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LOVE IS…SOMETIMES TRAGIC

23-03-2007

The tragic death at 42 of Sally Clarke, once falsely imprisoned for killing two of her young children, shows how personal tragedy can make - as well as break - a marriage, says Diane Benussi

The death last week of Sally Clarke was the final tragedy in a life blighted by unimaginable trauma and unhappiness - the agony of losing two baby sons to cot death followed by three years in jail after being wrongly convicted of killing them.

We can only imagine the horrors endured by the former solicitor as she battled to clear her name and the subsequent struggle after her release four years ago to resume ‘normal' life, which, as we now know, she never managed to do.

Through all the dark years, there was one light that still shone for Sally - the unfailing love and support of her husband, Steve. He never doubted her innocence and fought tooth and nail to get her conviction quashed. That their marriage survived such a harrowing ordeal makes her early death even more terrible.

Marriages can break down for all manner of reasons and personal tragedy is one. Individuals react to life experiences in different ways and when calamity strikes, it is just as likely that a couple's relationship will be torn asunder as made stronger.

If, for example, a child dies, a couple won't necessarily grieve together and draw strength from each other - they may well try to cope with their loss by retreating into their own shells. However unintentionally, this excludes the other partner and puts the marriage under intense pressure.

It is often the case that one partner will want to talk about the tragedy, but the other partner is unable to express their feelings. One partner might be consumed by rage, while the other is simply numb with pain. One may prefer to grieve privately, yet the other wants to share the trauma more publicly.

Sally Clarke's marriage could so easily have collapsed - even with her husband's belief in her innocence - but it didn't. Their enduring relationship demonstrates that it is possible to stay together through the darkest of times.

If you have suffered a family tragedy that is adversely affecting your marriage, my advice is to seek specialist counselling as soon as possible - either separately or together. If one of you isn't willing to do this, then get hold of whatever relevant books are available and, if possible, discuss them.

Talking about what has happened, and how you both feel about it, is one of the best ways to cope with grief or trauma, so even if you find it immensely painful to do so, try to verbalise your emotions with your partner. Not only can it be personally helpful, it will usually be beneficial to the relationship.

If you - or your spouse - feel unable to talk to each other, write them a letter explaining some of your feelings and why it is so difficult to talk about them.

However bleak the situation, try to pick up some of the threads of your old life together, even if it's only doing the usual weekly supermarket shop or going for a Sunday afternoon walk.

That way, even if you are hemmed in by your own wall of grief, you have at least some point of contact.

Some people like to trot out the adage ‘time heals'. While I don't think this is necessarily true - it certainly doesn't seem to have been the case for Sally Clarke - time can put things into more perspective.

When tragedies occur, some people instantly want to make drastic changes in a desperate attempt to ‘start again' and try to erase what has happened. Divorce can be seen as one way to do this. I strongly advise against making knee-jerk decisions in traumatic circumstances: even if your marriage has been battered severely by deep distress, don't think it can't recover over a period of months or years.

Give it chance to re-emerge - however slowly - in the hope that one day it will provide you with the solace and companionship that is so crucial to living with indelible tragedy.

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