Friday Counseling Issues: Grieving a Child

My blogging friend Kathleen Duncan gave me a wonderful list of ideas  this morning for future blog posts. Here’s her first one:

What counsel would you give to parents who just lost a child to illness or accident? What actions would you advise and what words would you not say?

I have never had to walk through this particular valley, so I’m not going to tell you that I understand.

I’m not going to tell you, “Your child is in a better place.”

I’m not going to tell you, “You’ll have other children.”

I’m not going to tell you, “Time heals all wounds.”

I’m going to do my very best to avoid all the cliches that have no meaning whatsoever when you are reeling from the loss of the most precious  gift, the child made by the love between you and your grieving spouse.

I’m not going to ask how the mom is doing, but neglect to console the dad.

I’m not going to quote Romans 8:28 to you, even though I believe it is true.

I don’t think there is any advice that a grieving parent–and let’s not forget the grieving grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins–is able to hear early in the experience of such a dreadful loss.

So I’m going to keep all my wisdom to myself, and here’s what I will do:

I’m going to cry with the mourners.

I’m going to open my arms to them and hug them tight while they sob.

I’m going to tell them how deeply sorry I am for their loss.

I’m going to tell them, if I knew the child, that I will miss that child very much.

If I didn’t know the child (this happens when I’m counseling grieving parents) I will still tell them that I wish I had known their child.

I’m going to encourage them to tell the story of what happened, over and over again, as often as they need to repeat it.

I’m going to reassure them that God has not forsaken them. I will continue to do so as long as they are still feeling that God has deserted them.

Eventually, I will be able to tell them that grieving is a long and painful process; that they are not sinning or lacking in faith when they grieve so deeply; that they must allow themselves to grieve and not try to stuff it all down inside.

I’m going to tell them that when when well-meaning but ignorant folks say hurtful things, they are not required to smile and say thank you.

They are going to feel some degree of guilt, whether or not there was a single thing they could have done to prevent their loss.  I’m going to remind them that they are not to blame.  A zillion times, if that’s what it takes.

I’m going to look at their pictures, listen to their stories about how bright beautiful and amazing their child was.  I’m going to nod and smile and allow my own tears to fall because I’m a mother, too, and we all think our own kids are the brightest and the best.

When the time is right and they are beginning to be able to hear, I will share all the scriptures I know about peace and comfort and the great love and compassion of God.

I will not be impatient when they return to some stage of grief that they have already been through.

I will tell them that what they are experiencing is normal. Normal is a word I use a lot when I’m counseling grief-stricken people.

I will try to remember that grief-stricken is just as awful as it sounds.  Beaten down, overwhelmed, knocked senseless with grief. They don’t need to be told to be strong for their other children. They don’t need to be told to be strong for anyone. They need people to be strong for them.

I will not criticize them for the depression they may experience. It is not a sin for a believer to experience depression.

No, it is NOT!  You will do more harm than you can imagine if you tell a grieving parent that depression is just a sin problem. Please just be quiet if that’s all you can think of to say. And I pray it never happens to you, because you will not survive it.

The loss of a child is, in my opinion and observation, the hardest loss to endure. It is out of sequence. A child is not supposed to die before its parents do. This goes for miscarriages too, by the way.  It’s the loss of a child, and the parents will need to grieve.

Don’t get in their way.

Take, Eat. . . .Drink ye all of it. . . .

Matthew 26:26-27. “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it  to them, saying, Drink ye all of it: For this is My blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”

This scene is the beginning of the institution of what we refer to as Communion, or the Lord’s Supper.  We have already discussed the meaning of the Passover feast.  Now, the true passover Lamb is about to be slain. He instituted another feast, a wonderful memorial of His work on the cross. He called it the “new covenant,” or “new testament.” The Lord’s Supper embodies the fundamental truth of Christianity, in the same way that the Passover represented the fundamental truth of Judaism. The Lord’s Supper is a simple meal to remember what He did at Calvary; how His body was broken and His blood was shed for the remission of sin. In this new testament, His blood is shed for all; in the Judaic custom, the blood of the paschal lamb was shed only for the Jews.  This is a new covenant indeed, including all who will come to Him for cleansing and forgiveness.

In the book of Luke, we can read the words that make it clear that Jesus intended the observation  of the Lord’s Supper to be a memorial, not a way of salvation or of forgiveness.  As we take the bread and the wine, we are to think deeply on His sacrifice in our behalf and remember Him; to be thankful, to be humbled by His great love  (Luke 22:19).

Woe unto that Man. . . .

Matthew 26:24-25. “The Son of man goeth as it is written of Him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It had been good for that man if he had not been born. Then Judas, which betrayed Him, answered and said, Master, is it I? He said unto him, Thou hast said.”

John 13:27 makes it clear that Satan had entered into Judas, and was controlling his mind and his heart.  Judas had already opened himself to Satan’s control with his greed; he had allowed his greed to send him to bargain with the priests to identify Jesus for them for the price of a slave. Judas was never a true disciple, but a man who was looking out for his own interests. When it seemed that Jesus may be the One they all hoped would destroy Rome and establish His kingdom on earth, Judas was willing to follow Him.

It was clear, now, however, that Jesus was going to fulfill His own words; He was going to die, and there would be no kingdom. No riches, no glory, no prominent place, no power.

No loyalty, no commitment, no understanding of the One he was about to sell out.

Truly, it would have been better for him if he had never been born.

Lord, is it I?

Matthew 26:22-23. “And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say nto Him, Lord, is it I? And He answered and said, He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me.”

Eleven of the disciples felt great sorrow. One, perhaps, also felt sorrow. His sorrow, however, was tempered by greed and the guilty knowledge of what he had already done.

I wonder if Judas, too, asked Jesus, “Lord, is it I?”  Did he look into the eyes of the Son of God and know that Jesus already knew?  Did he see judgment in those eyes? Was he afraid?  Did he wish he could give the  blood money back to the men who had given it to him?  Did he realize he was selling Jesus for the mere price of a purchased slave?  Did any of this go through his mind?

We’ll see in verse 25 that Judas did indeed ask that question, but it seems he waited until everyone else had asked. It would seem that Jesus was giving Judas a last opportunity to repent, to confess what he had bargained to do, and to repent. Judas, however, remained silent. We can read in John 13 that Judas then accepted from the hands of the Lord a piece of bread dipped into the wine.

I don’t know.  I wasn’t there, and it is not recorded; but I can imagine that Judas’ eyes never left Jesus’ eyes as he put the sop into his mouth, chewed, and swallowed. What I can’t imagine is what he must have been thinking.


Matthew 26:20-21. “Now when the even was come, He sat down with the twelve. And as they did eat, He said, Verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray Me.”

I can imagine that in the first few seconds after Jesus made this startling statement, there was a thick and uneasy silence.

Betray Him?  What?  How could that be?  Who among these dedicated men who had followed Him for three  years would even think of such a thing? No, it wasn’t possible!

But they had learned that Jesus never spoke an unneccesary  or false word, and their astonishment turned to great sorrow. Who?  Who was the one who could not be trusted?  Who among them would do such an evil thing?

And I can imagine them lying their, reclining on the couches that were customary, looking a Jesus and trying not to look at each other.  Sideways glances, downcast eyes, perhaps angry eyes, perhaps fearful eyes.

One pair of eyes, though, must have glanced furtively at each of the other disciples, already knowing that the deed was in play, and wondering what his consequences would be.


I just wrote this for my writing blog, decided to go ahead and post it here as well. Happy snow day to all my PA friends 🙂

Just Writing!

So.  I’m tired of waiting for the dilatory daily prompt. Not checking again today.

Anyway, we got a beautiful prompt overnight. 

I took this with my iPhone, from inside our dining room.  It looks out on our back yard. We got about six inches, and the temperature right now is 33 degrees.  Not bad, really.

There are myriads of paeans written to the beauty of the snow.  There are songs and poems and photographic essays, and I can’t (won’t) try to improve on any of them.  There are also lots of things written about the horrors of the snow, the unrelenting cold, the dangers.  Both are true. And both ideas have set my mind to work this morning.

I work in mental health.  I’m a private practice, independent contractor therapist.  I work three days each week, and at my ripe old age, that’s plenty.  I spend those days listening to…

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Aging: Loneliness (Friday Counseling Issues)

Growing old can sometimes be a very lonely process. Not everyone has a large family, or even a small one, to care for the aging generation of grandparents and great-grandparents. Often, the task of caring for an elder lands on just one person’s shoulders, and it is a heavy responsibility. It can involve becoming the Power of Attorney for the elder; being responsible for all his financial obligations, taxes, bills, health care, and so on. Unfortunately, this responsibility can often coincide with the age at which the caregiver’s children are in their teens or early 20’s and still needing some parental help and guidance.

It isn’t always easy to find answers.  I have a couple of clients right now who are in their middle to late sixties, and are caring for mothers in their late 80’s. The daughters have their own physical difficulties, and find it very difficult to provide the physical care their mothers need. Neither of the daughters wants to put her mother in a facility, and I understand that,  But sometimes, there really isn’t any other choice.

Loneliness is harder for some than for others.  People who have always had lots of friends or family around them are deeply hurt when, as time passes, those people become absorbed in their own affairs and no longer have much time to spend with the elder.  Visits can be too short, too infrequent to satisfy the need of the elder to have some sense of still being connected to others.

One of the advantages of an assisted living facility or a good nursing home is that there is opportunity for socializing with others. I know of people who are so glad they moved from their house or apartment into such a facility, because now they have found new friends and are no longer so isolated.

Many churches have shut-in visitation programs. They  often do an outstanding job of staying in touch with elders who are unable to get out and who depend on people coming to them for social calls.

The fact is, however, that when most of the friends and family members of the elder’s generation have died, she can feel very lonely in a room full of people.  All those she truly felt connected with have gone on, and she feels no one knows her any more.

I wish I had an easy answer for such a situation. I don’t.

I will say that if you know of a situation in  your family, your church, your neighborhood, in which an older person who can’t get out much spends many days alone, you may be the one who can mobilize others in your family or organization to spend some time with that person.  It is too easy for us to be so busy doing our own lives that we forget about those left alone with no one to talk with for too many days at a time.

We need to be aware, and we need to take care. None of us are getting any younger.

I think this will be the final post for now on the topic of aging.  Not sure where I’ll go next,  Should be interesting to see what comes to mind between now and next Friday 🙂

The Disciples Did What He Said

Matthew 26:19. “And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them; and they made ready the passover.”

I love the simplicity of these verses.  Yesterday, in verse 18, we read that  the disciples followed Jesus’ instructions to approach a certain man.  How did they know which man it was?  In Luke 22:10, Jesus gave specific instructions. “And He said unto them, Behold, when ye are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you bearing a pitcher of water; follow him into the house were he entereth in.”

And how did the man with the pitcher know John and Peter would be looking for him?  I don’t know.  Maybe it was a prompting in his heart from God.  Maybe he recognized them from some other place where he had seen them with Jesus.  Whatever the case was, this man was willingly used of God to offer an upper chamber to the disciples, where they then set about preparing for the passover feast. 

What strikes me about this whole passage is that no one questioned Jesus, or, as far as we know, tried to stop Him once again from entering Jerusalem.  They simply obeyed His orders, without any hesitation. He spoke, they listened and acted.

Why do we make things so hard?  When God speaks to us through His Word, through a sermon or a devotional, or through a friend or a spouse, why do we question every little part of what is said?  Why do we try to impose our own ideas on something that is clearly from the Lord?  Doubting Thomas was not the first to question, and he certainly wasn’t the last.

God is so very patient with us. He allows us to ask for signs, and He often chooses to grant those signs.

Wouldn’t it be a fine thing if we simply heard and obeyed?

Go into the City

Matthew 26: 18-19. ” And He said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand: I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples.” And the disciples did as Jesus had appoointed them; and they made ready the passover.”

Peter and John, who represented the disciples, had taken the passover lamb into the the city. In the Temple. along with throngs of others who were there for the same purpose, the priests would kill the lamb. The nearest priest would catch the blood in a gold or silver bowl, and pass it next in the row of priests unti it reach the one nearest the altar, who instantly sprinkled it toward the altar’s base. The lamb was then flayed and the entrails removed to be burnt with incense on the altar.  this was done in the afternoon. When evening came, the lamb was roasted with great care. Unleavened bread, wine, bitter herbs, and sauce were also provided for the supper.

The following information is taken from

The six traditional items on the Seder Plate are as follows:

  • Maror and chazeret — Bitter herbs, symbolizing the bitterness and harshness of the slavery the Hebrews endured in Egypt. In Ashkenazi tradition, eitherhorseradish or romaine lettuce may be eaten in the fulfillment of the mitzvah of eating bitter herbs during the Seder. Sephardic Jews often use curly parsley, green onion, or celery leaves.
  • Charoset — A sweet, brown mixture representing the mortar used by the Hebrew slaves to build the storehouses or pyramids of Egypt. In AshkenaziJewishhomes, Charoset is traditionally made from chopped nuts, grated apples, cinnamon, and sweet red wine
Seder Plate.jpg
  • Karpas — A vegetable other than bitter herbs, which is dipped into salt water at the beginning of the Seder.Parsley, celery or boiled potato is usually used. The dipping of a simple vegetable bounces into salt water (which represents tears) mirrors the pain felt by the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. Usually in a Shabbat or holidaymeal, the first thing to be eaten after the kiddush over wine is bread. At the Seder table, however, the first thing to be eaten after the kiddush is a vegetable. This leads immediately to the recital of the famous question, Ma Nishtana — “Why is this night different from all other nights?” It also symbolizes the spring time, because Jews celebrate Passover in the spring.
  • Z’roa — Also called Zeroah, it is special as it is the only element of meat on the Seder Plate. A roasted lamb or goat shankbone, chicken wing, or chicken neck; symbolizing the korban Pesach (Pesach sacrifice), which was a lamb that was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem, then roasted and eaten as part of the meal on Seder night. Since the destruction of the Temple, the z’roa serves as a visual reminder of the Pesach sacrifice; it is not eaten or handled during the Seder. Vegetarians often substitute a beet, quoting Pesachim 114b as justification; other vegetarians substitute asweet potato, allowing a “Paschal yam” to represent the Paschal lamb.
  • Beitzah — A roasted hard-boiled egg, symbolizing the korban chagigah (festival sacrifice) that was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem and roasted and eaten as part of the meal on Seder night. Although both the Pesach sacrifice and the chagigah were meat offerings, the chagigah is commemorated by an egg, a symbol of mourning (as eggs are the first thing served to mourners after a funeral), evoking the idea of mourning over the destruction of the Temple and our inability to offer any kind of sacrifices in honor of the Pesach holiday. Since the destruction of the Temple, the beitzah serves as a visual reminder of thechagigah; it is not used during the formal part of the seder, but some people eat a regular hard-boiled egg dipped in saltwater as the first course of the meal.
Table set for the seder with a seder plate, salt water, matza, kosher wine and a copy of theHaggadah for each guest 

The sixth symbolic item on the Seder table is a plate of three whole matzot, which are stacked and separated from each other by cloths or napkins. The middle matzah will be broken and half of it put aside for the afikoman. The top and other half of the middle matzot will be used for the hamotzi (blessing over bread), and the bottom matzah will be used for thekorech (Hillel sandwich). Matza is flat bread and symbolises the yeast less bread that was eaten by the Hebrews after they were set free.

A bowl of salt water, which is used for the first “dipping” of the Seder, is not traditionally part of the Seder Plate, but is placed on the table beside it. However, it sometimes is used as one of the six items, omitting chazeret.

Where Shall we Eat?

Matthew 26:17. “Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto Him, Where wilt Thou that we prepare for Thee to eat the passover?”

The first day of the feast of the unleavened bread was the day on which the passover was to be killed (Luke 22:7).  That the disciples asked Jesus where He wished them to arrange for the feast is proof that they expected, and indeed did, commemorate the Jewish Paschal Supper.

This has always been one of my favorite Bible stories.  Pharoah had hardened his heart over and over, refusing to allow the Israelites to leave Egypt.  His belligerence had resulted in nine terrible plagues, and this was to be the final one, the last straw, that would break his spirit for a long enough time for the Israelites to escape.  The eldest son in every Egyptian household would be dead by morning unless they followed the directions given to Israel. A perfect lamb was to be sacrificed, and its blood was to be daubed over the door and on the posts of the doors.  The sign of the blood would cause the death angel to pass over each house so marked; he would take the lives only in those dwellings that went unmarked.

God’s directions were clear. They were specific.  They were easy to follow.  But Pharoah would have nothing to do with following the rules of the Hebrew God, and so he lost his firstborn son.  In his great grief, he finally bowed to Yaweh and allowed God’s people to go free.

There is much symbolism in the Passover feast,  I will try to remember to point it out as it comes up in this story.

The first day of the week of the Passover went from our Tuesday  sunset to Wednesday sunset, as the Hebrews counted their days.  As I said, it was on this day that the Paschal lamb was to be killed.

The word Paschal  seems to have come down to us from the Hebrew Pesah, for passover.  As with many words, it has had some changes through the centuries.  It simply refers to the Passover, though, and has no special meanings other than that. The lamb, of course, was a picture of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, Whose life would be given  and Whose blood would be shed to not just cover the sin of the world, but to cleanse everyone who comes to Christ in repentance, for salvation. It is His blood that keeps the death angel at bay, and gives us eternal life with Him in heaven.