There are many transitions in marriage. Parents dealing with the loss of a child is perhaps the worst. Read Frank and Cheryl’s story to find hope.
In This Article
- How Losing a Child Affects Your Marriage
- How Many Parents Lose a Child Each Year
- Losing a Child is the Most Painful Experience
- Our Story [Frank and Cheryl Iaquinta]
- Final Thoughts
- What’s Next?
How Losing a Child Affects Your Marriage
There are many transitions in marriage. One that is never expected is the loss of a child. It seems unnatural and out of order. Our children are supposed to out-live us. When that does not happen, it challenges our sense of reality. And can have a profound impact on our relationships, especially our marriage.
In this article you will read the story of how one couple made their journey though the loss of their son to drugs. There are key lessons we can learn from them. I’ll mention those at the end of their story.
Before we dive in, I think it would be good to get a picture of a few key statistics.
How Many Parents Lose a Child Each Year
These statistics are taken from Childtrends.org. They are staggering. As you can see, infant mortality accounts for the majority of deaths. However, at age 15-19 there is an increase in deaths among youth. Much of this is the result of drugs and alcohol abuse. This will become evident below.
The number of deaths among teens by overdose is staggering. In 2018, there were 5,810 deaths by overdose. Here is the break down:
For a more detailed view of the data download the Overdose Data for 2018
Losing a Child is the Most Painful Experience
One couple who experienced this is Frank and Cheryl Iaquinta. The lost their son, Clay, in 2018. It rocked their world. I’ve asked Cheryl to tell their story. Our hope is it will help people who experience the loss of a child, and learn how to keep your marriage strong through the dark period of life.
Here is their story:
Our Story [Frank and Cheryl Iaquinta]
Having been together for 10 years, we had saved our money and this was the day that I would go, for the first time, to buy new furniture for our home. I chose to go to a well-known furniture store on the west side of town and spent all day there picking out some very special pieces, that we still have today.
When I returned home, I felt sick and something told me that I should take a pregnancy test. I did. It was positive. I laid on the floor in our living room and cried. All I could think about was, I spent all of our money on furniture that was not even delivered yet and now I’m pregnant and we don’t have any money. LOL
When I look back on that now, I just have to laugh. Frank was happy about the pregnancy. It took me a day or two.
Clay Is Born
In June of 1994 we had a beautiful baby boy, perfect in every way. We named him Clay.
Our marriage wasn’t what you would call “healthy.” We had a lot of disfunction, selfishness, unforgiveness and die-hard self-preservation going on. We had many ups and downs, even separation.
Through the prayer of a stranger in a Wednesday night church service, I was delivered from myself and God began to cause our whole world to change. It was not long before Jesus touched Frank’s heart as well and we began our quest to leave the old and walk in the new life that we were being shown through our new church family and the Holy Spirit.
Clay loved Jesus, going to church, and he was a true worshiper.
A Close Knit Family
From the beginning of our relationship, we were entrepreneurs and our finances seemed to drive our lives. He was a real trooper. And he was very busy too.
He played baseball, spring, summer and fall. With church, school & work, our lives were filled, fast and furious. We were a very open family regarding our love for each other. Even in our busyness, there was rarely a moment when we didn’t tell each other, “all of us”, that we loved each other, many times daily.
Clay would rarely leave a room without saying, “I love you”, so much so that, even if he was only going upstairs to take a shower, he’d say, “I love you”.
Because we were open and talked a lot about life’s issues, we talked to Clay about our pasts and the things we experienced, good and bad, happy and sad. We talked to him about alcohol, drugs, sex and relationships. We didn’t hide much, if anything.
The Beginning of Addictions
When Clay was introduced to alcohol and drugs and we became aware that he was experimenting, we gave him many stern warnings and discussed how the choices he made good or bad, could change his life forever and that his choices did not just affect him, but everyone his life touched.
I felt like his behavior was “typical” of teenage behavior and just growing up. I did not see or feel Clay’s pain and never knew he had experienced such pain from life events that he would be driven beyond “typical” experimenting, to addiction.
Our lives were entwined with his and even though we didn’t know why he was spiraling, we spiraled with him.
Because of the lack of control and confusion about what to do or say to stop Clay from crashing and burning, Frank and I seemed to default to that old “self-preservation” mode. Frank acted and reacted from his foundational truths from his childhood and I did the same.
Because we came from very different homes, our approach to trying to help Clay was very different and at times drove us into separate worlds. Our love for Clay was overpowering. When he was in trouble, emotionally, physically, spiritually or even legally, we lived in that place with him and we were internally charged with fixing it.
It was like we went to sleep one night as a loving family and woke up in the middle of the chaos of addiction. Still loving yes, but we could not get our footing.
Trying To Find Help
We entered an information highway about the topic of addiction, names of new drugs and their effects, how to recognize the signs of use and what the “right” response would be when one was needed.
After a long and very difficult period trying to “fix” things in our own ways, driven by fear, and likely making things worse, we finally started working together, in agreement and exercising tough love.
We learned through gut wrenching pain to discuss, confirm and re-confirm every decision we made concerning Clay.
In 2018 at 24 years old, Clay got into some trouble and the judge offered him the opportunity to go to a faith-based drug rehabilitation program. He was placed in a rehab about twenty minutes from our home.
After his first 30 days, we could visit three times a week and we never missed a visit. We watched his whole demeanor change. We watched him worship and pray and minister to others going through the program. We talked, we cried, we ate, we shared, we were a family again.
After five months in the program, Clay was allowed to return home.
Getting The News of Clay’s Death
We really believed he was doing very well, but in a matter of a few days, we got a visit from MPD Chaplin telling us that he had overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl.
We were very, very surprised, shocked and stunned. It was in that moment that we experienced God’s grace and peace rushing in immediately. Our lives were changed forever.
As the Lord would have it, we were literally surrounded by our family of God when the Chaplin came to see us. We were at an outreach event, and we were in a circle of people praying, reassuring and reminding us of Clay’s love of the Lord and how we could never doubt that he was instantly in the presence of Jesus.
Because of that knowledge, we had a mutual security that could only come from the Spirit of God.
For several days, our home seemed like a bomb had gone off and the ringing in our ears wouldn’t stop, yet we were kept in a steadfast peace through family and friends and the Holy Spirit. We both experienced waves of emotions at different times. Sometimes together, but mostly when we were alone.
Turning Toward Each Other
I can honestly say that during this time, we didn’t abandon each other for that “self-protection” place like we had done before in times of crisis. We had an unspoken respect for how hard we had both tried. There was an understanding of how much we had given to save Clay, knowing we had each given all we had.
Even though unspoken, we gave each other grace and forgiveness for all the things we had said and done that may have been hurtful along the way.
We have finally found a freedom to be our authentic selves. I believe that we found that place because we know that Clay is no longer in pain or in a constant battle. The peace of knowing your child is at eternal peace cannot be explained.
I remember one night when we went to bed, I buried my head in my pillow and began to cry. Even though I knew I could, I tried not to cry “like that” in front of Frank, to not cause him pain.
He very softly said to me, “You will have to tell me if you need me because I do not know what you need”. That was a moment I will never forget. We now live our lives with an honesty and authentic love that provides mutual safety and affirmation.
God’s Grace and Helping Others
I know our lives could have taken a huge detour driven by rage and unforgiveness and I am forever grateful that God has given us the grace to preserve our marriage and forge an eternal friendship.
Together, we try to help others that cross our path that are going through things we have been through. We openly talk about our life with Clay and how our hearts and spirits are very much connected, alive and still sharing an amazing love.
We laugh a lot because Clay laughed a lot. We reminisce about the good things and God’s grace lets us experience those things all over again. We are blessed with so many good and loving memories that miraculously eclipse the bad ones! We are blessed with knowing he lives. And we are expectant of his “hugs from heaven” every day.
I am especially grateful that we share those expectations, the ones experienced through birds, music, clouds, rainbows and even the rain. We are far more sensitive to the spirit and creation than ever before.
We still have our moments of sadness, but those are just that, moments that are fleeting with the peace of his life rushing in to comfort us every time. We don’t stay there long. Joy comes quickly. #lovewins
– Cheryl Iaquinta
Back To Life: Your Personal Guidebook to Grief Recovery
Back to Life is a comprehensive, quality bereavement handbook. It consists of 73 pages that explore many aspects of grief in detail. There are 19 chapters or “lessons”, each addressing a different aspect of grief, a coping skill or a strategy for emotional survival.
As I read Cheryl’s story a few things stand out. I guess you could call them life lessons. That’s why I wanted Cheryl to tell her story. There is so much to learn.
Here are few takeaways I gleaned:
1) They refused to fall into a default mode of isolation, rejection and abandonment.
During times of great crisis, it’s important to recognize old patterns that are not productive and fight to avoid them. Frank and Cheryl knew their old ways, so they made decisions that kept them from falling into the old traps.
2) They released each other with forgiveness.
Forgiving your spouse is crucial for a healthy relationship.
The death of a child brings incredible stress, fear and frustration. It’s easy to place blame and find fault. It’s a natural defense mechanism that is unhealthy. Frank and Cheryl refused to blame each other.
In fact, they encouraged each other on their efforts to help their son during his struggle. This allowed them to bond and stay close as a couple.
3) They surrounded themselves with friends, family, and a strong support group.
Frank and Cheryl have been involved with a ministry team for years. This group of people love them and were there to support them during their journey.
It is vital to surround yourself with people that can help you navigate the rough waters of loss.
4) They kept their faith intact.
Not only did they refuse to blame each other, they did not blame God. It’s easy to lose sight of truth when we experience pain. They did not allow their heart to become angry with God.
Their faith helped them (helps them) stay strong and find purpose in their lives beyond their pain.
Frank and Cheryl continue to share their story on a regular basis. Cheryl has written a book about her journey. It offers practical help and encouragement for parents who don’t know how to help a child with addiction issues.
Get Cheryl’s book, ‘Prayers When You Don’t Know How To Pray.’
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If you are having serious marriage struggles, we recommend starting with ‘Save the Marriage System‘ by Lee Baucom.