When a Child Dies #13 . . . intubation
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