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.