Fear and Marriage Planning: Death

A couple years ago, my friend Molly and I were headed to Nashville to see a touring Broadway show called “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.” Honestly, I can’t recommend the show, but I’m glad we went to see it because it gave Molly and I about six uninterrupted hours in the car to catch up. We used to meet for lunch once a week, but since she married and moved, we hadn’t been able to stay in regular contact.

After a while, Molly began to confess some honest aspects of marriage that she hadn’t anticipated. We started talking about fears, and I brought up the fear that my future partner (I wasn’t dating anyone at the time) would die. Molly immediately answered, “You can’t think about that. You can’t let yourself.”

Her conviction came from experience, but also from something her mom had once told her: “If you ever get married and something happens to them, you can’t fall apart. You have to keep it together to handle things and take care of your family.”

Although I don’t particularly feel like an adult and I’m told that I won’t ever feel that way, I am aware that part of maturity is the ability to deal with the situations, particularly the bad and sudden and complex ones, that arise. It requires adaptation and leadership. It involves eating less sugar and more greens and having less and less desire to stay up late or go out after work on Friday (even if it’s just to a restaurant). It involves facing violence and loss and disappointment without losing, or letting die, the spark of hope and kindness and joy inside you.

Another part of being an adult is being reliable. As a kid, you don’t always have a lot of food-on-the-table responsibility, but you have homework, studying, friends, sports/activities, and job responsibilities depending on age, time of year, and socio-economic status. When you get to adulthood, or independence, your responsibilities are different because your safety net and goals are different.

And when you have a spouse, perhaps also children, you are part of a team. You can’t collapse on your responsibilities or everyone in your nuclear family will suffer.

In the wake of Molly’s words, I thought of friends of friends whose spouses have committed suicide, been injured or killed, or grown very sick. I understood that being in love and having children are vastly different kinds of love and are also extremely intense. So to lose a person on your team, or for that person to be in tremendous pain, must be proportionally painful and disorienting.

Molly followed up her mother’s words by telling me that she can’t let herself think about anything happening to her husband. It upsets her to think about seriously, to imagine, and so she can’t let her mind go there. Emotion rose in her voice as she explained; even this much discussion was difficult for her.

Last year, as Tropical Storm (formerly Hurricane) Irma came through Macon, I found myself at home alone about ten miles from Tyler, who was also at home alone. He lives in a second floor apartment, and the house where I live has a basement. Thinking of tornados, I deemed my house to be the safer place to be, but I still wished I could be where he was. I had a dog to care for and it wasn’t safe to be on the roads, so I stayed put, but the ferocity of my desire to be where Tyler was surprised me.

I reached my hand out, swishing it through these waters.

For the first time I didn’t care about being in the logically safest place as much as I cared about being where he was. I would rather have been in his apartment with him, knowing he was safe or facing danger with him, than being safe at my house and not know every moment if he was okay.

I watched the radar until the power went out, then I forced myself to save my phone battery and his by not texting him constantly for updates. (I also didn’t want to be annoying.)

That week was lonely. Because of road conditions, I spent a couple days at home with only the dog, candles, and the overcast sky. I checked on and was checked on by my neighbors, but I had no other personal contact. I didn’t see Tyler for two days, and sitting across from him at the restaurant where we met up during his lunch break (my office didn’t regain power until later that day), I felt the charge of built-up stress shaking my limbs and voice. And I felt relieved. I wanted nothing more than to go to his apartment and lay down on his couch with him and sleep. To know he was safe. To feel safe wherever he was. To not be alone (and in the dark) anymore.

As I drive to work each morning, I glance at the interstate Tyler takes to work. When there are backups—and often when there aren’t—I pray for his safe passage to and from work. But even that I can’t think too much about. Last night as I waved goodbye to him from my driveway, I couldn’t let myself imagine his journey, safe or otherwise. I took an extra, long hug and smiled and did not think, did not think about his night drive or the construction zones in the morning or the lonely walk back to my own door.

I kept to Molly’s example and put my fears from my mind before they spun into a monster requiring sweat and blood and sleeplessness to slay. And then I put them from my mind again. And again. Until I finally fell asleep.

Fear and Marriage Planning: Miscarriage

Trigger warning: discussion of miscarriage (non-specific, non-graphic)

Over the next few months, I plan to write about lots of wonderful parts of wedding and marriage planning. (I’m ridiculously excited to register for our Christmas stockings, for instance.) However, I feel like there’s a lot of that in the world. And it isn’t the whole truth of my experience. There’s plenty of fear as well.

I’m an anxious person. I’ve had social anxiety all my life, but I haven’t fully understood the degree to which a more general anxiety has influenced my life until recently. I don’t have generalized anxiety disorder; however, anxiety is a low-level but persistent factor in my life. My mother—I’ve always known and she’s always admitted—is a worrier. But worrying, I believed while growing up, was learned. Learned things could be unlearned, even if my shyness could not. I prayed and unlearned as best I could, but anxiety remained.

And over the course of my life, I’ve developed a number of coping mechanisms and emergency protocols to help me through situations that trigger my anxiety. A big one is managing my expectations. But lately, I’ve noticed myself trying to manage Tyler’s too.

A couple of weekends ago, Tyler and I traveled up to Atlanta to visit my best friend/maid of honor and to go to a Braves game. At some point on the drive, as we were talking about the day, I recalled how excited my bestie’s mom had been that we were thinking of going on a cruise for our honeymoon (she goes on at least 2-3 cruises every year). I hadn’t expected her exuberant reaction. Tyler agreed, saying that’s how his mom will react “when she finds out you’re pregnant.”

Immediately, anxiety gripped my heart with both hands.

Tyler was imagining a scene in the future—real to him, though not yet realized—when I will be pregnant, we will tell his family, and his mom will scream with excitement.

To Tyler, that scene is not a possibility but an expectation.

At least, that’s what I took from his words. We’ve since talked about it and he assures me both that he’s aware of the risks and possibilities and isn’t pretending they can’t apply to us. But at the time, I didn’t know that.

I didn’t want to squash his hope or make him think I don’t hope for the same, but it’s just a hope in me, not a foregone conclusion. Relationships, marriage, good health, and pregnancy are generally accepted as will-happen situations with no complications or problems. We all I know there is a possibility that these dreams might not pan out the way we have been led to expect, but we generally don’t think other people’s tragedies and pains will happen to us. In the filing cabinet of coping strategies, in the emergency protocols drawer, is a folder labeled, “Miscarriage.”

I’ve written before about how, growing up, I kept putting off my disappointing about not being in a relationship, saying it’ll happen by this age, then this later age, until I realized I was building myself up for a disappointment so profound, so capable of embittering me, that it wasn’t healthy to defer hope any longer. I wouldn’t let myself set another relationship due date. I faced the reality of perpetual singleness. I made lists of the great things about it. I read stories of women—single, widowed, or divorced—who built adventurous, generous lives that I could admire. I grieved what I desperately wanted but may never have. I prayed and tried to choose, each day, to accept my current state and whatever future might be mine, especially the ones I found most painful and disappointing to imagine.

In Tyler’s truck that afternoon, he imagined telling his parents, experiencing his mom’s joy. I imagined Tyler having to deliver the bad news, his mom’s disappointment, how she’d look at me the next time she saw me. I imagined her, some weeks or months later, asking when we were going to try again. And if not her, than another well meaning, loving person in our lives.

Tyler’s family is large and close and many of them live nearby. Good news spreads through them like a wave and bad like fire. I imagine carrying everyone’s disappointments as well as my grief and Tyler’s. A miscarriage happens inside you; it brings guilt, a sense of betrayal. I would take the weight of everyone else’s disappointments and my body’s failures on myself. It’s a weight I’m terrified of, and everyone’s knowing would add elephants to it.

I feel horrible for being afraid of something that I have no actual evidence will occur and that we won’t be ready to pursue for years, anyway. So many struggle with infertility, miscarriage, and child loss now. Perpetually.

In Laura Turner’s essay “Missing Hope: A Trio of Miscarriages, and What Happened After,” she writes, they don’t tell you that fear, to reverse a phrase from C.S. Lewis, will feel so like grief, and so you begin to mourn what you have not yet lost, because mourning prematurely is the only way to protect yourself from hope.

“I know there isn’t a family history or anything,” I told Tyler as the stadium grew large before us. “But miscarriages are so common. I’m not going to want to tell anyone for…” we hit a bump and I stayed in the air an extra moment, wondering how many weeks would be safe enough, conservative enough, “a good long while.”

I didn’t want to bring the day’s mood down any further, so I didn’t explain. Tyler didn’t ask questions. He just said okay. My anxiety eased, and we had a really good day.