Man and woman holding hands. Child loss grief | Pregnancy Loss | Infant Loss | Grief Counseling

Let’s face it grief is brutal. It’s not linear or universal like the handy-dandy stages of grief make it seem. Navigating child loss is hard enough on our own, but what happens when you grieve differently than your partner?

I often hear people talk how difficult child loss is on a relationship. One reason is the misunderstanding of each other’s grieving process. We tend to think that since we have both lost a child, the same child, that we’ll have a similar process in grief. That is not the case.

Everyone griefs differently.

Life experiences, spiritual beliefs, the ability to talk about and sit with difficult emotions, previous losses, social support, personality differences, and copings styles all impact our response to grief. This varies from person to person, even in couples who have lost a child.

Some people may want to talk about it frequently, others may feel overwhelmed by this and prefer to process it alone. Many feel driven to honor and remember their child publicly, while some view this as something to do in private. It can be healing for some to include them in each family activity or milestone. Others find this too painful and triggering.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve.

Here are some tips to help navigate child loss when you grieve differently than your partner.

1. Understand that just because they are not outward about it doesn’t mean they don’t care. This can be a big one. If one partner is very vocal and the other is not, it often misinterpreted as “not caring”.  That is not the case. After the loss of our son, I grieved very outwardly and still do. My partner did not. At times I thought he had “moved on” but have come to realize he misses him just as much as I do, it just isn’t healing for him to deal with it publicly.

2. Communicate your needs. It’s easy to believe that our partner should know what we need. We’ve all done it. Heck, I still struggle with this. But realistically just because we think it’s obvious or common sense does not mean it is. Remember that they may need different things while grieving so they may not be able to anticipate what your needs are, especially if it’s not in line with theirs.  It doesn’t need to be fancy. Keep it simple and say things like “I need to cry”, “I need to distract myself right now”, “I need a hug”, or “I need to be alone”.

3. Come up with a code word or symbol. Communication is hard and exhausting. I encourage people to find a code word, a phrase, or some symbol to quickly communicate to your partner that you are not in a good place. Some ideas are to leave a candle lit, use red-light green-light, leave a special photo out, hang a tie on the door.  Talk with your partner to see what would make sense for you.

4. Give each other space to grieve differently. Although your partner may need things that you don’t need or that you don’t understand it’s an important part of their process. Practice creating space for you each do what feels healing. If there are things you both find healing, do those together.

5. Find a middle ground. My husband and I grieve very differently. VERY. In the early days following our loss, I engulfed myself in it. I had pictures of my son everywhere, spent hours delicately creating the perfect scrapbook to capture his brief life, would read baby loss poems, and cry. cry. cry. My husband did not understand it. And to be fair at times made him uncomfortable, but he gave me space to do it. However, he soon told me that having pictures of our son where he could see them from every spot in the house was overwhelming. At first, I was crushed but grew to realize I also needed to honor his process.  So, we compromised. I had a few select places where I displayed his pictures and the rest I kept in a special place out of sight.  If there are things that you have an opposing stance on, find a way to meet in the middle.

I am so sorry that you are on this journey. No parent should be left to navigate life without their child. If you find yourself grieving differently than your partner, you are not alone. And it is okay if you are doing it differently. There is no handbook for surviving child loss. There is no right or wrong, just different. I encourage each family to find what feels right for them and do that.

If you feel stuck and would like to talk about how I can help you find your new normal, feel free to reach out at kelly@evolvecounselingco.com. 

Photo by Sweet Ice Cream Photography on Unsplash

 

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