By Alicia Searl, Crosswalk.com
As I write this, I look up into a beautiful, picturesque landscape. My heart needed this. My soul needed this. I needed a space to breathe, to absorb all that had taken place over the last five years and, more recently, the last couple of months. I am thankful my husband recognized I needed to sit in my grief. To let it seep in since I have been pushing all my feelings down for quite some time now, especially since April when my mom departed this world and entered the arms of her Savior.
If I were being honest, our family has been through quite a bit of trial as of late, and I guess it all began to all catch up with me. As I sat down to relive some of the pain with my husband one evening, we realized we had lost seven family members and a close childhood friend all in the last five years. People who were pillars for our family or loved ones that deeply impacted our lives. As parents, we have tried to offer love and support to one another and our grieving children, but life has a way of pushing us forward in this season, begging for us to continue. Life doesn't slow down between sporting events, school activities, play dates, and church functions because we are stuck in the past.
After the loss of my mother, grief began to bubble up in ways I wasn't quite sure how to handle. This mix of emotions kept sneaking in and stealing my joy. It made life look hazy and disoriented. I felt lost and alone. Wave after wave of grief kept knocking me down, and at one point, I wasn't sure I wanted to get back up. Life kept going, but my world felt stuck as I struggled to put one foot in front of the other. Not to mention I just wanted space to breathe, to be still and quiet, but there was nowhere to escape. No place to sit in solitude to let the tidal wave of grief wash over me so I could process all that had happened.
So, I ended up bottling it all up until I eventually broke. After a whirlwind of a summer with no space to seek peace, I decided to tackle this grief head-on. I booked a small cottage a few towns away for the weekend to gain a sense of clarity. To sit with a cup of coffee and gaze out into an open pasture just to hear nothing but the sound of my Savior seeking my wounded heart, reminding me He was still with me.
My husband hugged me and told me to go and seek rest. As I write this, he is currently taking care of the children for the weekend. He is handling all the housework, the chores, and the responsibilities. And he is essentially taking care of me. For that, I am ever so thankful.
If you or your spouse is enduring a profound loss, let me start by giving you my sincere condolences. While I don't understand what you are going through, I can relate to the heavy weight that a loss like that brings. The mixed feelings. The unexpected highs and lows. The need to be alone yet surrounded by the ones you love. The need to be reassured that while a piece of you is missing, you are still somehow going to be able to live again. While it can feel like the world has stopped spinning, there are ways you can seek support as well as offer it to your spouse while they experience all the various stages of grief.
1. Be Patient
Grief takes time. You can best show your spouse support by giving them time to grieve and be patient with the process. While it can be difficult to watch your spouse suffer and endure a roller coaster ride of emotions, remember that what they need most is for someone to lean on and offer compassion without judgment.
Realize that each person experiences loss differently. What you think should take days may take weeks, months, or even years. Grief also tends to come on stronger with certain triggers, which may cause your spouse to relive a memory or touch them in a way that brings on feelings they may not be prepared for. Approach these situations with gentleness and give them the opportunity to release emotions as needed.
It's sometimes hard to just sit and listen. Actively listening is difficult in and of itself, but when you see your spouse upset, it's an innate response to want to "fix it." But, jumping in and quickly sharing ways that you believe could help could actually backfire. While it is often done with love, it can make your spouse feel misunderstood. That being said, this concern could eventually make you feel as if you are walking on eggshells, not sure what to say. Take heart and know that sometimes the best thing you can do is stay silent. Smile, take their hand, look them in the eye – and listen.
If they are searching for a response, you can always let them know you care with a simple, "I'm so sorry you are going through this, I want to help" or "tell me more about…" Allowing them to share memories brings forth a sense of healing and provides them with comfort, knowing that you genuinely care about their grief and well-being.
3. Offer Help
Often grief can consume your spouse so that they forget the daily routines. You may find that the normal rhyme of life seems to come to a standstill. Household chores will seemingly be put on hold; the laundry will pile up, and they may not feel like cooking or eating.
Instead of asking how you can help, offer it. Help with some of those chores that seem to be piling up. Order takeout for dinner, offer to put the children to bed or take a day or two off work to spend time with them offering to fix some things around the house that need tending to. If a friend or neighbor asks how they can help, give them an insight on things that need to be done and take them up on their offer. The burden can be great when you feel you are trying to support your spouse while taking care of all the extra duties, so give yourself time to seek support through family, friends, and church members.
4. Get Counseling
If your spouse is showing signs of great distress over a loss and you are unable to console them, it may be time to seek outside help. Voice your concern and let them know they don't have to face this grief alone. While it's not always easy admitting (or hearing) that a loved one needs a little extra support and help, it could essentially save them from grave consequences. Grief has a way of changing a person, but when the process seems to take them down a road of depression, negative self-talk, or they don't seem to be in a good place emotionally, mentally, or spiritually, it may be time to get counseling.
If counseling isn't the right route, search for grief recovery groups located in your area or within the church. If they don't feel comfortable going alone, offer to go along with them, it may benefit you both.
5. Give Grace and Space
These two words are often used in our home: grace and space. After the loss of my mom, I needed a lot of grace but had a hard time recognizing that. I grew frustrated as I fell behind on everything, lost control (and my temper) with my children, and couldn't keep up with the daily activities. I stuffed down my grief because I didn't give myself grace and sadly didn't really receive it from others either. Essentially, my grief was put on hold. All summer long to be exact. Because of that, I gravitated toward a downward spiral. My sweet husband recognized that I needed grace and not only that but that I could find it when I was given "space" to grieve. I needed space to breathe—space to grieve. I especially needed to sit in silence and let Jesus and His grace wash over me.
Your spouse may not know they need grace, and when life seems harder because of the grief they face, they may be hard on themselves. Give them grace by allowing them time and space to process their loss. Extend them grace by responding with kindness and offering them space by giving them alone time or whatever they say they need to process their loss. It is a gift that they will be thankful for, trust me.
A Prayer for the Supporting Spouse
Thank you for the gift we have in marriage. We are grateful that you gave us a partner to do this life with; it is a true blessing. Today, I lift up the spouse that is trying to carry their spouse's burden but is growing weary. Give them the courage to lean on You as they strive to be patient, listen, and offer grace. As decisions and responsibilities pile up, give them wisdom, and provide discernment. I pray, Lord, that You remind them of Your unfailing love for them as they tend to the needs of their spouse. Continue to bless their precious union and allow their marriage to grow from this hurt and pain, looking to You for comfort. It is in Your holy name I pray.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Drazen Zigic
Alicia Searl is a devotional author, blogger, and speaker that is passionate about pouring out her heart and pointing ladies of all ages back to Jesus. She has an education background and master’s in literacy. Her favorite people call her Mom, which is why much of her time is spent cheering them on at a softball game or dance class. She is married to her heartthrob (a tall, spiky-haired blond) who can whip up a mean latte. She sips that goodness while writing her heart on a page while her puppy licks her feet. Visit her website at aliciasearl.com and connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.