Why I Love Couple’s Therapy


My mom died exactly three weeks ago today. It’s hard for me to move forward with even the most mundane of tasks. I’m knee-deep in grief and can’t really put myself in a position to help others through their loss just yet. But, what I love most is couple’s therapy and it gives me joy to be back in my office giving of my time. It is a practice that, for me, helps spouses have the tools they need to support their partners through life’s biggest and most traumatic happenings. Like, when your mother dies.

To honor mom, please let me tell you about her. She was young, only 67 years old. She was an absolute HOOT! Everywhere she went, she made people laugh; it was part of her DNA to make people happy through her humor. Admittedly, I mostly just rolled my eyes at her shenanigans (I’ve always been the “serious” one in the family), but to other people, she was the person who put a smile on your face.

As a mother, she was amazing. We had our hardships growing up (we all have the momma drama, don’t we?), but where we really flourished in our relationship was when I had my own children and had some major “a-ha” moments. I understood how Mom was fearless, tireless, strong, courageous, loving, supportive, and overall, just there, no matter what. It is that there-ness that I am so missing now.

As a grandmother, words can’t begin to describe the depth of her love. When she looked in my children’s eyes, there was pure joy there. I don’t know what it’s like to be a grandmother, but I’m told it is the most amazing thing, which I can’t imagine since I think being a mom is pretty high up there. My daughters really shined – and giggled! – when they were with their Meme. She did all the naughty things I wouldn’t do, like take them to eat cheap pizza, let them have soda, and take them shopping at the Dollar Store. Oh, how I loathe all of those things! But oh, what I wouldn’t give for her to be back doing them all again.

I want to keep talking about Mom because it helps me grieve her. My closest fiends and confidants allow me to do that. When mom got sick suddenly with small cell carcinoma, then died only four days later, I found myself reaching out to anyone for help. I couldn’t grasp what was happening to my world. I couldn’t make sense of the depth of pain, and my desire to just hole myself up, pretending this horrible thing didn’t just wreak havoc on all parts of my life. I couldn’t find my footing.

Those who reached back are my rocks. They are the people who still call and text me everyday, knowing I probably won’t answer (grief does that), but just to let me know they are there. And I need that. I need them. I need to know I’m actually not alone in the world, although the loneliness feels earth shattering.

There are two people who have kept me tethered to the earth for forty-two years. One of them is Mom; the other is my husband (he’s only been around the last twenty). I’ve now lost 50% of that support, so now, more than ever, I am leaning on my husband. And, he’s there for me. He doesn’t always know what to say, and I can see that he struggles when I struggle. He is in pain because I am in pain. He tears up when I cry. He holds me when I feel my chest caving in and I can’t come up from air because the pain has become unbearable.

My husband hurts with me.

Through the years, he has taught me what love is, and probably I’ve taught him, too. Over the past several years I’ve consistently moved into seeing more and more couples in my practice because I recognized early on in my own marriage a few things. One, we need a tether to the planet; our spouses can be that person. Two, we all want to feel unconditionally loved. When a parent dies, for most of us that means the one person who would love you unconditionally, no matter what, is gone. A spouse can fill that void, and should. Last, marriage is really, really hard work, and we need help knowing how to be our partner’s tether. Those are really big shoes to fill, and it doesn’t just happen automatically when we say “I do.” That’s why I love doing couple’s therapy.

I am still grieving the loss of Mom. Even as I write this, I can’t believe she is gone. I push it away for most hours of the day so I can move on, inviting some normalcy back in. But when it’s quiet, mostly at night, I cry hard. I know that’s normal, and I’m thankful to have all my rocks checking on me, letting me know they love me – this includes my husband. One of my very good friends told me I should write about it, and she’s right (it pays to have close counselor friends). I know someone else will connect with my loss by reading these words; furthermore, I hope to help spouses find their own tether in their partner. That brings me joy, which I’m searching for in all corners now.

Have you lost a parent to sudden and unexpected death? I’d really like to hear from you. Share your story in the comments.

About the Author:

Jennifer Slingerland Ryan knows a thing or two about kids and families. First, she knows they are joyous, exhilarating, loving and so darn fun. Second, she knows they suck your life dry and make you weep like a baby. By day she’s a psychotherapist; by night she’s a mom and wife. She claims to love therapizing couples, educating parents, reading dystopian fiction and sleeping in her free time (read: she never sleeps). Jennifer has spent over 12 years in private practice working with individuals, couples, and parents who are faced with kid-drama, mamma-drama, and family-drama, and she claims that although some stories make a grown woman cry, she loves it.


  1. Erin Glancy October 11, 2016 at 6:16 pm

    My dad died unexpectedly three years ago yesterday while vacationing with my mom in Italy. We do not know what caused his sudden and unexpected death, he was not ill and had good health. Italy does not do a post mortem study so his death will always be unknown.

    • Admin October 20, 2016 at 5:54 pm

      Erin, I am so sorry to hear about your loss. That is so tragic, and it leaves so many unknowns. I have decided that even with a lot of answers, I’m still left with so many more unanswered. Thank you for sharing your story. I hope you can also find peace.

  2. Sherhonda Ginn October 11, 2016 at 7:28 pm

    Loved this Jennifer. Yes your mom was a hoot! She kept us laughing for many years at Grinnell. I tried to find your mom for many years with no luck.i can tell you and Sue were extremely close as my mom and I were. I lost my mom a year ago September and I still grieve. There is no time limit for grieving, take all the time you want and need. It’s good your husband is there for you. I didn’t have that support and I needed it. Know you and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

    • Admin October 20, 2016 at 5:52 pm

      Thank you, Sherhonda. I appreciate your sharing. You also know the pain of loss of this magnitude. *hug*

  3. Tammy Ommodt October 11, 2016 at 7:47 pm

    Jennifer, I was shocked to hear of your mom’s sudden death. I know how vital she has been in your life and in your girls’ lives. What an unimaginable loss for you all–and yes–impossible to fully grasp. I’m so sorry the cancer found her and took her so fast! 4 days. Oh my gosh. No time for the news to be absorbed and no time for good-byes and peace.

    Please know my heart is heavy for you. Everyone who loves you understands your need to work through this dark night of your soul. Praying for you during this journey through grief, heartbreak, loss and pain.


    • Admin October 20, 2016 at 5:52 pm

      Tammy, thank you. Yes, Mom was vital. That is a good word. Many grandparents do not get the play the role mine did in my and my children’s lives, but to say that she was the GRANDmother, would be an understatement. She was a presence, always, and we will miss that. She wasn’t just a mom; she was nurturing, loving, supportive, squishy, and snuggley (I’m not sure she’d appreciate all of those adjectives, ha ha). She was an integral part of our lives, and we’re now learning to live without her. It is hard. Thank you for your support.

  4. Anita Rubalcava October 12, 2016 at 6:17 am

    Jennifer, my heart goes out to you and your words are amazing. I know how those nights can be hard.

    As you know, Carmen, Ricky and I lost 2 wonderful dad’s. Our biological dad was killed in a car accident a few days before Christmas. I was 7 years old, Carmen 8 1/2 years old and Ricky was 1 month old. I still remember that day like it was yesterday. He worked for Doran Chevrolet and he was driving a car for them to Childress Texas (I think that’s the name of the city) and they don’t know if he fell asleep at the wheel or if he was blindsided by the sun, but he went head on into a semi truck and died instantly. I remember the doorbell ring and there were a couple gentlemen at the door and they told mom what had happened. The worst day of my life. And with it being a few days before Christmas and his funeral was 2 days before Christmas…I really didn’t enjoy Christmas. When I really started enjoying Christmas was when I had my 2 daughters.
    Then there was Papa (Ray). We were so blessed to have an amazing, loving, kind 2nd father. He was the best 2nd father anyone could have asked for. He was a devoted husband and father to all of us. Ray was never sick and was a very hard working man. He worked at Dearborn Stove company for 30+ years. Never missed work, even if he did not feel good. He was always very healthy. But 21 years ago when he was only 71 and he was still working part time, he started complaining about stomach issues and that everything started tasting sour. He went to the doctors and they would just send him home with some medicine to take. After a few months of this Carmen went to the doctor with him demanding them to find out what was wrong and they told us he had stomach cancer and only gave him a few months to live and he died 1 month from the day he was diagnosed.
    I feel very blessed that I had 2 amazing dad’s. Both left us way to early but I’m lucky that God put them in my life.

    • Admin October 20, 2016 at 5:49 pm

      It feels so shocking, doesn’t it, knowing that you had a healthy parent one moment, and they are going to die the next. And then they do. Part of the trauma is that – the suddenness of what happened, and the aftermath of trying to make sense of it. I have felt comfort in hearing other’s stories, especially when they are similar. Thank you so much for sharing.

  5. Sheri October 14, 2016 at 4:57 am

    My heart aches for you at the same time that you inspire me to appreciate my parents and my husband. Thank you for sharing your story. Lots of love to you as you make your way through the healing process.

    • Admin October 20, 2016 at 5:48 pm

      Sheri, thank you so much for your support. It really helps knowing others are rooting for me on the sidelines. 🙂

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