About three or so months after Caleb died, the rage began.
It was sudden.
It made no sense to me.
And to be honest, at times, it would scare me.
It would scare me because it seemed random and without cause; I couldn’t pin point where it came from.
One day my frustration bubbled over and I gathered the courage to yell at him “Why are you so ANGRY? What made you so angry today?”
He stared at me silently for a bit and then quietly responded “my son died.”
In that moment I finally understood what his anger was trying to tell me all along. He was raging because he was grieving in his own way about the death of our son, and three other babies, and there wasn’t anything specific that enraged him – it was the simple fact that his children had died and he was left to pick up the pieces of his broken heart and help me pick up mine. The deaths of our babies left a gaping wound and we were left on a grief journey wrought with shattered hearts, twisted insides and massive emotional trauma that felt impossible to take on. It wasn’t fair. It was so effing hard. It caused an inordinate amount of pain which, for him, manifested in rage over what would typically be considered mundane things.
I would encounter my husband in a rage – rage cleaning, rage driving, just raging. Raging about things I didn’t find a big deal and I couldn’t understand why it would send him over the edge. So one day at a support group I began attending shortly after Caleb’s death I brought it up within the safe space of those four walls and those fellow Grief Warriors. “He just flips out over nothing,” I told them trying to figure it all out. “I keep asking him over and over again what’s making him so angry and he just tells me he doesn’t know. Obviously, he just doesn’t want to tell me.” I was indignant with the phrase “I don’t know” because to me that was the lazy way out; I felt like he needed to push past his initial response of “I don’t know” and dig deeper into what was the catalyst for his anger. That’s what I always did – pushed until I found an answer. Why wasn’t he doing the same?
Every once in awhile at this meeting one or a few of the husbands would join us and the evening I was on my high horse about my husband’s anger he gave me the greatest gift in understanding my his grief – “oh, it’s not that he doesn’t want to tell you,” Chris began. “It’s that men don’t necessarily need a reason to be mad. You’re looking for a specific cause for his anger but sometimes we are just angry because that’s an easier, and more accepted, emotion to process the other emotions like sadness and grief. I’m just saying, he probably is saying he doesn’t know why he’s angry because he really doesn’t – it’s just how he’s processing Caleb’s death.”
I stared at Chris with my mouth agape and mind blown. “He doesn’t need a reason?” I repeated. “Nope,” Chris replied matter of factly. I couldn’t wrap my brain around it at first. “Men can be angry with no reason?” I repeated to the group. “Yep,” Chris sighed knowing it wasn’t what I wanted to hear but what I needed to hear.
Until that point, I believed that the shared loss of our children would create the same reactions, coping mechanisms, and understanding between Scott and I because no one understood the loss of our babies the way the two of us did. I knew he had grieved our first three babies differently than I had but I assumed it was because they weren’t tangible to him yet because they died so early. He wasn’t feeling the pregnancy symptoms or changes in his body the way I was so he simply couldn’t understand my grief for Jackson, Grace and Reagan.
But Caleb? Scott was in the delivery room when Caleb was pulled from my body in that silent operating room. He saw him at the same time I did, held him against my chest while the docs finished putting my insides back together. We took him in together, fell in love with how perfect he was and cried bitter tears together that our son had arrived, but was already gone.
Scott held Caleb, tended to him, protected him, made memories with him, right along with me for four days in the hospital. Scott, along with his best friend, Craig, lowered him into the ground at his place in the mountains. How could it be that I wasn’t understanding his grief was different from my own and that he was processing it through rage, even though it was a shared experience? When I went home and told Scott what Chris had said at group that night, he shook his head silently, eternally grateful that another man had stood in the gap for him and explained to his wife what I wasn’t hearing well from him.
After that night I still didn’t fully believe in the concept of anger with no catalyst so when Scott was rage cleaning one day in the kitchen I blew up and asked what he was so angry about that day and it was then that he found the words to tell me “my son died” and everything clicked into place for me. Even though I had not yet learned the phrase “holding space”, we began to slowly put it in practice with each other. We learned how others further along held space for each other and through time and a lot of hits and misses, we determined how we want space to be held for each other, by each other.
This was not easy.
The rage continued for him and then it ignited in me as well. Some days we were raging at the same time; often times it was separate and we would have to invoke our trusted phrase “my son died” in an effort to explain, yet not.
It’s been 8 years since Caleb died, and we are still figuring each other’s grief out at times. Real talk, Friends – this is an ugly process. And it takes an inordinate amount of intention to remember that the rage you’re encountering isn’t about you – it’s just a means to process and it needs a container to be processed in. That’s why holding space for your spouse is SO incredibly important; because as uncomfortable as anger can make us, it needs to be processed. It needs to be examined and worked through. It needs understanding and tenderness.
Hubs and I are Dave Matthews Band enthusiasts (see also: fanatics) and as such we chose the recessional for our wedding to be a DMB song called “You + Me”. “You + Me together/we can do anything/baby” Dave sings and we have clung to those words more often than I can count. It is our battle cry and a reminder that the space we hold for each other’s grief is sacred because it allows us to keep going.
As Valentines Day approaches this week, consider giving the gift of holding space or creating a container for your spouse’s grief. Invite them into a safe space where they can be broken but with the knowing that you both know it won’t be forever. The only way through grief is through – and having space held for it is one incredibly beautiful way to process it.
Check out this week’s #tbsptuesday for a special guest and a deeper dive into how Scott and I have learned to hold space for each other’s grief.