They say marriage is for better or for worse. Couples try to support and care for each other, through good times and bad. Usually, when one of us hits rock bottom, the other can try to be the mainstay for a little while, to help the other along. But what happens when our child dies? The couple is now cast into the same dark place, struggling with the worst thing they have ever faced. Couples are there together, but they may discover that they are also there alone.
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Now not all couples in grief experience this dilemma. I believe that marriages with “wounded bird syndrome” suffer the most. What is the “wounded bird syndrome”?
Many times a nurturer will marry a wounded bird who is extremely dependent. They need their spouse to fulfill their every need. As a result, it puts a lot of pressure on the relationship. The person who is the nurturer feels as if the weight of the relationship is upon them and they feel smothered. The wounded bird is frustrated with the nurturer because they never can take care of every need that they have. What the wounded bird is trying to do is to have their needs met by someone who is not able to meet them.
A wounded bird in grief will seek someone to fulfill this unmet need.
I never knew what this meant until I got a text message one day from Cecile (names and events are changed to protect their identities). She asked “How can I tell Peter,my boyfriend to move on without being insensitive?” Then Cecile and I talked on the landline phone. She explained that her boyfriend lost his 5 year old daughter , Samantha in a car accident over 6 months ago. Not that I am nosy or anything like that, I asked if she was the mother of the girl.
“No. Peter and his wife were already separated a year before the accident” Cecile said.
Would it have been rude of me to ask: “Where’s the proof they are separated?” I just treated Cecile as a support system to Peter. For the next three months, Cecile and I were in contact. She wanted to comfort her boyfriend in his most difficult moment. Knowing how important support is, I gave tips on Handling the Bereaved. Then one day, a friend asked me to help a bereaved mother.
My friend said “Emma lost her 5 year old daughter to a car accident a few months ago. Can you talk to her? “.
DING-DONG. Something rang inside my mind.
I asked my friend “Is Samantha the name of her daughter who died on May 13, 2005?”
My friend affirmed.
What a small word our grief circle is!
The succeeding text messages infuriated me. I felt like a fool. I found out that Emma and Peter are very much married.
I immediately texted Cecile and confronted her about this revelation.
Cecile pleaded “Please don’t mention we talked”
I shouldn’t have given advice to Cecile in the first place. She used Peter’s grief to her advantage so they could get close and continue their trysts. Like a wounded bird, Cecile nurtured Peter with the grief support I provided. I was so mad.
I met up with Emma finally. I wanted to tell her about her husband’s girlfriend. A couple’s grief gets even more complicated with a third party. I waited for the right opportunity and allowed her to unload her thoughts and feelings. I found out that she knew about the existence of the girl even prior to Samantha’s death. As far as she knew, that relationship ended. I felt that I could not continue talking to Emma until I revealed the truth. I felt like a hypocrite if I withheld that tidbit.
I released the bombshell.
Emma’s face crumpled.
I wanted to cry when I saw her pained expression.
I thought she would kill me with this revelation but thank goodness she was full of gratitude.
I told her that she is not alone with the wounded bird syndrome. Another bereaved mother experienced the same situation with a “girl friend” of her spouse. What helped the couple was the knowledge that couples grieve differently. The Compassionate Friends, helped with this revelation. The spouse found comfort and strength in talking to other parents who have battled through similar difficulties and survived them. There is hope in Emma and Peter’s marriage. I introduced her to Angie, the bereaved mother who almost lost her spouse to a cunning girlfriend.
It is often said that a relationship is like a dance: we have to find a tempo that works for us both, but then each of has our own steps. Grieving will probably intensify our awareness of each other and our sense of ‘together yet alone’. The need to remember our child and to share memories will always be there. But our lives do continue, and the insights into our relationship that have been so painfully discovered as we grieve may enrich our partnership in the years ahead.