Dancing with the Stars was instrumental in helping James Van Der Beek heal a bit from the loss of his sixth baby on the way.
Following Monday’s emotional DWTS semifinals episode — which saw James eliminated from the competition just after revealing that his wife Kimberly suffered a miscarriage over the weekend — his dancing pro-partner Emma Slater opened up to PEOPLE about how the actor is coping, explaining that he had praised the ABC series for helping him.
“He needed the show,” Slater, 30, said to PEOPLE, recalling James’ words. “He said to me, ‘I need the show. I’m grateful to have an outlet and to have a form of physical expression and keep that engine to keep me going. I need to feel normal and not fall into the pit.’ “
James shared on DWTS that it was Kimberly who pushed him to continue in the dancing competition, even after her devastating news.
“Honestly, his strength is Kimberly his wife,” Slater said. “[Kimberly’s] the most inspirational, high-spirited person I know.”
“She was not having it, him staying at home,” Slater recalled. “She was making sure [he came here], pushing him out the door! He’s been torn; she’s the person who said ‘I need you go to there and dance and show everyone how great you are and shine.’ That’s what he did tonight.”
The U.K. native went on to say that she was sad Kimberly wouldn’t be able to see her husband dance again in the ballroom.
“I wish the outcome could have been different and we could have gone to the finale and she could have come and seen us dance again,” Slater said. “She wasn’t able to be here tonight.”
Slater hadn’t immediately spoken to James after his elimination, the star choosing to skip press interviews to be with his family instead.
She teared up to PEOPLE while discussing his elimination, lamenting about how she wished she would have been able to shield him from his double loss.
“On top of the week he’s had I feel really … I feel like I want to protect him and he wasn’t protected,” she said. “I told him I was really sorry and it had nothing to do with him at all. He was the best he could have ever been, and I told him that he was amazing and I wouldn’t have wanted to have danced with anyone else. More than anything I told him I was sorry; I felt like I was representing the show and I feel like he was let down. He was an incredible dancer.”
“He’s not one to get defeated,” she said, too. “He has a very good head on his shoulders. This is a dance show. I know he’s upset and disappointed. At the same time, he’s an extremely smart and level-headed man. He’s the first person to offer up advice. I hope he’s taking his own advice.”
James, 42, and Kimberly, 37, are parents to Gwendolyn, 16 months, Emilia, 3½, Annabel Leah, 5½, and Olivia, 9, plus big brother Joshua, 7½.
The couple have been through miscarriages before, as James explained on Instagram back in October, when he went public with her pregnancy.
“Miscarriage (a word that needs a replacement — nobody failed to ‘carry,’ these things sometimes just happen) is something that people rarely talk about, and often go through in secret. But there needs to be zero shame around it, or around giving yourself the time and space to grieve,” James wrote.
“We decided to put ourselves out there — not knowing what we’d find — in an effort to chip away at any senseless stigma around this experience and to encourage people who might be going through it to open themselves up to love & support from friends and family when they need it most,” the actor added.
He later told PEOPLE that miscarriages are “part of life,” but that having a family around you makes a big difference.
“It really helps to go through when you have the support of friends and family,” he said. “People so often go through it in secret. You need to allow yourself space to grieve and go through it. For us, we walked out incredibly happy and excited.”
When asked how he and his wife of nine years dealt with the heartbreaking miscarriage news, James said then, “The only advice I have is that you can’t reason your way out of it and you can’t talk your way out of it. You just have to let yourself go through it and go through the journey and be there for each other.”
“Know that you can’t judge the pain, you can’t judge the process,” he said. “For us, thankfully, we also have three rainbow babies. It’s life. And also, don’t be afraid to talk about [it]. There’s a weird stigma that might still exist around it … things like that is when you need your family and friends.”
On DWTS, James described the miscarriage as “every expecting parent’s worst nightmare.”
“You never know why these things happen, that’s what I’ve been telling my kids. All you know is that it brings you closer together, it breaks you open, it opens up your heart, it deepens your appreciation,” he said. “It makes you more human.”
“Kimberly, I love you,” said James, who dedicated the dance to his wife (and openly wept afterwards). “Kimberly, I’m dancing for you, I’m dancing for us.”
Later on Monday, he spoke out about his wife’s miscarriage on Instagram.
Kimberly had also given an update on her Instagram Story, saying the baby was a boy and she almost lost her life when she miscarried.
“Wrecked. Devastated. In shock. That’s how we’re feeling right now after the soul we thought we were going to welcome into our family in April … has taken a short cut to whatever lies beyond this life,” he wrote. “We’ve been through this before, but never this late in the pregnancy, and never accompanied by such a scary, horrific threat to @vanderkimberly and her well-being.”
“Grateful that she’s now recovering, but we’ve only just begun unpacking the layers of this one,” James continued. ‘Thank you to all of our friends and co-workers (and dance partners) who have shown up for us so beautifully during this time. As many of you have said, ‘There are no words…’ and it’s true. Which is why in a time like this it’s enough to know that you’re there. Grieving AND counting our blessings today.”
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