Thursday, February 17, 2011

- post card- Death of a child- guilt and marriage

It has been said that the death of a child can put a strain on a marriage.

When our son Eric was in high school, a team-mate on his baseball team died in an accident, that boys parents didn't make it. Now I can't say what caused the break up, or how their marriage was before the boy died. What I can tell you is the strain is terrible, parents grieve differently, communicate differently have different needs that the other spouse has to try to understand and respect. Then there are the added pressures too of -caring for siblings, jobs, court, criminal proceedings, financial concerns, our children's death was very public, some parents blame each other; the list is endless.

Today I was thinking about guilt- I am a Catholic after all. It's been said we know all about guilt. But I was thinking about regular guilt not the Catholic kind (that comes from divorce or missing church, turning your back on Catholicism) I was thinking more the kind I felt after the kids died. For the first two years, my husband and I went to therapy together as a couple. I continued in therapy on my own for at least that much time after. But as a couple our marital strengths and attitudes towards each other before the accident vital to how we would weather the storm, my therapist hinted at this in the beginning. The night the kids died I remember laying in bed shaking in shock and I turned him and said, "this is the worst day of our lives, every day after this will be better". My therapist viewed us as solid enough as a couple- that statement as hopeful. Little did we know what hard days we had ahead and that the days getting better part would come with doses of guilt.

When the kids died my husband was just like me- devastated.  I just would have crawled under a rock and died if it wasn't for the fact that he didn't find me and pull me up every single day. He on the other hand would tell you the same thing about me, that I held him up. I know we were fortunate to have each other to lean on that we didn't have to do it alone.

We spent long hours talking, it was not uncommon for us to be up all hours of the night crying together always asking the question why them, why us? Endless mornings sitting in the den over coffee looking out the windows as the seasons changed figuring out how to move on with our lives. Always asking and never getting the answer we needed. How could one tractor-trailer in the middle of the night on an empty Interstate drift off the road and run over our kids at the exact minute they were walking from Eric's broken down Honda to his sisters SUV. What are the chances in this universe that that would happen? And why couldn't it have been us, we would have gladly traded places with them.

When you are in such pain, when you are stripped bare of all that you are you slowly but surly you crawl back out of your despair and then it hits "the guilt". I felt that since my kids death my marriage was better, stronger than it had been before. My kids were dead and I was reaping benefits as a result. I knew my husband felt the positive changes in our marriage too, the guilt however was mine alone. My marriage which was a good and loving one before the accident had transformed into a  much deeper more satisfying one. You learn a lot about making peace enough to end many wars. Since it seems that all I  did while grieving was to have little wars within myself,  I made peace with the guilt. I made a choice to look at the positive changes in my marriage as a gift. Was it a gift from God, from Gretchen and Eric or the gift of a talented therapist- maybe all four? Either way we happily received it and are the better for it.

How about you? Have you had any experiences with guilt? How did your experiences affect you?


  1. Yes I have had unceasing guilt in my Joshua's death. The "What Ifs" are just gut wrentching. It comes in waves that almost smother me, even when I am awake. Especially on the anniversary of his death.
    I have a movie that plays over and over in my head of the moment that he died. It is in color... In our life jackets I hear his voice saying (his sweet beautiful 3 year old voice), Daddy I'm scared... daddy I'm scared. I hear me telling him... It's ok i got you, i got you Lil buddy. To the moment I have to let go and see him get pulled to the bottom...... out of my arms. I feel the cold pressure of the water. I see the bubbles.

    4 years and it is still hell.
    Why did God spare me and not him?
    How come I could not make everything Ok?

    Yes I do have the pain of the "What ifs".

    Gods love keeps me going.

    Jim Dorchak

  2. Sorry Jen. I didn't mean to blubber.....

    Jim Dorchak

  3. Oh Jim, I am so sad for your pain but i know ... when it comes to our children how intensely we feel their loss-question ourselves so i'm not at all surprised by it. Jim it is not blubbering- it is love.You will alway find understanding for your feelings and your experience here on this blog.

  4. Thanks Jen

    Jim Dorchak

  5. I remember being up at the hospital the day before our daughter died...and I remember talking with my husband about the very same thing...that when a child often ends in the parents' divorce.

    I also remember wanting to hang onto that deep, sharp, stinging pain and feeling guilty when I was able to feel some joy and happiness again...because it felt like feeling those things...meant I was somehow forgetting, or losing, more of her.

    This post very much hits home...but I'm so thankful that God has pulled the two of you closer through the pain of losing your kiddos.
    So thankful.

    And that has been true for us as well...

  6. I think that moment the guilt hit(and I remember the exact moment) I was going to be ok- the guilt was the proof I was moving forward.
    I'm glad you and your hubby were able to work thru it at well, after the death of your daughter. Its just a mine field of stuff for us parents to work thru isn't it?

  7. I am so incredibly sorry to hear about what happened to your children. What a horrifying accident. I can't even begin to imagine the pain you've had to live with. I just lost my sister a little over a month ago and had never experienced grief before. Grief is a very special animal and I am just learning how to deal with it myself. But I am happy to hear that your marriage did not suffer because of it. That is defnitely a gift from God.

  8. Naomi,
    I'm sorry about the death of your sister; grief can be terribly hard. You just kinda have to sit with it, feel it, no rushing- take however long it takes to work thru whatever your feeling and then take some more time, what I mean is there are no time lines with this stuff; you just don't ever "get over or get closer" that's just crap you read in the funny papers. At least that's how it happened for me. At least that's my opinion.
    Just be easy with yourself and take care :)


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