Dr. Kathleen Gilbert, an Associate Professor at Indiana University, talks with Dr. Gloria Horsley at an Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) conference. How can couples cope with the loss of a child? Partners can have very different reactions, explains Dr. Gilbert. Men and women in general tend to have different approaches to life and death. Couples who go through this traumatic experience can grow closer—or farther apart. Men will “do the man’s job” of buying caskets, making the arrangements, and basically manage the world around their wives. Women are given permission to be the emotional griever.
Women are often in charge of tending to other children. They’re a nurturer, and it’s a means of being who she was before the loss. Learning how to grieve and be partner can be a challenge. Communication is the biggest barrier. How couples conceptualize communication is also different. Sharing what they feel and what they know can be a huge challenge. One man told Dr. Gilbert, “It’s a strong man who can be weak.” You need something to focus on together.
The Fork in the Road
Marital stability is the ultimate focus in healthy partnerships. You need to focus on commitment, even if it’s only in the institution of marriage, until things get a little smoother. There’s unfortunately a high divorce rate after the loss of a child. Focus on the positive. Remember that you’ve made a commitment to each other, which can be a huge obstacle early in a loss.
A partnership can easily fall apart after such an experience, but it’s within the couple’s control to keep their marriage together. You can grow together or apart, it’s up to you. Getting professional help from an outside source can be a huge support.