My husband and I have faced some challenges in life. There have been times when I’ve thought the most fitting (and funny, kind of) epitaph for my gravestone would be, “She survived.” We’ve struggled with finances, unemployment, and medical issues of various kinds. One of our children almost died—twice—during the first ten days of life. With each of our kids, we faced at least one huge struggle during their teen years. Although we haven’t lost parents or siblings, we’ve lost grandparents and a sister-in-law.
With each of these challenges, my husband and I have responded differently to the situation. I often felt annoyed or frustrated that his process is not like mine. With so many of our struggles, I’ve been quick to judge his response as wrong or lesser than mine—simply because it wasn’t my way. And I’ve sometimes allowed myself to wonder how I ended up married to a man who was so very different from me.
Today we had to put down our family’s beloved Norwegian elkhound. At twelve years old, he was at the outside edge of his breed’s expected life span. A slow decline over months led to a fast decline over days. This afternoon, surrounded by his whole pack holding on to him, our dog passed away.
Yes, it’s just a dog, but there is still grief.
My grief wants me to gather the dog’s things together, talk about him a lot, and cry. My husband, however, is already looking at cute puppy pictures online and trying to persuade me we need a new fur-baby. I was caught off-guard. How can he be looking for a replacement before he’s even grieved the one we lost? I expected my usual judgment of his process.
Instead, I found myself fascinated by the fact that he is responding to this so differently than I am.
I realized that I am seeing this is an opportunity to learn something new about my husband. I want to understand my husband better, to think about how he processes things differently than I do. Rather than think of our differences as a gulf that separates us, I am already thinking of our differences in terms of the unique ways we have to support each other.
Although our grieving is different, our grief is shared. And that’s all that really matters.