When a Child Dies #1
I guess because so many know the stories of our daughter’s death and of the horrible accident our son was in (that took his friend’s life), Diane and I have been privileged to walk through deep, dark times with others who’ve lost children. It’s holy ground. You welcome people into a club you don’t want anyone else to ever have to join. You receive them knowing that they have no idea how long and deep the suffering will be. I remember a counseling class I took in seminary where we were told that the roughest part of grief comes in the first three months. Maybe I’m slow, but my worst grief came long after that.
My next post will be about what you can say to someone who’s lost a child.
But first, a few words to those who experience the death of a child. My advice to you is this: receive everything as a gift.
People mean well. They are horrified for you. They know that nothing fits. Sometimes profound words come from them; at other times folks will say things that are stupid—things that could make you mad if you dwelt on them; and still others will tear up and have nothing to say.
But receive everything as a gift. If others had the perfect words to comfort you, that’s what they’d say. But they don’t. So they open their mouths, and stuff comes out. But the translation of that stuff is this: “I love you, I’m so sorry, I don’t understand, I’d give anything to remove this from you, I’ll be praying for you.”
You don’t have to respond with anything more than “thanks.” If you’re up to it, you might tell them that it’s important to you that people who knew your son or daughter help keep his or her memory alive. They’ll understand. (And you’ll understand many years later why that’s so important . . . when everyone else’s life has gone on.)
There are so many things to say about grief (and I tried to say some of them in Megan’s Secrets). But I’ll start here: receive everything as a gift. Even the most vacuous, ridiculous piece of pop theology (death brings out the worst!). Don’t analyze it; don’t rebut it.
Just receive it as the best gift your friend had to offer on that day.