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  • The Vail Project

This Grief. Our Marriage.

Steve said to me tonight that he would like to see me write about our marriage. My response was that I had been thinking about it a lot, but wasn't sure I could handle it. I know it will be difficult, not only to put it down in print, but also to have other people read it.

Marriage is one of those things we all feel like we know about, because we are in them. This is so not true. Every marriage is completely different. So individual and unique to the two people tied together. I relate marriages to top secret security clearances and there are only two people who have that level of access. The things that happen in marriage, stay in a marriage, just like Vegas. The inner workings of these relationships are so complex, we often don't understand our own. Society makes jokes of the level of comfort that develops between two married individuals, that all walls come down and nothing is off limits. Bathroom doors stay open, secret routines become familiar, the filters are off. One of the reasons marriage is such a complex ideology is that it involves taking two completely individual identities and pairing them up for every aspect of daily life. When you look at it that way you can see why so many of them fail. How can two people get along that well? Well enough to share everything in their worlds? Yet, most people get married and at least half of us make it work.

Steve and I have a marriage unlike most. We have been very blessed in it. We came to each other with our own set of baggage, laid them all out on the table and accepted what was presented. In this way we started out with a clean slate. There were never any secrets, never a period of trying so hard to impress the other that we weren't ourselves. It was a 'you get what you see' scenario and we both were brave enough to fall in love despite the rest. It was easy really. At least for me. I knew within a few days of meeting Steve that he was the one for me. Our hearts recognized each other immediately. And so our relationship progressed quickly. We moved in together after few months, we were engaged in 6 months and by the end of the first year we were married. Don't let this simple love story fool you, we had our challenges. There were plenty of tough times that we faced together. Through it all we had each other. I think that is what has made our marriage so strong, we knew no matter what happened, we would face it together. He was the most important person to me. I was the most important to him.

Our life story hit some bumps along the way. The long drawn out saga of our custody relationship with Steve's daughter Charlotte. The loss of our first pregnancy. Ups and downs in careers, lifestyle changes, we have been through it. When we had Aspen, I felt like all was right with the world. We finally had everything we ever wished for, our own family. All Steve has ever really wanted is to be a good father. All I ever wanted was to be a mother. Aspen made us full time parents and her birth was such a blessing. A year later we moved back to Steve's home state of Colorado, so that Aspen could grow up there and to be closer to some family. The move came with its challenges to our business and our personal life. Yet somehow, we managed to overcome those obstacles and our love continued to grow. Being married to your best friend has its benefits. We love being together all of the time and we laugh and tease and generally have fun every day. Our partnership has always been equal and when it can't be, the other picks up the slack without complaint. Its simple and yet so amazing complex all at the same time.

We have been best friends, lovers, business partners, and parents for 7 years now. Despite the challenges we have faced that time has flown by. At least it has for me. When we found out we were pregnant with Baby Vail in early August 2017, we were quite surprised. We had talked about having a second child and while we weren't actively preventing it, we weren't trying really hard either. Aspen hadn't come easy and so the pregnancy was a gift. The time flew by, the pregnancy was easy, and before we knew it, she was almost about to arrive. Vail made us wait though. She wasn't two weeks early like her sister, she wasn't on time either, she was 10 days late...and even then we had to induce her. Baby Vail liked it in the belly and was in no hurry to come out. When she did, we were in awe at the miracle of life yet again. We now had two children and our life focus was kid-centric even more than before. As every parent knows, these little angels are time suckers. One days goes by and then next thing you know its been 6 months and then a year. The first year of Vail's life flew by. Our marriage had never been stronger. Our love for each other never greater. Having a second child didn't add more stress to our lives or to our marriage. Vail strengthened both in a way that we didn't anticipate. She completed our little family, with her quiet kind eyes and her sneaky smile. I had never felt closer to Steve or more appreciative for him. He was always the best partner, doing the laundry, cleaning the house, taking care of the girls, all without complaint. Steve continued to work hard so that I could stay home with the girls and focus on their needs. This meant that he had less time with Vail then he did when Aspen was a new baby. But he did that because he wanted to give me the time to be a good mommy to our ladies.

When the opportunity came to move to Denver, I was excited for the change and thought it would be a fun new chapter for our family. We settled in and got busy doing all the things that you do when you relocate. Then the worst day of our lives came and went, and with it, our sweet angel Vail. The pain and the sorrow that comes with losing a child is so debilitating that you can't see anything else. All you can do is feel. And that feeling is complete, utter emptiness and the most in your face, raw, exposed, agonizing everything...both at once. In the first weeks after her death, Steve and I made a point to lay in bed each night and share our feelings. In those moments we were as we always had been, completely honest with each other. Despite how scary that was at times. We both expressed our deep pain, the blame we inflicted on ourselves and our fears for Aspen and the future. One thing became undeniably clear: We were the only two people in the entire world who know exactly how the other feels. We loved Vail as only parents can. We made her, we lost her and we were in that dark place together. No one else can or will ever understand how it feels to lose Vail. Our pain is as unique to us as our love for each other is.

The days continue to pass, our lives continue on. As much as we hate that and as much as we wish it wouldn't. Not that we know how to push on. Yet, despite not knowing, it keeps happening. The sun comes up, we survive the day, and then bedtime comes again. Over and over and over...and every day without Vail. The baby that made our family; our lives complete and whole. Needless to say we feel the gaping hole Vail left in our lives every minute of every day. It's impossible not to see.

Where is our marriage in all of this grief? That is a good question. We continue to do the things that have always kept us together: talk to each other and be honest about how we feel. It is a challenge for both of us, not to hide from each other. Not to push the other one away. There are times when we both feel the other one doing just that. It isn't personal, it is just unspeakable pain. Steve often says that he has to be the strong one. And in trying to be just that, he sometimes withholds his feelings in order to protect me. He feels that if he lays his burden down on me then he adds to the weight I am carrying. Nothing could mean more to me in this loss than Steve trying to protect me from it in any way that he can. Even though he can't. He knows that sometimes my sorrow is so deep that I retreat inside, exposing an empty shell of my former self. I do that so that I am not a tear-stained, snot-faced mess every minute of every day. Sometimes it's easier to be numb that feel all the pain.

When I go into that dark place, Steve reaches in and holds my hand. He knows that he can't pull me out, I have to do that myself, but he lets me know he is there, loving me. Because Steve is so strong, I feel like I fail to support him enough. I'm doing everything I can to stay present and be strong for him too. When I am not successful, he lets me know. Which is truly a blessing. Being able to be present and honest with each other is the hallmark of our marriage. It is hard work every day, but I am doing my best to not let this grief drown me. I hope that I can always be what he needs. One thing I know for sure is that I have never loved him more than I do now. And I have never felt closer to him. He knows who I was before and he is the only person who can truly understand who I have become. We will carry this grief and loss together, every day for the rest of our lives. We both know that no one else will ever understand this part of us. While we experience our pain in different ways, it is the same pain. Our hearts still recognize each other, despite the catastrophic damage.

Relationships can be strengthened or destroyed by what has happened to us. A crack becomes a chasm under this kind of stress. What was already weak will fall apart. But rocks become diamonds under immense heat and pressure. And while I am not sure that we will ever sparkle like diamonds again, I know we have that strength. We. We have that strength. Together.

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