By: Kayla & Ben Leibner
When someone experiences the loss of a loved one, the way they feel, process and bear that burden is known as grief – and grief is a unique experience for everyone. Each individual person journeys through it in a different way, using different coping skills, and expressing that very grief in a way that reflects their emotions and their passage through the heartache of loss.
When a couple loses a child, this grief is an ongoing challenge that is both personal and shared. We began our journey as grieving parents in August 2017 when our beautiful newborn daughter, Melody died. As we were confronting our own pain and grief, we were also faced with the challenge of supporting our living children in their own sorrows. At the time Jace was almost eleven, and Kiley was well into her “terrible twos”. They were both affected differently, as were we, so we found ourselves living in a world of diversified grieving situations.
As we began to find a way to tread the murky waters of what was now our everyday life, we began to feel progress and growth. Unfortunately, in May 2018 life added to that already heavy emotional burden when we lost Jamie in a miscarriage a little less than nine months after Melody’s death. We were astounded… at a loss… and the little bit of hope we’d begun to feel had been devastated and distorted into an even deeper agony as we said goodbye a second time.
Looking at the pieces of our life, we were once again sitting among the ashes of our hope. At this point we were at a very figurative and literal crossroads – How do we grieve? While we knew each of us were experiencing our own feelings and dealing with our losses in a unique way, we also recognized that our marriage is a sacred union. We were brought together by God to love, support, and care for one another no matter what. There are a couple of scriptures that are very significant to us, and they have guided us in our marriage and even on our journey of grief:
“Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mark 10:9, NKJV)
“But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15, NKJV)
These verses are the very foundation of our marriage. God joined us, and we serve Him. It seems simple, but when working through the darkness of grief, things aren’t always as clear as we would like. While we were each dealing with our own insecurities, thoughts, feelings, and the weight of our individual grief we also had to find a way to work through it together as a unified couple. We had to allow ourselves to open up to one another with God as our center instead of shutting down. This was no easy task.
Ben – A Husband’s Burden
I am not and have never been a person that processes things verbally – not joy, not complications, and certainly not grief. I am what people would call a “silent sufferer” because I just don’t talk about it. I have always had a tendency to keep everything bottled up inside. I just stuff it all deep down. Instead of dealing with the difficult emotions and situations that arose after our losses I found myself being consumed by the opportunity to keep my mind and my body busy with work.
After being emotionally absent for quite some time I came to realize that I was shutting off the feelings and fighting against the deep struggle it was to fill the role of being the head of my family during my grief. I was faced with the ugly nature of my own sadness, of the complete and utter agony that I felt after losing my children. But at the same time, I had to find a way to be a supportive parent to my hurting children and a compassionate and sensitive husband to my broken wife.
Realizing that I needed to be these things while also taking care of myself wasn’t easy, but it was even more difficult to get myself to a place emotionally to be able to do so. I had to learn to support and be supported. It was a burdensome thought to allow my hurting family to support me, but as time went on I realized that it was a uniquely difficult and also necessary balancing act we all had to take part in.
Slowly I allowed Kayla to break down those walls and I began to talk about how I felt, and I started allowing myself to grieve, and through that process I was able to begin healing. In those beginning steps of restoring myself I was able to be in a mindset that more readily allowed me to be there for my family, to be what they deserve.
Because my wife was patient and persistent, and because I didn’t give up on myself I was able to come back from being the silent sufferer, and I was able to grow as a person by allowing myself to just experience my own grief. Kayla and I were able to support one another and we were able to be there for our children as we all grieved in our unique ways together.
Kayla – A Wife’s Battle
When we lost our babies, the amount of pain that continuously heaped up inside me was indescribable. The sorrow, anger, and shame continued to grow, and it consumed me deeply. I have always been one to process emotions through verbal and written communication. But I felt the isolation of my grief as I required quite a bit of time off work for mental health reasons. Knowing that my husband doesn’t thrive on communication the way that I do, I found myself trying to allow him the time and space he needed to eventually deal with his grief in a way that was right for him.
I was caught in the dilemma of making sure Ben had the quiet that he needed while still needing to talk and process through things out loud for myself. But I also felt the weight of being a mother to my living children as they suffered through their own emotions after losing their siblings.
I knew that if we were going to come out on the other side of our losses as a unified couple and a mentally healthy family that we would have to work through our grief together. But being people who feel and work through emotions so differently made it a struggle to find the delicate balance that was necessary. Our family grief dynamics had to work for everyone, not just me or Ben or the kids, or us as a couple… It had to work for us all.
Eventually, as I continued to talk through my own feelings and expressed what I needed during this time Ben was able to begin opening up and we were able to be more available to support one another emotionally. As we began grieving and healing together, we found the strength and direction we needed to be there for our children in the ways that they needed us. We were able to grieve openly with them, and we were able to help them learn to express what they felt because we had worked through those things as a couple. Because of that we were able to teach our children that it was okay to grieve and show emotions, and we were able to encourage them to talk about anything they felt.
Life and Love After Loss
I could probably write for days or even weeks about all the ways we succeeded or failed, grew or regressed, or became stronger or weaker. Our journey of grief as a couple has never been clear or linear, but that was the first thing we realized once we opened ourselves up to one another. We took turns being strong and supportive for each other. We took turns needing support. Sometimes our grief would overflow at the same time, so we sat and cried together.
It’s been three and a half years since we first began our journey as bereaved parents. We’ve learned so much about ourselves and each other, and about us as a couple, but there is so much more growing room left as we continue to heal and find peace. One thing that we both agree has helped us to survive this most treacherous storm in our life is that we were able to ground ourselves in our faith. We trusted God to carry us through as individuals, as a married couple, as parents, and also our family as a whole. We knew that if we looked for God’s work in all circumstances that we would see Him and feel His presence regardless of our pain and suffering. We often reminded ourselves of these words that Jesus spoke:
“Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened,
And I will give you rest.”
(Matthew 11:28 NASB-2020)
By resting our souls in the Lord, we have been able to grow in ways we never would have imagined possible despite our pain and suffering. We have been able to find comfort in knowing that someday we will see Melody and Jamie again. Each day we live our lives, grateful that God was able to bring us closer together through such tragedy, and we are able to look forward to that day when can hug our children and be with them forever.
May God bless you and bring you peace.
About Kayla and Ben Leibner
Ben and Kayla have known each other for fifteen years, have been together for almost eight years, and will soon be celebrating their seventh wedding anniversary. Ben works in management while Kayla is at home working with their daughter during her virtual schooling. Ben and Kayla are the proud parents of two living children – Jace (14) and Kiley (almost 6), and two angel babies – Melody and Jamie. Ben and Kayla have built their family with God as the center and have deep roots in their faith, as God’s comfort has carried them through their individual and collective grief. Their family interests include Bible studies, family movie nights, puzzles, coffee, and other things that can be done together!