As we're driving back home from an out of town visit with my family on a Sunday evening, I try to hold it together to keep the tears welling up in my eyes from blurring my vision as the sun sets. It had only been a few months since our son had passed away and I was desperately missing him and depressed. Those first few car rides without him were unbearable because the car was noticeably quieter and there was an empty seat where someone had always been.
As we drove up our driveway, I was on the verge of completely losing it with tears now streaming down my face. I got out of the car as fast as I could in order to keep my daughters from seeing me for fear of having to explain why daddy was crying again.
I quickly unpacked the car while avoiding everyone as best I could. In no mood for talking and with a mission in mind, I snuck into our bathroom to get my hair clippers. Then I went and got my bible and an extension cord. Yes, this is where the story starts to get weird.
By now, I was able to avoid Brea and managed to get outside without her seeing me with my assortment of random items. It was dark by now and the only way I could see was by the light of my phone. I set my bible down on the driveway and plugged in my hair clippers. Now, I do the logical thing anyone feeling hopelessly sad and losing their mind would do - I start shaving my head.
If I was going crazy, this was a pretty good start. If the neighbors had seen me, I'm sure they would have called 911 because it had to be quite a sight. A grown man, lying down on the driveway in the dark, crying out loud, and shaving his head.
Even though it may have looked like someone out of their mind, I did have a reason why I wanted to shave my head. Just month's before Jacob's accident I had started cutting his hair with these clippers. Brea didn't like it much because it made him look older and I cut his little wavy red hair too short.
For whatever reason, this was a way I felt closer to him. I wanted to cut my hair like his. Sounds strange, I know. But, this type of behavior is actually par for the course with a bereaved parent.
Now that I'm done shaving my head, my next impulse is to start yelling at God and reading bible verses out loud. I go on my usual rant asking for God to speak to me. "God, can you see how much I need you now? Where are you? How am I going to make it?"
After having looked for me all over the house, Brea opens the door, walks outside and quietly says my name. "Jason?" "Yea - I'm over here." I said in a garbled tone. She asked "What are you doing?" I answer back to her "I don't know." At least I gave her an honest answer.
She walked over to me and must have been a little freaked out by the state she found me in. I wouldn't have blamed her if she had been scared or angry with me. But, what she did do was a defining moment in our marriage for me.
She walked over and sat down next to me. She pulled me over close to her and laid my head in her lap. And, she started rubbing her fingers through my newly chopped hair and let me cry like a baby.
She didn't tell me I was crazy or yell at me for cutting all of my hair. She didn't try to fix me. She was quiet and just sat with me. I do remember her giggling a little at how ridiculous I looked.
Eventually, every marriage is tested to some degree. Maybe through financial troubles, infidelity, loss of a job, a spouse who is checked out, emotional issues due to childhood trauma, or health problems; the friction and stress brought on can lead us to question how we're going to hold our marriage together.
Had we not already been in therapy together by this point, I'm not sure how Brea would have reacted to the state she found me in. In our sessions we were able to talk through our difficulties, our pain, and our disagreements. Thankfully, we were given tools and insights we could use to help us navigate the strains being put on our relationship.
By no means do we have it all figured out and we struggle just like everyone else. But, I thought it would be helpful to share some of the insights and takeaways we learned and are able to put to use:
1. Pursue your spouse during difficult times. Don't run away. Sit with them in their pain. Sometimes it's hard to watch and it's tempting to want to stick your head in the sand and pretend things will get better on their own. But, if you decide that your marriage is worth fighting for, then be committed to running towards each other in hard times and figuring out a way forward together.
2. Let each other have good days and bad days. This was one of the most important pieces of advice we received. Out of codependence, Brea and I used to feel like we had to pull each other out of their funk. If Brea was feeling bad, then I felt like I had to either join her in her sadness or figure out how to get her to feel better. Also, if one of you is having a good day and the other isn't - you don't have to feel guilty that you're having a good day. It's not the responsibility of your spouse to make you feel a certain way and vice versa.
3. Go see a therapist together and/or separately, if necessary. Some people are embarrassed to admit they need the help of a therapist. Men, especially, feel like it means they are weak. Seeing a therapist together and one on one, has been a significant part of our healing process and has strengthened our relationship.
4. Find purpose outside of yourselves in meaningful projects you can work on together. In 2012, we started raising money to support and sponsor orphans in Uganda through Children's Hopechest. You can read more information about some of the work we've done through our partnership with Hopechest at www.mysuperhero.org . To date, we've raised over $150,000 to honor Jacob and raise funds for capital projects at a fundraiser we called The Superhero Ball . If you're interested in learning more about sponsoring a child through Hopechest, click here. It was helpful for us to take the focus off ourselves and our present suffering and find meaning and purpose in helping others together.
5. Forgive one another over and over again. This is pretty self explanatory and obvious. Ultimately, forgiveness is a choice. Plain and simple. You have the power to choose to forgive. It takes work on some issues, but if you're committed to staying with your spouse and you love them - you make the choice and move on.
6. Accept the change that happens in each other as a result of life's challenges. There is no doubt that Brea and I are different people in some ways now. It can be a struggle, but we have to accept that some life changing moments are going to change the way we interact, feel, and think going forward.
Brea could have reacted differently that night. She could have turned around and walked off. She could have yelled at me and started crying. But, she didn't. She chose to love and hold onto the broken man who was different in many ways than the one she married. We've said many times that we have walked through hell together. Our marriage could have easily been torn apart by the death of our son. But, instead I know that our marriage is much stronger than it was before and we have been given some amazing tools to guide us. One thing is for sure, whatever inevitable difficulty we face in the future - we'll be doing it together.
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Alright boys and girls - go grab that special someone and have a listen to this song together. Forever Like That - Ben Rector