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When a Child Dies #1

2012 February 7
by Mike

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.

used by permission

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.

49 Responses leave one →
  1. February 7, 2012

    Thank you for sharing your experience, Mike. I simply cannot imagine. Just last week (on a Monday — blah!) I had to wake my newly 16 year old daughter and tell her a dear friend had passed away very suddenly the night before. And the friend’s parents are friends of mine and, indeed, what CAN one say? (The mom was her usual awesome self — I said, “I just don’t have any words…” She came back with, “That is very rare for you, Sarah…” :-) ) I know enough to know that some experiences are simply one person’s Gethsemane and no words will make it better, and some words can make it much much worse, but we as humans feel the need to say SOMETHING. But you offer wise counsel here, even for us simply in difficult situations: receive all as gift.

  2. February 7, 2012

    Mike,

    Thank you for writing this post. I’m looking forward to reading more, as I am interested in conversations on how Christians ought to respond to human suffering…as one who has endured the loss of a child too and as one who, as a minister, has influence on how other Christians will minister to the suffering.

    And you are so right about the worst grief coming after the first three months…it was nearly a year later when my faith began to crumble and another year before I discovered how to carry on in faith.

    Grace and Peace,

    Rex

  3. erin permalink
    February 7, 2012

    Have to say, this perspective from someone who’s been there would remove some of the pressure from those of us who want to share our concern but are afraid that everything, at a time like that, must sound trite.

  4. February 7, 2012

    I still remember the look on your face and your kind words after our first daughter was stillborn. Just the fact that you cared enough to come and see us meant so much. You are a gift, Mike Cope. You are a gift.

  5. February 7, 2012

    Thank you.

  6. February 7, 2012

    You are so right about receiving everything as a gift. In all the responses which I received I lost our baby in our 14th week of pregnancy, only one made me angry, but there was a history that fueled such a reaction. What I was most grateful for, in the profound and inane comments, was that our child was remembered and acknowledged. I still grieve, and am more sensitive now to those who grieve past what many considered the allotted time. I now know there is no allotted time. It will always hurt. There will always be someone missing, but I have great hope that we will be reunited.

    Sometimes, when receiving communion, I think of how thin the veil is and how we are praising our God together in the Sanctus.

  7. Rick Ross permalink
    February 7, 2012

    Beverly and I are currently reliving the events of two years ago, as our daughter entered the hospital on February 4, 2010. Mike, your words, both then and now, have ministered to my soul.

  8. February 7, 2012

    When a spouse dies, you are a widower. When children lose their parents, they are orphans. We have no word for the loss of a child other than excruciating pain. There are no easy answers or comments. All that is left is the kind embrace of a person who will probably never know the pain. Thank you so much for your open and raw words.
    Al

  9. John Tim Montoya permalink
    February 7, 2012

    Thank you for an excellent and helpful post.

    God bless.

  10. February 7, 2012

    Thank you all so much for these responses. I can only imagine the insights and losses behind them. I’m remembering with you and Beverly again this year, Rick.

  11. Debbie Ganus permalink
    February 7, 2012

    Amen.

  12. Joyce C permalink
    February 7, 2012

    Mike I am sorry to say that my husband and I are part of that club. Our 27 year old son was killed in a tragic car accident 4-30-11. What heartache and pain has come to our family. I have heard some of the stupidest comments. I didn’t need words just their presence and that was not given.

    What you said about our child’s memory is important. Please say their name. Talk to me about them. Listen to me talk about them. I told my other 3 children that as I age I feared that my memories will fade of their brother and to help me remember.

    I have a copy of your book Megan’s Secrets . Because of my grieving haven’t been able to focus on reading it, I will one day.

    Looking forward to what more you write on the topic.

  13. Dottie permalink
    February 7, 2012

    You are so right! I heard the ‘stuff’ and experienced people surrying down another grocery aisle so they wouldn’t have to talk to me after my son was killed. It has made me braver to walk up to someone in grief, but it has left me speechless. Now all I do is hug and squeeze someone’s hand and mutter, “so sorry for your loss.”. Surely there is a middle ground.

  14. February 7, 2012

    Joyce and Dottie – Your comments are holy ground. My next post is on what to say (and NOT say!) to those who’ve lost a child. I’ve learned so much from people like the two of you.

  15. annie permalink
    February 7, 2012

    Reading “Megan’s Secrets” was helpful in knowing that just giving a hug without talking, was ok to do. Thank you for telling others not to be hard on those of us who don’t know what to say or do, though…. “Forgive them LORD, for they know not what they do”—or say, at times.

  16. February 7, 2012

    Profound

  17. Paul and Jean permalink
    February 7, 2012

    Our Son died at age 40 in a single vehicle accident. He grew up with Brett Bourland in Abilene (I know this will have additional meaning to you). In addition to us and two brothers he left behind a precious wife of 13 years, a 9 year old Son and 7 year old Daughter. At the top of the list of things that we learned regarding grief and grief recovery, and we learned many, is the fact that with rare exception, everyone grieves differently – even my wife and me, and that difference began the very first day. We, like you, are very much better prepared to minister to others in like circumstances. I know what to say now – which most of the time is nothing – just be there. Some of the most meaningful treatment we received was from folks who said nothing but sat with us in quietness, much the same as did Job’s friends initially. Job’s friends made a mess of things when they started talking. I told the same stories over and over – and sometimes to the same listener – and without exception each one listened with patience. I look forward to more from you on this subject.

  18. February 7, 2012

    Mike, I remember being so nervous on the day you were coming back to work after Megan died. Before you got there, I asked Brenda, “What do we say?” She pointed out the fact that there really wasn’t anything to say. So I don’t know that I ever did. But I tried to help in other ways. I put up a fierce wall of protection between you and the salespeople (not a one got past me, I’m proud to say) and learned that when your door was closed and a certain song was coming from your stereo, to give you your space. In the losses I’ve experienced since then, I have seen that protection and space can be good gifts to give a grieving person. I wanted to do more back then, but I think I did all I could–and should–have done. It was quite a learning and growing experience for me.

  19. February 7, 2012

    Paul – Your insight is laser-accurate. I’m so sorry this wisdom had to emerge from such tragedy. We, like you, have been blessed with friends who could hear stories and hurt over and over.

    Deana – You saved me. I limped along in darkness, trying to speak words of faith to and for the church. Having a friend and protector in the next room was basic survival.

  20. Keith Bellamy permalink
    February 7, 2012

    You are right on brother.

  21. February 7, 2012

    My wife and I lost our infant daughter in May of 2011, and Mike, you’re right. People say terrible things without realizing it. I’ve learned that intentions are always good, it’s just so hard to hear people’s hearts when yours is in disrepair from such hurt.

    The most important piece of advice I give everyone who gets passed the “I don’t know what to say stage” – and not too many do – is, BE PRESENT. Show up. Sit in their living room. There is so much power in presence and our society has packed the idea away for good.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  22. February 7, 2012

    Dear Mike , your words are so timely. Today marks the day our son Connor got a headache and 10 days later went home. 3 years on 2-17-09, that is so diffucult to write. You are right , I have learned 3 years in that grief is a holy sacred ground. And too late that I should just recieve whatever people have to offer. I have made a lot of mistakes and gotten so hurt. I never imagined a pain this deep. Walking this out does not get easier,just different. Our sons were 10 and 14, when they lost their brother, and that is another pain. It’s that deep end of the ocean and there is no map, and no fix. What I have learned is that I have to lean into God, and trust that sweet reunion on the other side.
    Our first Sunday at Highland was your first Sunday. I loved Peak of the Week, and I had the wonderful privaledge of meeting Megan. I have enjoyed your book and been blessed to be scooped up and loved on by your sister in law Pam. God showed up with her on my darkest day. Thank you for sharing and educating all of us on such a diffucult topic.
    Selah, Nan Deal

  23. Shelley B. permalink
    February 7, 2012

    My 25 year old son and I belong to this “horrific” club. On July 4, 2009, my only grandchild, Kati, which is my son’s little girl was brutally beaten to death. It took her all day to die. The boyfriend received life in prison and the mom got 18 years. Nothing in life ever prepares you for the loss of a child. It has been 2 1/2 years and I still ache. My son did not “deal” with Kati’s murder and chose other methods of coping. He is just now mourning her death, but it’s brought him to sobriety (Thank God). Even from the beginning, not only did people not know what to say, they didn’t do anything. None of my family came to my home, no one visited me afterwards. I felt more alone after her death than I ever have in my whole life. I had one friend I leaned on and she understood, because her child had been murdered 2 years prior. I know it’s hard to tell someone anything that could comfort them, but like the others are saying, just sit there, be present. I did that for my friend when her son was murdered and she did that for me. But to be shunned from the people that are supposed to be there for you, is very painful. To be told not to talk about Kati because we have so much more to be grateful for. I will never forget the pain of not having the support when I had to attend the capital murder trial. My family, i.e., parents and sisters, did not support my decision to go. Therefore, friends drove me back and forth and supported me during this time. I believe you guys are all so blessed to have your extended family for support. I think this is why I haven’t dealt with Kati’s murder as well as I could have. My husband is supportive as is my counselor, but that’s all I have got. I mourn with all of you for the loss of your child. God Bless you all and thanks for letting me pour my heart out.

  24. Ella Cummins permalink
    February 7, 2012

    Dear Pastor Mike,
    Thank you for writing on a very difficult topic. I would like to add to this by saying to those who mean well…..Forgive me if I did not receive your gift of compassion. Forgive me if I was rude, forgive me if I had a pity party, forgive me if I seemed mad or ungrateful. Forgive me if I made it difficult for you to approach me. As time passes I began to open your gifts one by one. Days when I can’t do grief anymore, God hands me a present from someone that I did not even remember, and I am comforted. So, again I ask your forgiveness but don’t give up on me, I am a work in progress learning a new kind of normal.
    God Bless all who grieve and those who grieve with us.
    Ella Cummins
    A friend of Nan Deal

  25. February 7, 2012

    Mike,
    Recently received a copy of Megan’s Secrets from Stuart Platt. Janet and I were supposed to attend STREAM at Westover recently but she became ill. Sorry I did not get the chance to meet you. We lost our 28 year old son almost 4 years ago. He was a kidney transplant patient, and he had kidney failure.

    There are SO MANY parallels in your writing between our son and your daughter. Attitudes, love for others, etc….

    The examples you give are great. I am just starting chapter six.

    Thanks for writing this book!!!

  26. Laura Gillett Light permalink
    February 7, 2012

    Mike,
    When you talk about keeping the memories alive…I’d like to share with you a memory I have of your daughter. As a HU student, I was a teaching assistant in her Tuesday-Thursday School class. I remember a day that, for the first time, she picked up a crayon and colored. We all rejoiced together! I worked there for probably only a few months, but that is something I’ll never forget! I just read the review of your book in the Christian Chronicle and am looking forward to reading it.
    Laura

  27. February 7, 2012

    I see Holy Spirit connection, comfort, and ministry written all over this post and comments. Thank You, Jesus! GIGATTAATTGIG

    Friend of Dottie…
    Friend of Nan…
    Friend of Stephen…

    Sister of our Advocate and Author of Life…

  28. Angela Lueck permalink
    February 7, 2012

    MIKE, Thank you , not sure you remember me. I’m robin’s lil sister Angela. The last time I was at church in the falls I was sitting next to you wife Diane.We were singing, but I could’nt i still can’t.Any how your sister in law shared this site on face book and I thank god she did. i’d like to read every thing and anything you write about the lose of a child. I’m still LOST haveing to live without my nick My heart HURTS but I have my faith. And it’s strong .But I have so much to learn yet. Diane told me i had that look .i knew what she meant . And it’s still here. Well goodnight and I look forward to reading more.

  29. Max Chance permalink
    February 7, 2012

    Hey, Mike- thanks for your wonderful words… they are like a play-by-play of what I’m walking through right now with a couple of my best friends in all the world. Their daughter was killed in an unspeakable tragedy last May- and we have been sitting in silence, sharing tears and stories about her, keeping her alive and fresh in our memories, and going over all our pictures and writings… all that you said. And I’ve thought many times about my quiet visit with you to Megan’s gravesite. Even though I had the lessons of that day, and numerous days that followed in hospital chaplaincy, I still have everything to learn about this. Each situation is different, of course, but it’s still as hard as ever to stand beside someone you love who is hurting so much and not be able to ‘say’ or ‘do’ anything… It’s like you said, exactly, you just want to say again and again that you love them, that you would gladly give yourself in some sort of cosmic trade… But of course, there’s no trading… no taking this away. So we cry and make a dumb joke, and cry some more and tell a story about the angel we knew for a while. Anyway, thank you so much for sharing your experience, without which I wonder if anyone could ever know what to say at times like this. I’m eager to read your posts, as well as Megan’s Secrets.

  30. karen permalink
    February 7, 2012

    this path of grief that i am on is so fresh and new to me. i know that i have not always had the right words to express to others. but this i know today, even if words are not ‘right’, their caring is truly a gift.

  31. David permalink
    February 7, 2012

    Mike, I never thought about the person who suffered the loss extending grace to those who were trying to comfort until I read this post. This is profound! Of course that is what Jesus did when he said, ” Father, forgive them for they do not know that they are doing.”

  32. Dane Altman permalink
    February 7, 2012

    Mike,

    You’re so right, we belong to a club we’d rather not be a member of. It’s been 10 years since we lost Kristin and too many of our friends have since joined that club. The best advice we got was that everyone grieves differently and the feelings and emotions you have are normal. When you experience the loss of a child you’ll never be the same. You just try and find the new normal.

  33. February 7, 2012

    Thank you. Our sweet Hadley over 3 years ago and I still need to be reminded of this. I’ve had my gracious moments…and some that were totally devoid of it. I look forward to reading and sharing your next post. <3

  34. Randa Tiner permalink
    February 8, 2012

    Thank you Mike for your words! You are so right. We too experienced the loss of our 11 year old girl over 10 years ago. Our deep grief started within those 3 months after. Although very difficult, God was also at work. Our daughters death brought us near to God. My husbands soul was saved and we truly found God. Although we were Christians, we truly didn’t know till our child’s death. It is blessing that those of us that have experienced the loss can truly be a witness also to the blessings of God in such dark moments and help those who are in that dark valley. Thank you for your words. Your own story was an inspiration to us through our moments.

  35. Jana permalink
    February 8, 2012

    Mike…so much appreciate your words. I have more to share with you in an email, but for now wanted to offer thanks to the commenters for their wisdom and insight. So grateful for people who are willing to share about the walk through their valleys. A close friend of mine lost her son last month and a close friend of my husband’s lost his wife this past fall, so I am taking all these words to heart. I really identify with Deana…not knowing what to say but feeling rabidly protective of my wounded friend. And I am struck by Stephen’s thoughts on BEING PRESENT: “There is so much power in presence and our society has packed the idea away for good.” Sad but oh-so-true. People don’t gather to grieve together anymore…they discuss it on Facebook…and it’s not the same.

  36. February 10, 2012

    It’s been almost four years for us… so you are farther down the road than we are. The first year is numb from the jagged pain … the second year is worse because the numbness goes away, but the pain doesn’t. There is something about identifying with others suffering the same (though it is unique) pain… Grieving parents seem to gravitate to one another. I’m glad you are openly sharing your thoughts because I always keep my eyes on those who are ahead of me.

  37. Holly Williamson permalink
    February 14, 2012

    I enjoyed reading your posts on the loat of a child. Your words could not ring more true. I lost my 3.5 year old son, Logan, on March 4, 2011. I have not hit the one year mark. To describe the pain would be impossible. I am lucky to have a wonderful support system, but there are days where it is too much and not enough. I don’t expect anyone that hasn’t experienced a loss to understand, I just hope I am not judged when I fall apart. My son died in the middle of the night. He passed away from a grand mal seizure when he spiked a fever. He had no signs of illness during the day. He had had other previous seizure attributed to fever, but I was always told the are virtually harmless. This was untrue for my son. I went to wake him that Friday morning for the day only to discover his body, he was gone. Needless to say it was so shocking and so traumatic..so incredibly sad. It is true about feeling as though a sword has sliced right through the heart leaving a gapping hole. I don’t know that it will ever mend. I have rediscovered joy and am working on my MA in counseling…..and God’s grace brings me peace, but I will love and miss my son, and remember every detail of his life… Forever.

  38. erin permalink
    March 1, 2012

    Just had a chance to read the whole series. Thank you so much!

  39. April 20, 2012

    I was introduced to this blog from a dear from of mine. I have had a miscarriage at 16 weeks, an infant death at the age of one week and then….the death of my beautiful 15 year old daughter. My daughters name is Britteny and for some reason, I had felt that God had blessed me with her and that there was somehow a bubble around her, that she was protected since I had already experienced such loss. Well, that wasnt the case. Britteny was tubing on our local lake with some friends when a mature adult male in a boat thought he was being funny to continue to circle them, therefore making waves. Depite my daughters strength from sports, she eventually fell off the tube. The man went around again and ran over her with his boat. That was 8/18/06. I still feel like it was yesterday. I am amazed that I have actually lived this long without her, as it has been a very rough road. Everyone elses life goes forward and its painful. Her friends are now getting engaged, some have had babies….my child has been frozen in time. We have missed so much of her life and it hurts…everyday. We have a strong faith, as I know we would have never made it without there. We also reach out to others who have experienced the same thing. Sometimes it really helps when the other person understands. Yes, it is a club ….one that you would never want to be in….but you are. I miss her daily, I cry daily but my life goal now is to help others where I can and make it to heaven, that special day, to hold her once again. We have since been blessed with another baby girl. I have literally had comments from people on my daughters website stating how I am evil in “trying to replace Britteny”. Some things that people say are so awful. There is no re-placing a child…by any means. It is totally impossible. Yet, the comments still do hurt. We should never have to bury our child before us. Its not right. I know that my familys grief will live on until we are with her again…..but that is just us. Our family was so very close. In one way I am thankful, as I know my faith must remain strong to see her again. If I can ever help anyone who has went through such a tragic event, I would be more than happy to help.

  40. April 20, 2012

    Dear Friends – These words of loss are holy ground. Thank you for sharing. I wish we could all have a 4 hour dinner to gather around our table, toast the memories of our children, tell stories of joy and loss, and anticipate the Final Banquet.

  41. Sandy permalink
    May 3, 2012

    Mike, February 7, 1963 is the day our twin daughter, Kathy, age 2 days died. My husband and I were
    Very young, stunned, but grateful we had one healthy baby to take home.
    Over the years she has been a vapor of a memory in our lives, but I will always remember her because a sweet friend said to me “you have a precious jewel waiting for you in heaven”
    Can you imagin what those wonderful simple words meant to me?
    I do not remember this woman’s name, but I will never forget those sweet simple words!

  42. June 20, 2012

    Mike,

    I just finished “Megan’s Secrets”. Thank you so much! It was the most life-affirming book I have read in quite some time.

  43. Chris Luttrell permalink
    September 20, 2012

    Thank u Pastor

    Sarah had a nice post. Our daughter Sarah was 4 months and sufficated on a bedside rail.

    Sarah would have been 9 last week and the grief never leaves. Though through grace it may dull a little.

    May God b with all those who have lost a child.

    Would not wish it on satan himself

  44. Jacqui permalink
    May 3, 2013

    Good article, although I wanted it to go further. It’s so true what you say – receive every little thing as a gift. My 10 yr. old grand daughter passed away just a month ago from brain cancer. People mean well, and more often than I would like, I’m having to receive comments and gestures as gifts because otherwise it would hurt.
    Thanks so much

  45. Pamela V. Robbins permalink
    August 27, 2014

    Thank you !!! I lost my 15 year old daughter who died from Osteosarcoma [Bone Cancer] on September 29, 2007. Prior to her death I lost my Husband in 1992, when she was just two months old. The death of my daughter was the hardest thing I ever had to endure, even beyond his death and my breast cancer. Just this past Friday my sister lost her seemingly healthy son to an apparent heart attack. He was just 20 years old! This is like reliving everything over again.The pain and sting of death is so excruciatingly painful. My only thoughts are earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal., and that God knows,sees all and loves us all. Our children are only on loan to us.Young or old we all have a day, time and hour when we will be called home. It hurts greatly. I’m sorry for everyones loss!

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

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