This post was published with Brett's permission and blessing. There are many parts of our marriage that need and deserve privacy, but we have agreed this part of our story is worth sharing. Thank you, as always, for being respectful with your comments.
I could see the sadness in his eyes, all the way from the other side of the living room. My legs were tucked tightly underneath me on the couch and tears began to sting my eyes. It felt like we were in therapy, minus the therapist.
Confession after confession, we laid it all out on the coffee table.
"I feel depressed," he told me.
"I feel unloved," I told him.
Round and around we went. Accusations, explanations, apologies---back and forth, back and forth. We were both tired. Tired of fighting, tired of arguing, tired of giving each other the silent treatment.
"This isn't us," I said. "We are better than this. We're Brett and Ashlee!"
The air felt raw and vulnerable, bold and desperate---each of us determined to make the other understand. He wanted me to extend more grace; I wanted him to love me better. We slowly confessed our shortcomings and recent failures. He was withdrawn and distracted; I was irritable and bitter. He was in a hole and needed someone to pull him out; I was invisible and needed someone to see me.
Grief is something I know very little about, yet it has creeped into every inch of my home, my marriage, and my life in the past year and a half. It has been all consuming at times, and barely there at other times. But no matter what day, what hour, what conversation, what fight, it is there, permeating the air like a soft poison, crippling each of us in slow motion.
The loss of Brett's dad has affected our marriage in ways I never expected, and changed Brett in ways I never saw coming. We will have a good day, a good week, a good month, and then suddenly out of nowhere, grief hits our house like a hurricane. And much like any other Californian couple, we don't even know how to prepare for those.
As we sat in the living room with broken hearts, struggling to pick up the pieces surrounding us, I was struck with a startling realization.
I couldn't save Brett.
And he couldn't save me.
We each wanted so desperately to be healed, to be loved, to be made whole in some way, but we were both looking at the wrong person to do that for us. We were both looking for a Savior, something we were never going to find in each other.
And I guess that's the most freeing and challenging part of marriage. You want your spouse to be everything to you, but in fact, they are only capable of so much. When you look to your marriage for the type of healing and love that only a Savior brings, your spouse will always, always fall short.
So here we are, two weeks after our living room therapy---still a little broken, but in tact, like a softly cracked windshield. We are leaving each other silly notes on the kitchen chalkboard and sharing candy hearts on the couch. Day by day, word by word, kiss by kiss, we are still figuring out how to love each other through grief and loss. It's the hardest thing we've ever had to do, the greatest challenge our marriage has ever faced, and all I can do is thank God that we're not alone. I thank God for being our Savior when it's obvious that we can't save ourselves. I thank God for our marriage---for this beautiful, imperfect, indestructible bond that is full of opportunities to forgive and redeem.
Because this marriage, our marriage, is teaching us more about grace and love than any other experience this side of Heaven.
"A cord of three strands is not easily broken." - Ecclesiastes 4:12