In recent months, my dear friend, Leigh Ann*, has entered unknown territory in her marriage. How should she faithfully love and support her husband in his grief as he watches his father die of cancer? Her uncertainty as she tries to love him through this process is very close to my heart, and has been a reminder of my own feelings of awkwardness and self-doubt as I walked a similar path this past year.
My husband’s grandmother was dying, slowly and painfully. Though we wanted to see her at peace and no longer suffering, saying this out loud felt like a betrayal. It sounded like we were ready for her to go. We were not.
On top of all of this was the feeling that it was not my time to grieve. While I did mourn and weep and hate the effects of the Fall afresh as she died, my husband’s grief was naturally deeper. I had known Ginny for 5 1/2 years. She had loved me well and had welcomed me into the family when my husband and I were married, and I loved her dearly. My husband, however, had never known a day without her presence. In some ways, she was his closest friend — a second mother, a cheerleader, and — through her marriage to his grandfather — a picture of the godly marriage to which he looked as his example.
His grief was not my grief.
I knew that I was somehow supposed to comfort him and help to bear his burden as he faced the unknown of his grandmother’s departure, but I was afraid of not loving well in this moment of crisis. I wanted so much for someone to give me a list of things to do. I felt like Colonel Brandon from Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility — so perfectly played by Alan Rickman in the 1995 film adaptation — as he watches his dear Marianne on the brink of death, and asks her sister, Elinor, how he can be of service:
Colonel Brandon: What can I do?
Elinor Dashwood: Colonel, you have done so much already…
Colonel Brandon: Give me an occupation, Miss Dashwood, or I shall run mad.
I wanted an “occupation” — a concrete way to love.
While in no way exhaustive, the following points are three practical ways to love a spouse who is grieving. (Please click here to see a PDF for much more practical possibilities for application for each of these three thoughts.) In my earthly life, I have seen these most beautifully embodied in my husband’s love for me, who tenderly seeks to love me like Christ does in the midst of our earthly trials and pain. This past year, as we grieved his grandmother’s death, his own example gave me the “occupation” that I so deeply desired as I tried to love him through his grief. His love for me is an earthly haven through which he points to my unshakeable, eternal haven which is found in God alone.
- CREATE a haven for your spouse.
- As your spouse is grieving, make them a priority in your time. (Please click here to view a PDF for practical ways to embody this, as well as the following points, in your own life and unique situation.)
- As they experience a degree of chaos in everyday life, make your shared space one of rest. Welcome your spouse home (or back to the hotel, etc.) to a haven in which to process the turmoil they are facing. Let your shared space be a place of grace, comfort, beauty, and rest.
- BECOME a haven for your spouse.
- Be emotionally present and vulnerable with your spouse during this time. While tasks can seem like more fulfilling and practical ways to love, being constantly caught up in acts of service could be used as a means of keeping busy and escaping vulnerable conversations with your spouse. God has brought you to this moment together. Allow the period of grieving to strengthen your marriage and your love for one another.
- Let your body be given as a physical expression of love to your spouse, allowing your sex life to become a place of healing. The intimacy which God designed for sex can be a unique means of comfort and grace to your grieving spouse.
- POINT your spouse to their unshakable, eternal haven.
Be intentional about pointing your spouse to the true source of comfort, hope, and eternal stability as they grieve. While it is our joy to be the hands and feet of Christ to those we love, let us never forget that we are but a reflection, created in the image of the eternal God — never God Himself. As you seek to CREATE a haven for your spouse and BECOME a haven in the midst of their grief, remember to POINT them to God Himself as the true source of comfort, security, and provision throughout all of life.
* Name changed for privacy
Kami Belmont, a sassy Southern redhead, moved to the Midwest as a high school senior in 2003 with her family as her parents pursued degrees from Covenant Theological Seminary. During grad school at Saint Louis University, she met her husband, Andrew (a.k.a. “Belmont”) at The Kirk of the Hills Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, MO, where they still worship together. When she is not teaching Spanish, she enjoys creativity and adding beauty to all areas of life — from handmade pastas to floral arrangements to hand-lettered cards and invitations. She and her husband love creating family traditions and spending quality time with friends and family around their dining room table.