My husband and I have been married for almost three years now and together for almost seven. We have easily spent 95% of our time in the last eight years together; we were best friends before we were partners and we have built our world around each other. Our marriage has endured job losses, health issues, family problems, bereavements, mental health crises. Whatever life has handed us we have managed to stand strong together, with every up and down only serving to bring us closer together. Whilst we have our similarities, our differences are where we really come together, we often joke we have one competent and well balanced person between us.
When Norah came along it was the first time our ‘doing everything together’ approach started to waver, and we had to start working in turns to manage the sleep deprivation and intensity of the three hourly cycle we found ourselves caught in. Despite the obviously sensible suggestion of sleeping in shifts, we still wanted to be awake together all the time. We were just starting to figure things out when we were pulled inside out and found ourselves living in Paediatric Intensive Care. Somehow we survived that week, with one of us always able to pick the other up when we were falling. Every step forward we took we still managed to do it together, right up to the day we buried our daughter and in the weeks that followed. Every part of our marriage up until recently has held strong, whenever one of us has fallen the other has always had the strength to pick them up.
But grief is not falling, grief is drowning.
The only thing more agonising than losing Norah is watching my husband drowning under the weight of his grief and feeling completely paralysed; I am barely keeping myself a float and he is utterly out of reach. Even if I managed to grasp at him now, I would be sure to pull him under. Every month that has passed has brought with it a new wave of grief crashing down on us, and every month I have felt us drifting further apart. The absolute raw agony we are both feeling is surely the same, but we may as well be speaking different languages. We were able to hold ourselves together when Norah was dying and in the immediate aftermath, we physically didn’t let go of each other for a time after Norah’s death, and yet now we are crumbling.
Our distance came to a head recently, we could both see each other’s pain and both desperately wanted to take it from the other, but recognising this and sitting in our grief has felt impossible. We have opposite methods for processing, I need to verbalise my pain for release, whereas my husband needs space and introspection. One particularly challenging evening we found ourselves trapped in an argument about something mundane, a distraction from our real feelings. There was shouting and screaming from one of us and hiding under a blanket from the other, we both retreated, knowing the damage we were doing to each other but unable to communicate or work through it. It felt like we were losing each other in our grief, the thought of losing us as well as Norah is too much to bear. That evening we both found our way in to Norah’s room, we keep the door open and sit in there often, but we are rarely in there together. Sitting together on the floor of Norah’s room, the room where time has stood still, made it impossible to ignore the abyss between us. We crumbled, but we crumbled together.
I’d like to be able to write about that evening being a breakthrough for us, but life isn’t that straightforward. I love my husband more now than I ever have, and becoming parents has been our greatest adventure. Living under the lens of grief is exhausting though, and despite our love and how desperate we are to ease each other’s anguish, battling through life without Norah wears away at us and leaves us with little energy to fuel our relationship. Whilst it is easy to compare our lives now to who we were before, we are still brand new parents trying to find our feet and navigate our marriage within new realms, although not in circumstances we could ever had anticipated.
The strength of our marriage will endure, as it always has, but as the waves keep coming we can only keep each other in sight, and do our best to allow our differences the space they need to allow us both to grieve, live and grow.