We have a giant attic where we live now. One half is carpeted and cozy. Give a hard shove to a wooden door that sticks, and you’ll see the other half, with exposed beams and loose floor slats, filled with tubs of memories and stages of our 12 plus years together. I avoided those storage tubs for years. They were filled with some of the things we kept of our son, Noah, after he died. His “I MARCH TO THE BEAT OF MY OWN DRUM” T-shirt with an alligator on a skateboard. His brown sweater that he’s wearing in my favorite picture of him and my husband. The big wool throw blanket imprinted with that same picture that I gave my husband for Father’s Day. That’s a tough one. We still haven’t taken it out of the storage tub. Noah used to love to lay on that blanket and laugh and say “Daddy.”
I was looking for the box of winter decorations in the attic yesterday. I realized I never even put out the Fall decorations this year when I came upon that box filled with all things Autumn. I got very sad about the passing of another season without celebrating it with my burlap decorative pumpkins, the scarecrows, the garland of orange and red leaves. Damn it. I missed Fall.
I pulled out some lights, some greenery, some snowflakes, some little ceramic figures to hang on the wreath at the door. And then I found a bag filled with our wedding favors. You know those little wooden toys we’d get as kids? You press the bottom and the dog or cat puppet-like figure would bend and sway and jerk around. Sometimes they’d collapse at the knees or drop down on all four paws. Instead of a cute little animal, our wedding favor was a tiny bride and groom. I found them in retro styled toy catalog. And these little wooden people were about to bend in every direction.
Marriage is a funny thing. Or more simply, as my friend Kate recently texted to me, #marriageisweird. You are bound together. But you are still separate. You love each other. You would do anything for each other. You annoy the shit out of each other. You wish the other would just go away for a little while. But not too long. Because it doesn’t feel the same when they’re not there. And then they come back. And you’re happy. And then annoyed again. My husband and I suffered one of the most devastating events a marriage can endure. The loss of a child. I had heard the statistics. In fact, in my hysteria the same day our son died, I remember actually saying “Couples don’t stay together after a child dies! My husband is going away too! It’s all over!”
According to Andrea Gambill (owner and editor of Bereavement Magazine):
“The original percentage of divorce, cited as high as 90 percent, came from the book ‘The Bereaved Parent‘ by Harriet Schiff in the late 60s. Harriet is a bereaved parent and a former journalist for the Detroit Free Press and she never meant that statistic to be considered as a reliable scientific study number. She was trying to make the point in her book that the death of a child creates a stressor in marriages and that families need extra support and attention after the death of a child because men and women grieve differently.”
In 2006, The Compassionate Friends, an international support group for grieving parents, took a survey consisting of voluntary participants and one of the questions dealt with divorce. They found that only 16 percent of parents divorce after the death of a child and only four percent said it was solely because of the death of their child.
But even for couples not living in the shadow of their worst nightmare, #marriageisweird. I pulled a few of these little wooden toys out of the storage tub, still with our names and wedding date tags on them. I remember handwriting them and tying the little blue ribbons on in the living room of our apartment from five apartments ago. I figured our four-year-old daughter would like to play with them. I also thought maybe a visual and tangible reminder of our actual wedding day, aside from the photos on the wall, may reduce some of the weirdness lately. When we’re both too busy. And nerves are on edge. When we forget to be kind to each other.
I found myself playing with this toy while I watched the coffee drip into the pot this morning. It’s never fast enough these days. I pressed the bottom with my thumb and laughed as the bride smacked the groom in the face. Then I pressed again and watched the groom bend backwards while the bride threw an arm stiffly up in the air. I kept pressing the bottom to see what jerky movements this young couple would do. They came up with every possible combination. They were glued to this base that kept forcing movements and punches and they just kept popping back up.
It was the nature of the toy. It’s how it was designed. Little did I know how perfectly this wooden toy would represent our marriage. We are glued to this base. Arms flailing and knees collapsing. Backbends and lurching forward. We will just keep popping back up. Bending but never breaking. Bending separately and together.