time that heals our wounds, but what we do in that time that makes the difference. It is important to have a place where you can talk about all that you are experiencing.
  • Continue to demonstrate your love. Grieving can distract us from the needs of those around us. Our spouse needs to know that they are still loved and valued. Our other children long for our attention and affirmation. Allowing ourselves to love and to be loved is a positive step in healing our families.
  • Take time to grieve. Give yourself time to deal with the process of grieving. Death rattles our world like an earthquake, and its aftershocks are felt for a long time. The damage it causes will take years to heal and the scars will be carried throughout our lives. It is unrealistic to think that you will be back to your old self in a few weeks. That may be the amount of time that work gives you for leave, but it will take much more time to heal.
  • Wait to make big decisions. As your world suffers the tremendous upheaval of the loss of a child, be careful not to make rash decisions. Big decisions like moving to a new place, quitting a job, or getting rid of all of our loved one's possessions should not be done quickly. It will take time to sort out what options might bring the most peace for everyone involved. Grief clouds our ability to make sound judgment. Couples may find themselves regretting decisions made while they were still too in shock to predict the consequences.
  • Accepting the change. The death of a child forever changes lives, and things will never be the same again. A new normal will need to be found, an acknowledgement of the empty hole left behind. Continual longing for your previous life will not bring it back. As much as you want the world to stop and grieve with you, it doesn’t take a break. As you grieve what is behind, you need to accept each new day and seek the blessing in it.
  • Pray always. There is so much that is beyond our ability to understand when we experience profound loss. It is easy to separate from God when we can’t understand his reasoning and we are angry with what has happened. Let God hear all of your emotions even your deepest pain and anger, he knows how your heart is breaking and his heart breaks with you. He wants to walk with you and carry you through the dark times. His spirit intercedes when we just don’t know how to pray anymore.

God can use all the pain in our lives to transform us and our relationships. It might feel cruel that the flowers still bloom and the birds still sing when your grief feels all consuming. Know that nothing in God’s economy is ever wasted. God uses our pain to build our character, to give us capacity to care, and to make our lives a testimony to his grace. This will be one of the most challenging things you ever go through in your life, but you do not walk through it alone; God will carry you.

About the author — Rev. Deb Koster

Deb Koster is a producer, writer, and speaker for Family Fire. She is also an Innkeeper at The Parsonage Inn in Grand Rapids, MI where she leads marriage retreat on weekends. After over 20 years as a Registered Nurse, she completed a Master of Divinity degree and was ordained as a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church. Deb and her husband Steven enjoy doing ministry together and they are the parents of three awesome young adults.

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