Thirty years ago, the rate of divorce for couples who lost a child was alarmingly high but today that statistic has turned around. The latest data shows that only about 16 percent of marriages who experience the loss of a child end in divorce. Three of the factors that affect the decision to split include the cause of the child’s death, the quality of the marriage prior to the child loss and the inability of one or both parents to live with their grief.
Cause of death
If the child’s death was the result of one parent’s negligence, the other parent needs to deal with anger and forgiveness issues in addition to the grief brought on by the death of the child. If the cause of death was a violent one (ie. kidnap and murder), then staying married to the other parent of this child is more difficult. Often, the couple separates in order to move forward without the constant reminders of the child loss and the horrific manner in which the child was taken. Because the child is a product of their relationship, each parent cannot look at the other parent without reliving this painful life episode.
Quality of marriage prior to the loss
It’s not surprising to know that if the couple’s marriage was shaky prior to the death of a child, chances are the marriage cannot survive such an earth-shattering event. While tragedy can be a bonding experience, being able to survive profound grief requires drawing upon emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual resources from both partners. The demands for patience, comfort and understanding that are placed upon each other can be enormous and ceaseless.
Inability of one or both parents to move beyond the grief
Living with tremendous grief becomes a lifelong marathon. A parent who loses her child never “gets over it” but learns how to live with the pain. When one or both parents cannot function due to grief as defined by not being able to work, take care of the surviving children or manage self-care, the situation becomes a different medical condition to manage. Not only will the stronger parent still need to live with his or her own grief but now faces having to seek treatment for the partner.
As one who has experienced the loss of a child, I can say the emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual assault is the worst type of pain one can endure. I honestly thought I was going to die from heartbreak. But my marriage was not hurt by this experience at all. In fact, it was strengthened. One might say that we were one of the lucky couples but our circumstances were less challenging than others’ face. Our child was taken by a terminal medical condition for which there was no cure and no one to blame. The marital relationship was strong from the beginning. And each of us has been able to move beyond the worst of our grief with hope. We still feel the pain deeply. The missing him is the worst part. His birthday is coming up and I always light a candle on a cupcake or a Twinkie (his favorite) to sing Happy Birthday to him so his spirit can hear that his mommy and daddy still love him forever and always. And we look forward to our joyous reunion on the other side.