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When a Child Dies #13 . . . intubation

2012 February 24
by Mike

For the benefit of those who are seeking to walk alongside those who’ve lost a child, here are some of the things that have appeared in the first 12 posts in this series . . .

1) You don’t have to fix this with your words. You can’t. It feels like hell has broken loose. Your presence and your simple expressions of love mean everything.

2) Your friend will not be on a straight line to recovery. Many, out of love, will keep asking, “How is she doing?” You can really only answer that a day at a time. Monday: “She seems to be having a good day. She and her kids went to a movie and seemed to be laughing.” Tuesday: “I’m not sure. She can hardly speak.” It’s a merry-go-round of emotions. But the baseline emotion is sadness. I wish I could say it’s hope, but it’s not. There’s a lot of hope (in my own experience as a grieving parent and a friend of many grieving parents) in the first two weeks—when you cling to what you can—and in ensuing years. But for a long time, hope sits in the background. The world is mostly dark, even if you know you must go on.

3) The person you’re with will love you for life if you’ll help keep the memories of their son or daughter alive. A brief note on a birthday or an anniversary of the death—especially one where you mention a story or a characteristic you remember!—is more precious than all the gold in Fort Knox.

4) Your friend’s whole life will be effected—marriage, work, hobbies, church life, etc. He can’t partition this grief off. He’ll probably try to press on—you generally have to return to work, e.g.!—but the loss will spill over everywhere. Some people find themselves digging deeper into the life of their church; others migrate to other churches because they can’t bear the memories. (Most of us sit in the same seats in our assemblies; imagine returning to those seats when you need one fewer.)

5) The circumstances of the death don’t eliminate or mitigate the loss. The death could be gradual or sudden. It could be from a suicide, a wreck, an illness. It could have been an only child or one of a dozen children. There may have been time for “good-byes”—or not. The child could have been unborn, stillborn, young, or fully grown. It could be in any part of the world. (I say this because I’ve heard well-meaning leaders recently scold people for experiencing suffering as if this comes out of some sense of Western/American privilege. “People in other parts of the world expect to suffer.” Translation: we’re soft. Get over it. However, I’ve heard the wailing of parents in Africa in villages at the loss of children. Loss is loss—whether your country has good health or poor health, whether it’s relatively peaceful or war-torn.)

6) This friendship is a dance where it’s unclear who’s leading. Recently my four-year-old granddaughter and I tried two-stepping together. We had some disagreement about who should lead. (That’s my girl!) When you’re with a friend who’s in the earliest days of grief, it’s hard to know whether you need to follow their lead or whether they just need you to take them by the hand and do something (“Could we go grab coffee?” “Would you like to catch a movie today?”).

7) Even sad people need to have fun. We were lucky to have friends who’d invite us to just eat, laugh, and enjoy ourselves. They let us talk about our loss if we wanted to or just let us enjoy the evening as much as we could if that was better.

8 ) Your prayers for your friend who’s in grief are important. It’s possible he or she can’t pray yet. Or even breathe much. (In Megan’s Secrets, I describe this as being intubated by friends. It’s how I survived.) It’s such a comfort to know that others are praying on your behalf.

9) In the earliest days of grief, there may be simple acts of kindness that you and others can provide: doing dishes, mowing a lawn, “stealing” a car to wash it and fill it up, etc.

10) You can’t turn loose of your end of the rope. Even if your friend is hard to be with. When you’re on the other end, that rope is actually a lifeline. If feels thin and frayed. Even if they’re unable to express thanks or are irritable, they need you more than you can know.

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

– Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

13 Responses leave one →
  1. February 24, 2012

    By the way, thanks so much to all of you who have passed on links to this website. I’ve heard from so many parents who’ve lost children—people whom I’ve never met. I appreciate your help.

    I am planning one more post in this series.

    My publisher asked me to mention that these people won the free copies of Megan’s Secrets at GoodReads:

    Heidi T.
    Cristen L.
    Donna O.
    Debbie B.
    Vanessa M.
    Paige N.
    BeccaJane W.
    Carol S.
    Susan E.
    JennaMarie B.

  2. Rick Ross permalink
    February 24, 2012

    Intubation. I have to admit I had to look up the meaning of that word, but what a perfect word picture you have chosen.

  3. February 24, 2012

    Thanks, Rick. In the book I talk about how Megan had to be intubated during her illnesses (because of aspiration pneumonia) and Chris had to be intubated after the wreck. That seemed a good picture of what my friends had done for me: they had intubated me and breathed/prayed/hoped on my behalf. I’m sure you understand!

  4. Rick Ross permalink
    February 24, 2012

    Jenny had to be intubated as well. But the terminology we used was that she had been “vented,” although I now remember the doctors and nurses speaking of intubation.

    Oh, do I understand!

  5. Kathy permalink
    February 24, 2012

    I still pray for you, Mike – for all of you!

  6. Karen Sharp permalink
    February 24, 2012

    Mike………even after all of these years since Jayson’s death the hurt is still so much alive but the hope for eternal life and being with him again is much more powerful. Thank you for your beautiful words. You are such an eloquent writer.

  7. Carolyn permalink
    February 25, 2012

    I also send my thanks, Mike, and I love the use of the word intubation in your book …that’s the body of Christ to me. Those of us who have walked earlier in grief know better how to provide the emotional, spiritual and physical nourishment to those coming behind us. The very personal experiences and comments in this series give us continued courage and strength.

  8. Mona Granados permalink
    February 25, 2012

    Thanks for acknowledging the unborn child. My daughter lost a baby at nine weeks. It still hurt as if we’d had him for years. She’s heard that comment “at least you can have more”. Having another doesn’t replace that child, nothing replaces that child. They hadn’t planned this baby but from the minute we knew she was pregnant we were so happy. It was really to soon to know but to us he was Stephen Andrew Whittington. By the way, grandparents grief as much at the parents and most people don’t even acknowledge their loss. Thanks for this series. I cringe when I hear people say those cliche things to other people.

  9. Deanna Brooks permalink
    February 25, 2012

    Yes, thank you for acknowledging that miscarriage is a loss…we lost our first grandchild…then, a few years later there was another grandchild lost through miscarriage…and it HURTS. It still hurts, but I find comfort in the belief that their grandparents who had gone on ahead and are with the Redeemed are loving these precious babies we will never hold in our arms but only in our hearts.

  10. February 28, 2012

    Mona and Deanna – Thanks so much for that feedback. Yes, those are sorrowful losses that must be recognized. To again borrow from Anne Lamott, the only way to get through grief is by grieving!

  11. February 28, 2012

    Karen and Carolyn – You’ve both been such great wonderful friends to Diane and me for so many years! Karen, I remember your knowing tears when Megan died. They ministered to me in deep ways . . . and told me that the grief process would be long. Thank you!

  12. Sarah permalink
    March 2, 2012

    I agree. Thank you for mentioning the loss of the unborn. My husband and I have lost two unborn children in the last year. We have definitely heard the, “at least it was early on the you miscarried” and “at least you can have more”. But, we have never been promised that God will give us more children. He may not. And if He doesn’t, we will know that He is still good and the He is still faithful. But it still hurts so greatly to have lost those two children that we will never get to know. I know that my grief is much different from that of my parents after the loss of Tyler. But I also know that Matthew and I still have to grieve the loss of these children…no matter how small they were.

  13. March 19, 2012

    Regarding #3 and #10, I wish there were more powerful keystrokes than Bold, Italics and Underline to communicate the lifesaving facets of these acts of friendship. My friend died on Thursday. The best anyone can do is sit with coffee and let me describe how powerfully he lived his faith for 50+ years, how he sacrificed for the spiritual health of others, how the made husband and father his top priorities and friendship his third, how much, how much, how much….. PrayingforKyleDegge on facebook.

    We appreciate your books and the blog so very much. We have been reading since 2004.

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