Audra is an amazing driver. I feel completely safe when she is behind the wheel, and I enjoy the opportunity to gaze at her fondly (which distracts her from being a good driver...). Another benefit of Audra driving is that we get where we are going quickly.
When I am driving, I often go more slowly than necessary. I get stuck behind an elderly person on a tractor or something and mosey along. It's not that I'm trying to go slowly; I get distracted. I'm either deep in thought listening to EconTalk, trying to verbalize the combination of letters and numbers on license plates, or shooting lasers from the tips of my fingers at objects ahead of me. Audra encourages me to speed up by saying, "Pokey, isn't he?"
Even when two people are going in the same general direction, they may take different routes or go at different speeds. Those differences can lead to frustration and conflict.
After we lost our first daughter, Melody, Audra and I had work through grieving at different speeds. Audra had carried Melody for five months, so they shared an intimate connection that I did not have. I held Melody after she was born and made her coffin, but my relationship with her was different. And thus my grief was different.
A big work project clamored for my attention soon afterward, and that gave me a distraction from dealing with grief. Meanwhile, Audra struggled with the aching loss and a sense of isolation, which I exacerbated through my ignorance and insensitivity.
To help Audra "get over it" (my thought), I pushed her into attending a GriefShare class. Our fellow attendees were all middle aged or older. Most of them had lost spouses, though one couple had lost a grown daughter. They were at different stages in their grief journeys, and it wasn't a great fit for us at the time. After we lost Avery, I attended a GriefShare class for myself, and it was a great blessing. I was able to focus on my grieving and healing instead of trying to fix someone else.
Grieving is hard by itself. But it also makes harder other things in our lives, everything from getting out of bed in the morning to maintaining healthy relationships. When two people are going through grief together (e.g., a married couple mourning the loss of a child), things are even more complicated because each person is different. We have different memories, different dreams that are dashed, and different expectations for what should happen next and when.
One practical lesson I've learned is that I cannot depend on Audra to meet all of my emotional needs, just as she cannot depend fully on me. Especially when both of us are at a low point, it's okay to invite someone else into the situation to help us face it. Even when one of us is doing "well," and the other person is having a hard time, we may still need to bring in outside assistance.
Our grief journey will not end in this life, and we will never be at exactly the same place in that journey. Instead of letting that drive us apart, we should give each other space to grieve and the benefit of the doubt when things get tough. We should also continue to lean on the people who have stuck with us. Even though we grieve at different speeds, we are headed in the same direction, "looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:10).