For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health.
As I spoke those words back in 2011, I truly meant them from the bottom of my heart. Sure, I knew marriage wouldn’t always be easy and I knew there would be hard days, but this wide-eyed, innocent 20-something had no idea of the depth of what those words would truly mean until years later when stood beside a tiny cemetery plot and buried our infant son.
For worse, for poorer, and in the wake of devastating sickness, our innocence was stripped away and things were suddenly so much harder.
On the evening our son died, a kind nurse took my hand and warned us that things were about to get hard. She encouraged us to dig our heels down deep, to remember the vows we had meant so fervently those years before, and to fight for one another when things would become difficult–and difficult they did.
Loss has a way of changing you. In some ways it made me better, and it other ways it brought all of my imperfections to the surface. It challenged my thinking, shifted my perspectives, and altered pieces of my identity. I grieved the person I was before losing our son and I struggled to figure out who I was. I quickly learned that when two people are simultaneously being shaped through the pain of suffering and loss, things become even more complicated. We were both grieving, changing and growing. I was still trying to get to know this whole new me, all while trying to get to know my husband as we grieved and grew in different ways.
So how can we fight for our marriages and our relationships when we’ve changed so much? How do we pick up the pieces and fight for one another, rather than with one another?
In those first few months when my grief was especially intense, I craved closeness. I just wanted someone to sit with me and let me cry on their shoulder. My husband, however, craved space. On the days when he was in the most pain, he needed time to process–alone. This was especially difficult in the beginning and it was so important to communicate our needs with one another–not only that, but to try to understand where the other person was coming from. Neither of us was grieving better or worse than the other. Our needs were simply different. It was helpful to understand what the other needed and to create a safe space to share our needs without fear of judgement.
There is an unnecessary stigma associated with counseling and I believe that needs to change. Before I experienced it for myself, it seemed intimidating and almost like a last resort. I haven’t heard many people speak openly about their experiences with counseling, but I will because I think it’s important. My husband and I attended counseling both together and alone after the death of our son and it played a significant role in our ability to communicate and in own growth, both as individuals and as a couple. Forever Footprints is another great resource and offers three monthly support groups. We’ve also found support by joining hundreds of other parents at Forever Footprints annual IE Walk to Remember.
Make time for one another
In the midst of the struggle, don’t forget to take some time to unwind. Go on a date. Watch your favorite TV show together. Don’t be afraid to laugh, even when it feels foreign.
Hold on tight
After our son died, my husband and I looked each other in the eye and reaffirmed our commitment to one another. We decided right then and there that we wouldn’t allow our son’s death to drive us apart. We resolved to fight for our marriage no matter what it took. The journey hasn’t been easy, but I am thankful for all of the tears, the late night conversations, the frustrations, and the growth that has taken place between now and then. I am thankful for the ways conflict and pain have ultimately drawn us closer as a couple. I am thankful to be able to walk alongside the only person who truly understands everything we’ve been through. I am thankful to be able to look upon the face that so closely resembles that of our little boy each day.
I am thankful for someone who has seen me at my best and worst, in seasons that felt rich and seasons that felt poor, and in seasons of sickness and in health.
Kristin Hernandez lives in Southern California with her husband Chris and their Queensland Heeler mix, Dakota. After struggling with unexplained infertility for several years, Kristin was thrilled when she became pregnant with Ethan. The celebration quickly turned to concern when doctors discovered Ethan had a serious heart defect and was missing a piece of his brain–likely indicative of a chromosome abnormality. Ethan was born on August 16, 2015 and spent his 93-minute life in his parents’ arms. Kristin is now a mother to five babies in heaven, including four of Ethan’s younger siblings who she has never met. Despite these struggles, Kristin has resolved to embrace the life she has been given and to leave a legacy for her family. Kristin works in communications by day, but can also be found running, camping, writing or having a conversation over a cup of coffee. She writes at www.sunlightindecember.com and is the cohost of the Through the Lens Podcast.