Marriage. Is. Hard.
Even the best of marriages go through difficult seasons.
So hard, in fact, they should come with instruction manuals to explain some of the more difficult roads.
This post will attempt to write a chapter that should be in this handy, dandy manual.
Let’s call it, “Chapter 12: Dealing with Spousal Grief.”
So, 2018 was the most difficult year of our lives. In that year, among so many other losses, my husband lost his beloved father. We knew this day was coming for years. His dad was 40 years older than my husband and in declining health. I just assumed we would face his death together, get through it together, and heal together. What I didn’t expect was the disconnect I would feel from my husband as he dealt with his grief.
When his dad passed, he immediately stepped up and in the role to take care of his mom, but it came with such urgency. He was pushing us to relocate so we could better accommodate her (mind you, we live around the corner as is). He was pushing himself to keep up her place and yard, plus our place and yard, plus all the extra things he thought she required. I want to specify that his mom wasn’t putting undue pressure on him; it was my husband putting undue pressure on himself. Something kicked in; something that became bigger than himself. Maybe it’s a God-given sense of protection a son has for his mother, but it was more than he could handle.
Meanwhile, I’m trying to be supportive and understanding. Keep in mind, I’m now looking back at all this with greater understanding of a whole picture. While I was in it, I didn’t have a clue what was going on! The weight of taking care of the kids now fell on mostly me. Before, my husband helped bathe kids, got them ready for bed, read them a bedtime story, etc. to relieve me of nighttime duty. During this season, he would be gone to his mom’s: taking care of her, seeing to her needs, finding out more stuff he had to take care of. He was exhausted with his new responsibilities, and I was exhausted covering for him during his absence. My best friend was gone, because there was no time to discuss things. We were in survival mode, and while I could understand it at first, I couldn’t understand why we got stuck there. Was this going to be our life now? How can we keep going like this? Where is my husband? We need him too!
After weeks on end on this crazy train, I call up my friend since junior high. Ironically, her husband had lost his dad unexpectedly just a couple of months before we lost my father-in-law. I’ll never forget the hope that conversation brought. After explaining all that I was feeling from all that we were going through, she tells me it has been the same exact thing for her. She told me her husband had been the same way, and was only just now emerging from this self-driven unattainable desire to take care of everything! Whew! Really? This isn’t just me? This is something guys go through? And it’s gonna get better? Ok!
So, after that discussion, I approach my husband with gentle honesty about the “obvious” disconnect I’ve been feeling in hopes we can work through it. Here’s the shocker. Are you ready for this? My husband looks at me with pained confusion on his face and says, “You have been my rock through all of this. I can’t do this without you. I didn’t know you felt this way. I’m sorry.”
Wow, so what I thought was so “obvious,” wasn’t. He had been so busy with the weight of the world on his shoulders, he didn’t even realize he was leaving me out. I wish I could say it all turned around after that night, but it didn’t. It was eye opening for us both, but it would take another few weeks for my husband to emerge as well and realize he’s not Superman and can’t take care of the whole world. He can only do what he can do. But it’s a learning scale, and after the loss of a parent, we’re left figuring out what gaps we can and can’t fill. It’s hard. I just wish there was a manual somewhere that could’ve prepared me for it.