Finding a Space for Loss

Learning from Hannah & Elkanah

Transitions and loss

Transitions can be a difficult in marriage. When we encounter loss in marriage, this can be another form of transition. Perhaps it’s a loss in physical or mental well-being and a decline in functioning that feels unwelcome. Both for the individual and spouse. There are other losses, some more ambiguous than others, like when a soldier is deployed overseas, though expected, it’s a loss and a transition. Couples face the joint loss that comes with infertility, grieving month after month, or year after year for the baby who wasn’t conceived – an often unseen, unspoken loss. Miscarriage and stillbirth represent a huge loss for the couple and family. There are other types of losses, like the gradual loss of a parent who has dementia, losses that come with moving home and relocating. The loss when adult children leave the family home and the resulting ‘empty nest’; or an actual bereavement of a loved one.

Space for loss

We all respond to loss differently. With regards to changes in physical and mental health, this can sometimes feel like an eternal transition. The loss may be briefly acknowledged, only to subsequently be denied. The adjustment can be hard to come to terms with. Thomas Moore in his writings ‘Care of the Soul’ [1] points out to us, that historically we used to welcome melancholy more and provide space for it. Sometimes there’s not always the space for people to stop and grieve.

In renaissance gardens there was often a bower, a shaded spot under trees and flowers, a dedicated place for people to go when they were experiencing feelings of melancholia. Where it was accepted that people could sit, undisturbed for a period of time and be sad. Often in society these days, we want things to be fixed quickly. Our toleration for sadness, grief, loss, has perhaps diminished. Sometimes we don’t want to allow others to have the space, because we cannot bear to see their pain. There is no space or bower for them to sit with their loss.

Too busy to grieve

At the other extreme, loss can cause a splitting off, a distancing of a different kind with a person becoming manic in their level of activity, desperately trying to keep feelings of loss at bay. This behaviour may work to some extent, but it may push others away too. In the world of psychology, we’re often looking for the healthy middle ground. Having space to grieve, embracing it, but not getting stuck in it, disabled and unable to process the experience.

‘Couple fit’ and loss

Transition points such as those that come with loss can also arise from issues connected with one’s ‘couple fit’. There may particular associations with loss from each partner’s family of origin. This may complicate the grieving process. It’s helpful to explore this together, be patient and kind, and take the time to understand the wider echoes and connections the loss may have for you both.

Elkanah and Hannah’s struggle with loss

In the Bible Hannah was a woman who was barren, empty inside and grieving the loss of being unable to conceive. The interaction with her husband perhaps highlights the difficulties that can arise for a couple when they encounter loss. One person in the relationship is left feeling uncertain about how to support the other person. Her husband says: “Why are you crying, Hannah?” Elkanah would ask. “Why aren’t you eating? Why be downhearted just because you have no children? You have me—isn’t that better than having ten sons?” (1 Samuel 1:8).

Elkanah is wanting to offer comfort and encourage Hannah, but in a sense he rejects and minimises her pain. Hannah seeks spiritual solace and she takes herself to the temple to pray. Here, her prayer for a child is answered. Hannah is comforted by God and afterwards her son Samuel is born.

Hannah’s husband’s reaction highlights the difficulty that one partner may have when faced with their spouse’s grief. They don’t know what to do, they’re unsure how best to support them. They may want the pain to be fixed. And so they may try to dampen it down, and disallow the space for them to process their loss. We see this pattern occur with Hannah’s husband Elkanah.

Comfort in mourning

When we are grieving in our relationship, we perhaps don’t always get such a dramatic answer to our prayers. Or such a dramatic overcoming of our loss, like Hannah did. However, when we seek out God and we seek out the stillness of his presence, we can be comforted there individually and as a couple. We hold onto the hope from the promise that: ‘God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.’ (Matthew 5:4). Help us God to experience your comfort when we encounter loss.

[1] Moore, T. (1992). Care of the Soul: How to add depth and meaning to your everyday life. London: Piatkus.

Read More

Read the previous article: Generational transitions in marriage

Read the next article: The Family Triangle

Read about about the book: In Bed with Adam and Eve – Your Guide to a Healthy Marriage

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