After Joseph died, in the weeks that followed, when I scoured the internet for as much information as possible about stillbirth, searching for the answers on how to survive such a loss, seeking out help and support from those who had been through the same, the scariest thing I remember reading was this,
80% of marriages end in divorce following the loss of a child.
And I can still remember reeling from that statistic, wondering how, when you have been through the worst thing that could possibly happen to you as a couple, you would allow it to come between you, to break you at a time when you needed each other the most. I remember reassuring myself that it would never happen to us, that our marriage was stronger than that, that we would never allow our loss to shatter the remaining fragments of the family we had worked so hard to achieve.
And yet at twenty six years old, and Lewis just two, we were thrust into a world of grief and left to blindly navigate our way through. And at first we managed as best we could, both a little shell shocked, both heartbroken and devastated at having to say goodbye to a child whom we had loved and longed for, both scared and afraid of what the future held, both leaning on each other to simply get through each day.
Those first few weeks were a blur. If you asked me to tell you how we filled our days – the places we went, the conversations we shared, the moments we spent together – I honestly couldn’t tell you. If you asked me to tell you how we supported each other through that time – our discussions about the enormity of what had happened, the ways in which we coped with the overwhelming feelings of loss – I’m not sure that I could remember. Because when I look back on those days, the hardest, most difficult time of our life no doubt, I just felt helpless. I felt heartbroken, angry, alone. I felt as though every second of every day without Joseph was a moment too long.
I think anyone who has experienced grief, and particularly those who have lost a child, will agree that grief changes you indefinitely. And you may not even realise it at first, in yourself or in your partner. You may cling to the hope that one of these days you will wake up and everything will be exactly as it should be, that you will look at each other and see past the grief and the loss and be the same couple you were on that bright Summers day before your whole world came crashing down. And yet slowly but surely, as the weeks turn to months, you realise that grief has taken you on two very different paths, in two completely opposite directions, and the road back to each other seems laden with hurdles.
It is only now, with hindsight, I realise that grief is such a personal journey and, should you grieve differently, as indeed we all do, it takes great strength and understanding to allow your partner to make that journey without you. My ex husband and I grieved very differently, despite the loss that we shared and the love that we felt, and I think that was the point where our marriage began to falter.
Where as I wanted to re-live every moment of our time with Joseph, pouring over photographs, clinging on to every detail, going over every second of our time together, my ex husband needed to place his focus elsewhere, to put his head down and get through each day as best he could, escaping from the devastating reality that our family had irreversibly changed, that our life together was no longer the one we had planned.
Infact, in the weeks that followed, he had ripped out our entire kitchen, unleashing his anger with a sledge hammer to the units, smashing them into pieces in the back garden, lugging pieces back and forth to the tip. And for the next few weeks he had shut himself away in the kitchen and, slowly but methodically, built a new kitchen from scratch.
And if truth be told, I resented him for that. I resented that whilst I lay in bed breaking my heart, drowning under the weight of our loss, he was hammering away down there, the radio blaring, burying his grief in the only way that he knew how. And over the following year, as we survived our first Christmas without Joseph, celebrated Lewis’s third birthday, took our annual family holiday, as we tried, and failed, to have another baby to help heal our pain, the rift between us became more and more apparent.
And all of a sudden that statistic became a frightening reality.
When our marriage ended, just two years after Joseph’s death, it was very easy for me to point the finger of blame. It was easy for me, as the heartbroken wife, to list the number of ways in which I felt my husband had failed me. It was easy for me, so caught up in my own battles, to forget that I too was just as guilty as he.
I look back now and wonder how many times over those two years did I ask how he was feeling? How many times did I push aside my own grief to be strong for him? How many times did I allow him to lean on me, to break down and cry? How often did I notice just how far away I had pushed him in order to do what I needed to do to survive the hardest time of my life?
How often did I realise that his loss was just as devastating as mine?
Because when I look back at that time, to those two years when we had tried so hard to hold it together, I realise that ultimately our loss was simply too big for the both of us. Instead of seeking comfort in each other, we had shut each other out, knowing that when we looked into each other’s eyes we saw nothing but sadness and grief, a reminder of all that we had lost. Every day that we spent together, a family of three, we were painfully aware of the son who was missing, the milestones we would never see, the moments we would never share, and being together simply perpetuated that grief.
It is very hard to imagine how our lives would have panned out had Joseph lived, whether we would have lived our lives as a family of four, never knowing such sadness, never experiencing such loss. I suspect that our marriage would have failed regardless, defeated at the next hurdle, unable to find a way forward as time, and we as people, evolved.
And given that both my ex husband and I have since remarried and had children, perhaps this is how our lives were supposed to pan out. Perhaps the truth is that this was simply the path we had to take in order to reach a point where everything was exactly as it should be – loss, heartbreak, struggles and all.
To those who have lost a child and are looking for answers, I would love to share with you the key to survival, to give you the answers as to why some marriages fail and others survive. I would love to tell you that all it takes is to simply communicate more, to be honest and open; to share when you are struggling, when you are angry and hurt, when you feel resentful and confused, when you need comfort, when you need space, when you need nothing at all but to be held, to be understood.
I would love to tell you that therapy is the answer, that counselling will get you through; that being kind, being supportive, being selfless is all that it takes; that, at the end of the day, love will be enough. And yet the truth is, none of us know how losing a child will affect our relationship, nobody can foresee how, when the unthinkable happens, you will fare against the wildest of storms. Nobody knows what the future has is store, nor the path that our lives are destined to follow.
What I will say is that when you’re faced with the greatest battle you will ever come up against, when you’re holding on for dear life, literally clinging on with everything you’ve got, hold on to each other and have faith that whatever happens, together or apart, you will weather the storm and you will survive it.
And no matter how your story ends, a rainbow will always follow.