Just Stay In It

My voice has reached new decibels lately. I say this with a deep sigh. It’s not something I’m proud to share.

All these emotions of grief just continue to build like a Jack-in-the-Box, hiding quietly under the lid, until after one too many cranks of the handle then “POP!” And the sneaky clown shows his sly smile.

Many people have warned us about the marital statistics of people who lose a child.  I haven’t had the gumption to look them up, but apparently, they’re not pretty.  When it comes to our circumstances, our marriage is apparently a disaster waiting to happen, like a Jack-in-the-Box.  And we’ve been trying to avoid the “pop” but it is hard. Marriage is hard.  Don’t let anyone lie to you.  Some days marriage is butterflies in my stomach, ear-to-ear grins, and hearty laughter, but other days it’s excruciating, lonely, frustrating, and raw.  God made it that way — for iron to sharpen iron — and though the process produces sharper, more effective tools, the daily grind can be painful.

Recently, we were sitting in the hot tub that friends gave us as part two of the Rest and Recovery Fund. (Thank you so, so much for that.) We sank into the water and hoped the heat might melt away the stress of the day and maybe some of our grief.

It was around 8:00 at night, and the neighborhood was dark and quiet. The thin layer of snow on the ground reflected the moon’s light. The trees towered over us in a strong hush.

Josh turned the jets on turbo, and I clung to the side for dear life as the water bubbled up around me. But something else was beginning to percolate inside of me, too. So much for patience, I couldn’t wait any longer.

“Why did you say that in there?” I asked, referring to a comment Josh had made during dinner that hurt my feelings about a topic that seems to keep coming up, but never really gets put away. My invisible, accusatory finger was, once again, quickly in his face.

Then he responded with a slightly raised tone, because, once again, I wasn’t hearing what he was trying to say.

The battled continued right where it had left off. Back and forth between our two equally fierce and passionate view points.  How could he be saying these things?  Doesn’t he know I’m hurting right now?

I sat forward in my seat, ready to fight to the death with an oh-no-you-didn’t eyebrow raised, my lips pursed, and followed my expression with a vicious stab at his character.

So he rolled his eyes, which only turned up the heat in me.

And by now we had been having an all-out shouting match for five minutes over the gurgling sounds of the hot tub. In a fight or flight situation, I tend to lean toward the cowardly fowl, and my anger was begging me to take flight.

I want to get out of this hot tub!

“Can you just turn off these jets so I can hear?” I barked. My adrenaline was pumping and my heart racing as I crafted what dagger I might say next.

Suddenly, silence.

Humiliation set in as I realized how loudly we were yelling at each other over the hot tub jets. I was certain there were neighbors sneakily watching us from their windows, shrouded by their curtains.

When did we become yelling people?

In an embarrassing attempt to save face, I said, “Quick, laugh loudly so they know we’re not going to kill each other.”

I gave a very hearty laugh.

Then, back to my anger, and now with whispered tones, we tried it again. From the beginning.

We were talking in circles, saying the exact same things over and over again, and I started crying when I realized he still wasn’t getting what I was saying. I was not communicating my hurt to him in a way he could understand, and I was not understanding why he was so upset about my views of the situation.

I want to get out of this hot tub!

Instead of finger pointing, yells, and accusatory ‘why’ questions, we tried the gentler, “So what I hear you saying is that…” and “When I hear ____, it makes me feel.” This took many tries, back and forth, over and over, as we continued to re-tell our understanding of the situation and to get more and more pruny in the now lukewarm water.

We decided to move the conversation inside.

Over time, as we volleyed our thoughts and feelings, the spectrum of misunderstanding began to narrow, and then in a surprising moment of revelation, his words became clear to me and hit me square in the chest.  Hours — literally, hours — after this conversation had begun, I finally understood what he was trying to say.  Not just heard it, but understood it.  I understood him.

And I realized how much I had been hurting my husband.

He has thoughts and feelings that mean a lot to him.

He is grieving, too.

It’s not all about me.

Ashamed, I now had tears in my eyes for the ways I had unintentionally but painfully wounded my partner and friend, the man who only wants the best for me and for us.  Now my accusatory finger was pointing at me.

“I’m so sorry I hurt you, Josh,” I said gently. “I had no idea what I was doing. I want to do better in this. Will you please forgive me?”

In this season of grief, of missing our little boy more than I have ever missed anyone, of crumpling into a pool of tears at least every other day because I can’t breathe in the sweet scent of his little head, of being unsure about what our future holds and wondering if I can trust God’s plans and that they truly are good, of the war that happens in my mind and heart every morning when my eyes see the first light of a new day — it’s in this season that I still have to fight the belief that it’s all about me because “I’m grieving”.

I’m not alone in this.  Josh is grieving, too, and I can pull away from him because I think he doesn’t get it the way I get it or because he doesn’t say the perfect thing at the exact moment I wish he would.  But he’s trying; he’s here.  We are here together, and we are both feeling a lot right now.  Where satan would want nothing more than to rip us apart, we keep clinging, even when it’s hard.

I pledged him my Love until death do us part on March 28, 2008.  I think we said something about “in good times and bad times, in sickness and health.”  Those two younger versions of us had no idea what they were going to face in the years to come, but we meant it.  And I still mean it, even though it’s hard right now at times with all these emotions flying all over the place.

Today more than ever, I know that Love means grit.  It means elbow grease, and sacrificed time, and difficult conversations when you’d rather be watching the next episode of your Netflix marathon.  Love means honesty when it’s not pretty and apologies over being “right”.  It means keeping your weekly date night together even when you’d rather stay home so you can focus on just the two of you for a couple hours.  It means doing whatever you can to raise the other to your level of happiness or more.  It means that intimacy might mean a 2-minute hug in the kitchen with your bodies squeezed as tightly together as they can be and then a tender, knowing look into each other’s eyes.  Above all, for me right now, love means tending to someone else’s pain when you’d rather focus only on your own.

And the thing is that despite our tears and pain, we are choosing the ugly, messy, unraveling work, and new cords are bound between us that will take even stronger blows to break now.  (Not that I am asking for the opportunity to prove it.  I’m just saying…)

Anything good is worth working for.  The reward comes after the work.  A closer friendship, a deeper love, an unbreakable trust — that is most certainly worth the work, even in great pain.

And now, a shameless admonition:

If you’re not married yet, wait for someone who’s willing to do the work.  Find someone who will proclaim with you that divorce is not an option.  Life is going to throw you some curve balls — there’s just no way around it — and you will want to be a team of two who gives all they’ve got, who isn’t afraid of a little mud and sweat, who lavishly gives more than they take, who doesn’t give up when the going gets tougher than they ever thought possible when they were standing in a long, white dress or a tuxedo in front of all their friends and family.  Be that person.

And if you are married, gosh, it can be so hard sometimes, can’t it?  Bills have to get paid, kids have to be fed, floors have to be cleaned (well, occasionally), and you two are very different individuals who may, on occasion, forget why they even got married in the first place.  But try to remember.  Try to occasionally turn off the telly so you can have a face-to-face conversation on the couch.  Try to hug each other for a full two minutes.  Try to do kind things for the other person like you did when you were dating.  Try to have a weekly date night and stick with it, even if it’s just a date on your back porch.

I’m not a marriage expert or anything, but Josh and I are in the real life trenches  right now.  But at least we’re in the same one together, fighting side by side, right?  So, don’t give up.  Don’t leave the fight.  The work is hard, but it’s worth it.

And when you are in a hot tub, or a living room, or a car, deciding whether to run from the difficult conversation or see it through until there is understanding, I beg you: just stay in it.

Morsels of wisdom from Proverbs 15:

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.

Gentle words are a tree of life…,

A wise person is hungry for knowledge…,

The heart of the godly thinks carefully before speaking; the mouth of the wicked overflows with evil words.

If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise.

If you reject discipline, you only harm yourself; but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding.

Fear of the Lord teaches a person to be wise; humility precedes honor.

(vs 1, 4, 14, 28, 31-33)

14 thoughts on “Just Stay In It

  1. “Find someone who will proclaim with you that divorce is not an option”

    One of my favorite moments on our honeymoon was in the middle of paradise, about half way through, Jenn is sitting on her chair reading her book and I’m in the pool reading my iPad when out of nowhere, Jenn looks up and says “Just so you know, I will NEVER sign divorce papers!” At the time it was funny, but I also knew deep down that I had found the right girl and I truly appreciated that she reaffirmed that commitment to me 🙂

    You and Josh are not a part of this statistic you speak of, and committed to fight the hard fights and come through stronger!

    Keep writing! You truly have a gift!

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  2. Amen! Such a wonderful reminder at the perfect time for me, personally. Brutal honesty is what makes us all have a better understanding of each other and forces us to take a look at ourselves as well. I love your honesty and I love how you always have a way of ending even the hardest posts with gratitude. I will be praying for your marriage as I pray for my own and others….it definitely is difficult and very rewarding all at the same time. HUGS to you both.

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  3. Dear Molly,
    What I want more than anything is for your sadness and pain to go away but sadly I don’t know how to do that for you. You and Josh are on a journy I wouldn’t wish on anyone but through this journey you both are becoming wiser and stronger every day. Your love, your faith, and your very being have been shaken to the core, but who am I to tell you that, you are the ones living this nightmare. What I do see in each of your posts is your determination to get through this no matter how difficult. I can see how your faith in the Lord and your love for Josh are growing stronger even when things seem so bleak. You are so much stronger than you know. Your vulnerability and honesty are refreshing, and a bit therapeutic. Your wisdom is inspiring. I’m learning things from you about love, faith, hope, and promise for the future. I can’t fix your problems but I can, and do, pray for you. You will never forget Tage, and you will always be his mommy, and whatever plans the Lord has for you all of this will only make you a stronger, better person. I wish you nothing but happiness and hope your future brings endless joy and love. – Love, hugs and prayers, Roberta

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  4. Thanks, once again for your candour. Frank and I were married just few months after you guys and yes, it can be so so hard. We’ve not lost a child, so I won’t say we can understand exactly what you’re going through, but we’ve faced a lot of very difficult times, missing our homes and families, moving around the world, struggling to raise two little kids, plus times of poverty, ill health, loss, misunderstanding, etc. Harsh words and a slammed door are so much easier than talking through it (particularly when there are kids around who demand attention at the most inconvenient times!). Thanks for the reminder of what marriage is meant to be. I think couples should stand shoulder to shoulder and fight for good marriages more. We’d stand with you guys anyway. 🙂 Love, Maryann

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  5. Molly.. As I read your post it forced me to hit the rewind button and revisit where I know I personally failed in my 29 year marriage, that sadly, did end in divorce….. He was and always will be the love of my life.. We too had to endure so much pain and sadness as our life together as we knew it slowly unraveled over time. I too do NOT believe in divorce, in fact I cannot even stand that word! Not to diminish the pain you are enduring,I have often said that what we went through was the most unspeakable pain. I will say, I fought with every fiber of my being, to no avail. Regardless of what obstacles my former husband and I face, pale in comparison to the daily, hourly and most likely, minute, by minute struggle you and Josh face every day as you each grieve in your own ways. I remember a member from a church I belonged to many years ago who said to me, ” How can one possibly hold the other one up when you’re both falling down”.. Surely makes sense, and you realized that after so many unspoken words to Josh, or anger that you held in making assumptions that were false once each of your pain was understood by one another. No one person grieves the same way or for the same amount of time, in fact, there is no timeline Molly. No matter what.. hold tight to one another, cut each other some slack now and again, and I know that you and Josh will walk side by side through this pain and heartache with your love and devotion to each other stronger then ever. I am truly in awe Molly that you continue to have such courage to write and share with so many people your journey. Hugs to you both, Janet Timpany Brown

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  6. Thank you for sharing this! I’m a runner too when I feel like Joel doesn’t understand…thanks for sharing your story and example of how you didn’t get up, walk away, and let it continue to fester in you alone…those communication tools are great…we tend to forget to use them, so thanks for the reminder. You two or tied together with a 3rd Strong Cord that is unable to be quickly broken. Praying over you now that it will continue to grow tighter and stronger. Hugs to you!

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