Surviving a Death in the Family- Marriage, Unwrapped

marriage surviving death

As I mentioned last week, there will be monthly guest posts as part of the Marriage, Unwrapped series. The posts will be testimonies of marriages that have survived life’s trials. I hope they will serve as an encouragement to those of you whose marriage is in a season of difficulty.

Our life is often defined by specific moments that make us think in terms of “pre-this” and “post-that”.  There’s pre-facebook and post-facebook, pre-college and post-college, pre-engagement and post-engagement, pre-9/11 and post-9/11.  Our marriage has those same defining moments.  Marriage before a new house and marriage after, marriage before children and marriage after.

For my husband and I, one of those defining moments occurred on April 23, 2003.  We both left for work like we would any other morning. I remember what I wore that day.  I remember the specific project I was working on in the office.  I remember the first phone call from my husband.  He called to tell me that his 18-year old brother had been in a car accident on his way to school.  He didn’t know any more.

I half way brushed him off.  Partly because it was my insensitive way of trying to encourage him that everything would be fine and partly because I tend not to be worry about something unless I have a specific reason to worry.  I remember saying a brief prayer as I walked back to my desk.  I remember growing more concerned when an hour passed without an updated phone call.  I remember excusing myself from a meeting so I could call him.  He still didn’t know any more.

I remember being very concerned then, but trying hard to not sound that way.I remember him calling about ten minutes later.  Through his tears and a trembled voice he said my name.  That was all he had to say.  I knew the rest of the story.  I just said no – shaking my head and kneeling down on the floor.  The conversation was short.  I just wanted to be with him in person.  I didn’t want him to be alone.

We were in “coping” mode the next few days.   We picked out pictures to be sat out at the funeral home, clothes to be worn at a funeral – all things we never expected to do at the young ages of 24 and 26.  While it certainly wasn’t easy, it was in some way “easier” to be sensitive to his feelings and his needs in those early days.  I was aware of everything that was said or happening around him.  I wanted to protect his feelings as much as possible, turn off the television or throw away the newspaper at any reference of a car accident, invite his friends over when he needed them and send them away when he needed to be alone.

Obviously with death, everyone grieves differently.  While I could always try to be sympathetic to his feelings I could never totally understand the depths of his emotions or the suddenness of his loss.  I had known my husband eight years, but before April 23rd I had never known my husband as the person that lost his only brother in a sudden car accident.  In many ways we had to learn a lot about each other.  I spent months that grew into years feeling as if I were walking on egg-shells about the topic.  Not because he would get angry or upset with me, but because I hated to see him hurt.  It was easy to talk about his brother but it was hard to talk about how the loss of his brother was affecting his drive, his work ethic, and his choices.  And even harder to admit that that behavior was affecting my attitude towards my husband.

There were a lot of things that I did “right” over the years as I tried to keep the memory of his brother a regular part of special dates like birthdays, holidays and anniversaries.  But there were a lot of things I failed miserably at.  A lot of things I wish I didn’t say.  A lot of reactions I wish I never had.  A lot of prayers I wish I had made.  Because while I prayed that God would comfort him as he grieved and that his pain would become less of a sting, I should have prayed that He would use me more for my husband as only He could.  I should have prayed that God would help me listen more, that He would help me to be sensitive on days where by nature I didn’t feel like being sensitive, and that He would help me encourage him more.

In a few months we’ll mark the eighth anniversary of the day he went to be with Jesus.  I’ll be praying for a lot of things that morning.  And one of those prayers will be that I’ll be the wife that my husband needs in our 11th of year marriage but also the wife that he needs me to be in our eighth year of that defining moment.

You can find all the Marriage, Unwrapped posts here.


  1. Wow, Mandi. This was so well written. Raw. Real. Vulnerable.
    QuatroMama recently posted…The Year of The 4- Henry SamuelMy Profile

  2. ((hugs)) Mandi- thanks for being brave enough to put this out there.
    Becky @TheVioletFig recently posted…Blissdom in VideoMy Profile

  3. I’m sure you have been a fantastic wife through this whole tragedy. What a difficult thing to go through in a marriage. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Well, that made me cry – like crocodile tears. So much love. So much pain. Thanks for sharing…
    Kathy @ House of Hills recently posted…Losing It! 01 28 11My Profile

  5. Mandi, it’s beautiful. God put you in Pep’s life. I love you both and pray for you always. xo
    oh amanda recently posted…Blissdom 11 Recap- Top Ten TuesdayMy Profile

  6. Thanks so much for sharing your true feelings and raw emotions, Mandi. This is beautiful. love you!
    Hillary @ The Other Mama recently posted…It’s Bliss- Y’allMy Profile

  7. Maybe you could have done more but he may not remember it that way. I lost my dad to cancer almost a year ago, it was expected but we also thought he had a few more weeks. My husband did so much for me and while I am sure there were things he did wrong, I don’t remember them.

    Thirty-one days later it was my turn to support him when his mother unexpectedly died. In some ways it was good that we were both going through it at the same time, we were able to mutually lean on the other. When I was upset, he really “got it” and I think I was able to ease things for him.

    While I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, our marriage is immeasurably stronger than it was a year ago.
    Christi S recently posted…3 in 30 FebruaryMy Profile

    • Wow Christi!! I know what you mean about not wishing it on anyone but it totally making you stronger! Plus my husband has been able to be there for others that have experienced the same type of loss. That is certainly a lot for your marriage – what a great message that yours came out stronger!! Thanks for sharing:)

  8. Mandi, I understand these emotions so well because Mark’s mom died in a car accident just a couple years after we were married (when we were 24 and 22). It’s certainly not something anyone can prepare you for. Thank you for sharing. This is encouraging me to write about our own situation on my blog. Anyway, I’m so grateful for your honesty and bravery in this post.
    Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect recently posted…Monday Morning Mmmm- Superbowl MenuMy Profile

    • Just like you & Mark, the young age hits me. While like you say you never prepare for it – it’s definitely a hard thing to look through at such a young age. I was definitely immature in a lot of ways back then, but it definitely prepared me of things to say (and not say) as I’ve gotten older. I hope you are encouraged to write about your story … it was really helpful for me to write this one!! Love you!!

  9. Thanks so much for sharing this today. Praise the Lord that you’re paying enough attention to be learning and looking forward with hope. We never get it all right the first time — but it’s clear you got a lot right and let your husband know how much you care. Thank you again!
    CarolineCollie recently posted…Travelling Tuesday- Elgin- South AfricaMy Profile

  10. So elegantly written. You are right, marriage does have its defining moments. I can’t imagine the pain of losing a younger sibling… Thank you for a wonderfully written post.
    Christina recently posted…Who needs to sit in a dark theater anywayMy Profile

  11. I never knew the details of this story…I’m blown away. What a great example of God’s consistent faithfulness!
    Staci Brown recently posted…Blissdom RecapMy Profile

  12. I’ve lost 2 grandparents before I hit 8 years of marriage. Not as close of a relationship as it would be to lose my siblings, but it was definitely an opportunity of growth for us. I just wanted to be with family. He needed to be home working. The first time, I missed out on telling my grandpa good-bye. The second time, he freely let me leave to go say good-bye to my Grandmother who had a sudden stroke, but hung on for a few days before passing. We learned a lot throughout the first experience and it made dealing with the second much easier. If spouses would just be honest and communicate their needs (when they are able…I understand that sometimes you don’t KNOW what you need–especially in a time of grieving), we could love each other so much better and much more completely. I’ve learned to tell my husband what I need of him and he does the same. Then, we aren’t feeling slighted that they aren’t saying or doing the right things.

    Sorry…that got long. Just my thoughts. :) Blessings on a post well written. I pray that it will help someone else in a tough situation!

  13. I am dreadfully behind on my google reader… glad to catch up. Mandy, you know this hits me at the core. I think we’ve talked before and it’s striking me again. My brother’s accident anniversary is 9 years this May. I remember the details clearly, and it will always be a defining event in our marriage. Being in the heart of our infertility struggles at the time, well… that was just a painful, roller coaster year.
    Amy @ Finer Things recently posted…Staying Healthy During Flu SeasonMy Profile

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