Last year on Valentine’s Day, we were preparing to leave for St. Jude—a final glimmer of hope for our son. Instead of going out on a date, my husband and I were at our local hospital getting a final dose of antibiotics infused into Rett hoping to protect him from a plane of germs.
I took a picture that day of him looking to heaven, and now I know he was asking his God, his ancestors, his spirit animal, for freedom from his suffering. It was one in a series of photos that would follow that week, all of which fracture my heart every time I look through them.
Rett would die eight days later after a whirlwind trip to Memphis, a torturous discovery of multiplied lesions covering a third of his lungs, a medevac flight home, and goodbye visits from all his family. As far as death goes, it couldn’t have gone better. As for our life, though, the nightmare that had started nearly 4 months before, had just cranked up another notch.
For Jim and I, and for every couple that loses a child, continuing to love each other with two broken hearts takes serious fortitude and attention. The statistics are not on our side—something like 75-80% of bereaved parents divorce (although in my experience, the percent is lower). It’s so very hard when you’re both in your own trenches of grief to support someone else. There are many ways to grieve, but if I were to categorize, what I’ve seen is that women wear it and men overcome it—neither approach being better than the other; either being healing or destructive.
So far, we have been pretty lucky at understanding each other’s methods of grieving, only encountering a few hiccups along the way. For me, I have about twenty new mom friends that I talk to regularly to keep from feeling alone in this painful world of child loss. And I purposely started Rett’s Roost so that I could continue to encounter the people and stories that make up my own journey. It is who I am—a bereaved mom willing to share, and by taking on this role, I feel as though I can continue to live a fulfilling life.
Jim, like most bereaved dads, hasn’t sought out new relationships. He has other helpful ways to work through his grief. Jim has a voice for Rett that he talks to me with daily. His bond with our dog Lucy has been taken to a whole new level. And he looks forward to making us delicious and skillful dinners most nights. He writes poetry in words and phrases that are beautifully elusive and private, while at the same time tender and expressive. His creativity extends into his work in sports-writing, where he has lost no passion or efficiency. And while we have both become somewhat more reclusive this year, he is always reminding me that we still need to go out sometimes and enjoy life.
Of course, like every couple, we argue. And while I find him to be completely irrational when the Knicks or Michigan State is losing, I could not ask for a more respectful, honest, and reasonable husband when it comes to our disagreements. One thing about being married to a writer, he knows how to communicate his thoughts; and maybe it’s his Midwestern nature, but he absolutely never holds a grudge or lets me go to bed angry.
There are waves of grief that hit us every few weeks but hopefully, not at the same time—when one of us is drowning, the other is there to rescue. He is there to hold my heart and I to hold his. Without him, I’d sink to a deeper level of loss that I cannot comprehend. We acknowledge each other’s pain as equal to our own, and that has sustained a love this year that could easily have shattered.
Today we profess our love for each other, next week we will offer that love to our son, and with that abundance of love, in early March we will welcome our daughter into this world. It is with our great loss that we continue to gain great love. To us, the only way forward is together.