We were both mourning the same daughter,
but our grief was vastly different
My husband Mark and I both experienced the same trauma, the death of our precious daughter Claudia Marie. We were both silent with dread and anticipation as we drove to the hospital, We both felt the deadening shock of discovering her heart no longer beat. We held hands as I gave birth to her, both of us sobbing as we cuddled her still warm body close to ours and we both smiled with joy and sadness as we studied her precious features all perfect except the peacefully closed eyes and drop of blood from her nose.
We sat with intertwined arms as we said our final farewells to her at the funeral, and we worked together as we explained to her siblings what death truly means. But inside our grief was different, we were both grieving the same daughter, but we couldn’t have been more emotionally separate in that journey.
He was numb the day we found out, his verbal communication went into shut down and his mind wandered into dark places; I was in shock but I readied myself for action very quickly and just put one foot in front of the other and trying to be present in every step that had to be done over the next day or two. A lot was going to be asked of both of us physically and emotionally. I though I was being brave, he thought he was being stoic
As the many and varied events of the next few days bared down on us like the uninvited intruding black cloud on our happily ever after that is was, there were many instances where our individual grieving styles seemed so vastly different.
I recall being in mid labour with our daughter and just looking at my wonderful husband as he sat there by my side in silence and I just burst into tears and told him his silence was killing me more than this birth was. I needed – a word – a gesture; something to reassure me that we were going to get through this. My husband to me seemed cold and distant in his emotional response, but it was just that – his response, to be silent in this thoughts and grief was how he made it through that time in hospital, he had no words to express the sadness and shock he was feeling and he feared talking too flippantly or too emotionally would make my sadness and apprehension of the birth more pronounced than it already was.
Our grieving styles also effected some of the decisions we subsequently made and we had to compromise to accommodate each persons limits.
He was heartbroken at seeing her “decompose” as he described it in front of his eyes, and that is why we decided to have her body sent to the morgue when we did, within 36 hours of her birth (the hospital didn’t have a cuddle cot and it was summer in Australia). To my eyes and through my grief, I saw her as beautiful and would have liked to have her body with us a little longer, but I knew that this was literally breaking my husband and I had to do what was best for us as a couple not necessarily what I wanted. I was able to have a night with her by my side in bed, and that was what I needed to help connect and grieve for her, I had been lucky enough to hold her with me all of night she was born, we slept together, mother and baby, and that bonding time with her was want my soul needed to make memories with her.
When we left the hospital I felt a sadness at leaving but also a sense of relief that another step had been finished, the birth part was over. Now I prepared my thoughts for how to explain Claudia’s death to our living children at home. As we left the hospital I could see my husband very visibly upset. Talking with him realised it was the fact that Claudia was still in the hospital morgue and he, her father, was going home. He felt he was leaving her behind, abandoning her and forgetting her and that to him implied not caring or loving her as much as he truly did. I reassured him as best I could, but it was very emotional for him and it was hard to see him so frustrated and upset.
However the differences didn’t confine themselves to the actual event, but also the integration back into our normal lives after Claudia’s stillbirth.
After a few weeks of bereavement leave, but only days after her funeral, my husband returned to work. The questions from co-workers felt confronting to him. I had dealt with the majority of school fence questions, the presumptions, the endless platitudes and the surprising confessions of loss from other schoolyard parents but at work he was on his own to have to explain to those who knew and those who didn’t. The focused questioning (all well-intentioned, but still confronting) was so constant he soon returned home. He regrouped emotionally and then only after preparing himself adequately was he able to re-enter the workplace, this time better prepared and was able to get back into normal working life more efficiently.
Another major difference in our grief occurred during our subsequent pregnancy, I again put on a brave face and was stoic in my ability to barge my way through the pregnancy, all the way up till our “red flag” week; the same gestation week Claudia had died. In my mind it all became borrowed time and no amount of daily doctors of visits and 2am CTG scans in maternity could calm that anxiety. My husband calmly comforted me as we worked our way as deep as we could towards our due date, but my fear and grief was too much and our baby was induced healthy and happy but early. I was relieved but all of a sudden we switched grief, he was back holding a beautiful tiny child again and thoughts of Claudia kept flooding back, how much he loved and missed her and what we had missed without her in our family.
Our grief caught up with us again after we returned home and settled in with our new son. To me it was a cautious relief, coupled with a large dose of guilt at his early arrival. Once at home with our baby in our arms Mark felt the pain of leaving Claudia all over again and added to that was our combined worry of losing this new beautiful, and perfectly healthy, baby. Although our son grew bigger and stronger everyday, the “what if’s” played heavy on both our minds and those thoughts are insidious.
It’s so easy to see how grief and trauma break couples as you so often are not on the same path as each other, in our relationship we are lucky; even though we weren’t on the same page in our grief we came back together enough for it to work. We compromised enough to give us both the time and space we needed with a lack of judgement when we required different things emotionally to process events as they happened. Whatever path we took in our grief journey we “had each other’s back” so to speak, we didn’t go through the same things at the same time but we made sure we understood what emotion we felt and to just ride it out, alone or together
So we’re on different journeys and different paths with our grief and these are just a few examples, but I can tell you that there were countless instances where our grief wasn’t on the same page, even now two years on our grief is manifestly differently. I found out quickly that we couldn’t fix each other’s pain and that we had to both separately go through what we needed to in order to cope and move along in our grieving process. So although we had the same trauma, the death of our daughter, our journey along the path of grief was different, thankfully we could always keep an eye out for each other and that’s what held our relationship together.