We were sitting down in a small diner with some friends. They were sharing with us about their journey in special needs and how they were doing. As they were sharing, the husband began talking about the future and how he dreaded how quickly their daughter was approaching legal driving age. His wife just stopped and looked at him and replied that their daughter would never be able to drive due to the how her special needs impacted her. Her husband listened, but you could see he was not ready to accept it.
Denial, anger, bargaining, hopelessness, acceptance are the 5 most associated aspects of grief. We are all familiar with them, but that doesn’t make it easy to experience. It is easy to assume that you will be in the same spot as your spouse but that isn’t always true.
Initially, it can be so hard being in different places in the grieving process, especially when one spouse is stuck in denial. The one person who has been there with you through the entire journey is not in the same spot and may even be at odds with you, putting up barriers to different treatments or therapies. This can lead to increased feelings of isolation and loneliness. It can create a fear for your marriage as you feel like you are in a spot of having to choose between the health of your child and your spouse.
What can you do?
• Love and respect your spouse well. Recognize that they are likely going through their own internal battle. Listen to them and check in with where they are at emotionally. Keep bringing information to them. Not in a nagging way but in a factual way. Share what the doctors are saying and what the therapists are saying. Be real with them about what your day looks like and don’t gloss over what the struggles were (don’t exaggerate them either).
It is a hard and lonely spot to be in. Eventually, the denial will pass and you both will find yourself in a much better place. The different rates at which you experience the various aspects of chronic grief will become a strength as it will allow you to better support and encourage each other.
Are you the parent of a child with additional needs? What aspects of chronic grief do you relate with most right now? Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Hopelessness, or Acceptance?
If married, where would you say your spouse is with these different aspects of chronic grief?
Jonathan McGuire is the co-founder of Hope Anew, a nonprofit that comes alongside the parents of children with additional needs on spiritual and emotional level. You can follow Hope Anew on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/hopeinthetrenches/.