It was a sunny Fourth of July weekend. Red roses and navy ribbons were the ideal backdrop for my fiancé, Robbie, and me to join in matrimony. With Robbie in his dress blues and me in my white ball gown wedding dress, we looked like royalty.
It was a day of celebration. After all, the days of mine and Robbie’s widowhoods were over. We couldn’t wait to start our new life together.
What I thought would be one of the happiest days of my life, turned out to be one of the saddest. The moment I entered the sanctuary I sensed the heaviness. Rather than bright beaming faces, I was greeted with red puffy eyes. Tissues ruffled. Sniffles echoed. It felt more like a wake than a wedding. People were happy for us, but they were also sad. They missed their loved ones who had passed away. My first husband, David, and Robbie’s first wife, Kari, were gone, and this ceremony was a vivid reminder of the holes in everyone’s heart they left behind.
My new stepson and daughter-in-law were visibly anxious, and she wept the entire ceremony. It wasn’t just a polite tear glistening down her cheek. It was shoulders-shaking, trying-to-catch-your-breath crying.
The reception was awkward. I longed for a refund on the live band and gourmet food. When the “party” was over, I realized this wasn’t only a wedding. It was two funerals and a wedding. Our grief wasn’t ending. We were entering a new dimension. Even if Robbie and I were ready to move forward, our families weren’t. They hadn’t lived with the loss every moment like we had, and each person was on his or her own grief journey that must be dealt with individually.
I discovered I unconsciously expected a new marriage to fix everyone’s sorrow. Not only did it not eliminate the sadness, but it also exposed a whole host of new fears, such as, Will the children be loved properly? Will our deceased relatives be forgotten?
A time to weep
Whether a stepfamily is formed through death or divorce, mourning is a part of the process. Grief is more than the loss of a loved one. It encompasses losses of past, present, and future—death of dreams and hopes, haunting memories, guilt from previous decisions . . . Even my very presence as Robbie’s wife is a constant living reminder that his first wife is gone and vice versa.
Ecclesiastes 3:4 tells us there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” Remarried couples have gone through so much pain, they usually don’t want any more weeping and mourning. So we go along laughing and dancing past our bleeding family members, closing our eyes to their hurt, hoping it will go away and not ruin our fun.
But Romans 12:15 tells us, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” It’s not a Christian’s job to stop sadness but to have compassion on those who are hurting, even when you are part of their pain. I began to lean into my new family’s grief using these three principles.
First, I worked to assuage the unspoken fears. I continually assure our families (including the relatives of the deceased) that Robbie is doing a fantastic job as my children’s father. I talk about how my first husband, David, would be happy to have such a man caring for his children. I talk about how proud Kari would be of her husband. I’m honest about our struggles when necessary, yet remain positive and reassuring.
Second, I encourage the entire family to talk about the deceased. Many people think bringing up the person’s name will offend or hurt the survivors. But David and Kari will always be a part of our lives. Robbie and I talk about them regularly.
To relieve the worries of offense, I ask questions about Kari. Robbie and the others tell me stories. I listen. It’s the same with David. I tell my kids stories about him and probe them for questions. Once, after my mom and I took a walk down memory lane, she said, “Thank you for letting me talk about David. I miss him, and it feels good to remember.” By talking about him with her, she felt she had permission to keep him in her life.
Third, I practice patience. Forming a stepfamily is putting a group of strangers in a house and telling them to love each other. How can anyone do that? We barely know each other! Forming relationships takes time. I don’t like to wait. I want everything to be happy and uncomplicated. But relationships are complicated. Our situation was not born out of happiness. Eventually, the investment of time, attention, and intention to understand will hopefully produce love and appreciation. It can’t be rushed any more than the blossoming of a flower.
Forming a stepfamily doesn’t heal wounds; it opens them. We mustn’t be afraid to face the hurt if we want healing. Remember “the Lord is near to the brokenhearted” (Psalm 34:18), and there can be some very sweet times of mending and connecting if you will take the time to mourn with your new family. Stepfamilies are the result of brokenness, but God is a healer. He promises to “bind up the brokenhearted” (Isaiah 61:1), and His word is something we can depend on.
Copyright © 2018 by Sabrina McDonald.