Monday, February 27, 2012

MY experience with marriage after the death of a child....

Marriage is an amazing union if you are lucky enough to find your soul mate.

Two people, who adore one another enough to celebrate their love in front of a crowd of family and close friends….sometimes, in a big flowing dress and a pretty veil, with a multi layered cake and sentimental toasts and bouquets of fresh flowers….and fun. 

It’s commitment!

And it’s rewarding when it’s good. And stressful when it’s bad…but in my books, because of how I’ve been raised, it’s forever….

And I write about this today because Peter and I have had our differences this past week, over something trivial…and when this happens I have to remind myself of our journey together and that in the grand scheme of life, it’s only a minor thing and we will grow from it….hopefully. :)

Marriage after the death of a child is different.   It changes….well ours has.

In my experience, and I say that because every relationship is not the same….there are two things that can happen after losing the one perfect thing you created together…and that you love more than anything else in this world.   Either you can grow closer through a bond that nobody else can possibly relate to…

Or you can begin to drift apart through the different way in which each person grieves and changes.  And I know after losing Savannah, I almost lost my marriage too.  Through my own obsessions with the way Peter was dealing with the death of Savannah and his grief.

Besides giving birth to my two babies, marrying Peter was the happiest day of my life. It was the only time I’ve ever felt like a real life Princess. With Sydney Harbor as our backdrop, on an unusually warm October day, we committed to each other. It was whimsical and romantic….

And it’s every little girls dream is to find her Prince Charming, to marry them and ride off into the sunset…and live happily ever after….

The only wedding pic I have on file..the rest are in oz

But what if happy ever after gets stolen?

And one day you wake up and happy is replaced with your worst nightmare?

And you have to live through emotions you never dreamed were in the realm of a human’s spirit…or a marriage?

I’ve found men grieve differently to women.   Well Peter and my dad and my brother do.   Some men like Peter tend to be private.   Bottling up their emotions and withdrawing into themselves.   Whereas woman need to express or purge their emotions, to vocalize them and cry and scream.   Some men on the other hand sometimes grieve in private….like they are taught to do from a young age…that it’s not ‘manly’ to show their tears or express how they really feel.

After Savannah died, day after day after day, I cried.

And because Peter never showed his emotions, suppressing his grief and never opening up, I felt deserted, alone and angry. Angry that he wouldn’t share how he felt in losing our four year old daughter.

It took me a long time to realize his way of dealing with our overwhelming loss was ‘his way!’ And it didn’t mean that he loved Savannah any less, or missed her sweet smile any lesser than I did….. And I accept that now.

Losing a child can destroy a marriage….or make the bond stronger.  Nobody else can grasp the suffering you go through when you have to bury your child….except your partner.   And sometimes I had expectations of Peter being different, or wanting him to be different to what he was.   Some days I felt abandoned….tears became my best friend.

But with pain comes strength, and over time I began to realize I had to let go of my destructive thinking about Peter not sharing his grief and let that too come between us or my anguish would unravel not only our marriage but my life…and Dempsey’s life.

Our marriage has changed.  We aren’t the same fun loving innocent people we were on that warm October day in 1997 that said “I do” to each other.  That promised to be there for one another…”In sickness and in health.”  And I don’t know if the loss of our daughter has a lot to do with that…or whether it’s that you can become complacent in a relationship and take each other for granted as time ticks by.

I do know that marriage after loss or challenges that change a family takes work and commitment and forgiveness and tolerance or respect. It’s a two way street.

As a couple, we’ve survived something so profound, bound together like a tightly woven rope in our grief over losing our daughter.  Together we made Savannah…something so beautiful….and together we watched her die. And that part has created a bond that we’ll always have. And it is a paradox, but those days were the most precious of times, mixed with the most painful of days.

One of my fav pics of Savannah at 6 months old with Nannie's chemo hat on during a visit with mum

I’ve read different statistics on divorce after the death of a child, and I hope we never become a number….

Our responsibilities have changed from when Savannah was with us…our roles as carers of a terminally ill child no longer remain….but as parents of our other daughter Dempsey, combined with the bond and love over surviving the worst life has to offer will always be there.  And hopefully, that will always be enough. :) x

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Comparing the Roses and the Thorns in Grief... x

When you experience the loss of a loved one, or you go through an enormous challenge in life, there will always be ‘the before’ and ‘the after’ – ‘the rose’ and ‘the thorn.’

Sometimes, you compare how your life was before the event…in contrast to how it is now….

And I think grief or hardship, manages to rearrange your thoughts and change how you look at life.

Over time, it redirects your emotions and priorities from the unimportant stuff to what really matters in the big picture.   Like leaving those dirty dishes in the sink for just a few more hours…. :)

It also changes shape from a massive inconceivable event, that overtakes your life…to one where, eventually, you evaluate, you adjust, you absorb, you analyze….and you learn to cope with things…that would’ve upset you some time before.

And I don’t’ know if it’s just me, or if this is part of a grief phenomenon….to compare all the time….to draw comparisons from the before and the after?

For example….

Last Thursday, I dropped Dempsey off at the school gate, headed to the gym for a workout and then returned home for a shower.  When I got upstairs I noticed my bed had been made…I scratched my head, stared at the neatly made duvet, and the pillows sitting perfectly in place…I honestly thought I was going crazy! I couldn’t remember doing it.

“Maybe Peter did it?” I thought to myself. (which would be a bloody miracle as this has never happened in over 20 years.) :)

That night after school, Dempsey asked; “Did you notice your bed this morning Mummy?”

And it clicked, the penny dropped…”Did you make Mummy’s bed Precious?” I inquired, surprised.

And with a huge dimpled grin, my gorgeous little girl said, “Yes, its Random Act of Kindness Week at school Mummy!”

I grabbed Demps in a big bear hug, made a fuss and told her how sweet it was of her to do that!

It made my heart surge with love and pride.  Something so simple, yet it meant so much!  So I told her I’d return the ‘random act’ and let her choose where she wanted to go for dinner because Peter was travelling with work that night.

Dempsey chose Lucille’s, a rib restaurant which has become her new favorite.

Sitting across from her at the diner an overwhelming sense of adoration washed over me….I suddenly noticed she’s growing up so quickly, and seems to be changing…or blossoming, right before my eyes.

I felt this amazing rush of emotion, I wanted to capture the moment, so I grabbed my iPhone and took her photo…of course with Demps whining..."Muuuummy do you have to!”

                       my rose... :)

And in my mind, like I always do, now…..I started to reminisce and compare…to the thorn, and the rose……….

I thought about how she’s just a bit older than my nephew Alexander was when my sister was killed…and whether she’d be able to cope if it happened to me?

I compared her to Savannah, wondering what Savannah would look like now if she was sitting next to Dempsey?

I compared her to my nieces…how they are almost 12…and I wondered how more beautiful she’ll get when she reaches their age?

I compared the noisy family of six behind us with our family of three…and wondered what it would be like if Savannah was alive and there were four of us?

Maybe it’s a survival tool I use, a technique to deflect my grief, or categorize and sort it into some kind of functional practical device so I can absorb and survive it?   I’m not sure, but I do it all the time……

And yesterday, the Gardener’s have been in our yard, sculpting…or butchering Savannah’s sacred rose bush.  They’ve stripped it of every leaf, every rose and every thorn!

And I was mortified about it…but….I didn’t cry like I would’ve a few years ago!

Again, I compared, how I can cope with things like this….now, as opposed to ‘before,’ where I would’ve been devastated…..

I was still pissed off, and I’ll be leaving them some detailed ‘instructions’ next week. :) 

But the comparison made me realize grief does change and become manageable as the days move forward.  It has to.

Like Savannah’s rose bush...after you’ve been decimated by an event….you do regenerate, you grow and you compare.  You discover you too can be revived…and your thorns, or your grief, can change and bloom into roses someday….just as Savannah’s special rose bush will again……….

                     How Savannah's rose bush normally looks...most of the year round.

I’d love to hear if anyone else does this…the comparing, or some obsessionisms as I call them…that grief creates??

Or maybe, it’s a Libra thing….and it’s just me and I’ve learnt to compare the roses and adjust with the thorns in order to blossom….

Ps; Today on this Valentine’s Day my thoughts are with anyone who’s missing a loved one.  I hope you have a happy memory you can call up to fill your blue cup with sunshine…or chocolate you can indulge in…..even if it’s only for a little while..... x