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.

20 thoughts on “Friday Counseling Issues: Grieving a Child

    1. Kathleen, I went over to your blog after I posted this, and read what you had to say on this subject. Perfect. I am truly sorry for your loss, and I know you are able to understand what others are going through.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. differentkindsofgrief

        My posts “Did YOU Notice?” “do NOT listen to the father of lies” and “What grieving parents want you to know…” are helpful for grieving parents.


  1. Wow, Linda, this is good. Very good. I think when we’re at a loss of what to say to a grieving person, it means we’re supposed to just listen, and give a hug if it’s appropriate for the situation. Mourn with those who mourn. Let them grieve. Amen.

    Blessings ~ Wendy ❀

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I was visiting with a friend this week who is grieving. She showed me a sweet album that included a lock of hair and baby footprints. I’ve lost early pregnancies; but never a child I held in my arms. I think that’s the toughest loss.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you so much for this! I am weeping right now. This is the kind of counsel I had wished I had received when we lost Andrew, along with following miscarriages. I was so thankful when Ruth Wells eventually reached out to me. She understood and knew what it felt like. She told me that it was okay to not be ready to hear Scripture yet, and that it was okay to just cry and grieve. I didn’t have to feel guilty for grieving. Your post is so beautifully written. We are three years from Andrew’s heavenly birthday, but there was still healing in your words. Thank you!


    1. Lydia, I am very glad that my post blessed you. Thanks for telling me. That means a lot. I hope you do understand that part of your emotional struggles is tied into your miscarriages. Lots to grieve there.


  3. Anne

    Disclaimer: I had NO idea my comment would be this long. Maybe it’s part of my grieving process, or maybe it’s because I’ve tried to just listen and learn more lately, so I’m holding a lot in 🙂 Either way, if I try to edit I may never get to the “to do list” of the day around here…forgive!


    Great teamwork! I enjoy the posts describing struggles as well as the posts describing how to help those struggling–both sides of the challenge!

    This opening line, “I have never had to walk through this particular valley, so I’m not going to tell you that I understand,” is tremendous. Even if we have lost a child, we STILL have never had to walk through another’s EXACT particular valley. Each person’s journey with God even in this is their very own. You so well encouraged us not to make assumptions.

    For me, it felt like the worst thing any one did (a Christian mother-in-law at that) was to say absolutely nothing. No phone call mentioning it, no card, no word then or ever later. She did this to my sister-in-law as well, including the loss of a sibling in her family. Maybe she thinks saying nothing (even as a grandmother?) was giving us courteous emotional space. But her silence and move on treatment negatively affected my husband in his expectations of how I should be handling the grief.

    All that to say, because of that silence, when people committed some of the above potential taboos you listed, I didn’t mind at all. I was appreciative that there must have been some compassion to be willing to address me at all. I learned, through that, that as a griever, to be a little less expecting of those trying to console me. Maybe the most challenging one was my own mother who was the complete opposite of my MIL. She, even 12 years later, wants to put me through the grieving process all over again as if I didn’t really love or care unless I go through every remembrance and stage every year. Saying, “I know God makes no mistakes” and wanting to look FORWARD rather than backwards doesn’t seem good enough for her. And then, yes, I try to assume she is having her own “particular” grieving process, right?

    From my and other friends’ journeys (that I was reminded of by reading your heart-felt post), I have learned:

    1. The “I’m going to remind them that they are not to blame” would have been heavy on my heart. Not that I would have wanted someone to tell me to consider if I were to blame either–yikes, right?! But I had much to work through with the Lord. I do not know for absolute certain if I had my part in my loss, but the best healing I found was to make things right with God about my potential part.

    2. “You’ll have other children”. That is the most upsetting, IMO. How does any one KNOW! To give such potential false hope is cruel.

    3. “loss of the most precious gift, the child made by the love between you and your grieving spouse”
    Some losses are made difficult in other ways because the child was not made by love with the spouse (rather insistence/duty) or not even made with a spouse, sometimes there isn’t a spouse remaining in the home, or if a spouse, surprisingly enough not even a grieving or patient spouse. This can add to the grief, doubts, and the loneliness at times.

    4. “console the dad”…Yes. I would hope it would be normal for dad to want to be consoled, but, from experience, even if he doesn’t, the expression towards them can hopefully help them be more patient with the grieving of others in the family.

    5. “while they sob…grieving is a long and painful process…listen to their stories” I have been told that I didn’t cry enough, must not have cared enough because my grieving process wasn’t or didn’t seem long enough because I didn’t really WANT to talk about it overly much apart from with the Lord. Maybe this is a personality thing to respect–to not judge those that don’t handle it as emotionally or non-emotionally as we might.

    6. “They don’t need to be told to be strong for their other children…They need people to be strong for them.” That is the way I reached forward the quickest to be reminded of other blessings and to keep giving. And, back to personality, even though I greatly appreciated people’s expressions of compassion, my introverted personality (I hear you laughing! At least OFF screen, friend! :), I had a very hard time with those thinking I needed people all around me. It made me more tense to try to meet THEIR expectations rather than quietly working through the tears and thoughts with the Lord while trying to find my own new normal for myself and family.

    7. “the hardest loss to endure” I’ve heard some folks say that losing a friend or spouse–a true soul mate friend/spouse–was their hardest to endure. That soul mate was their best friend and strength from the Lord to see them through other horrendous losses. In the end, I guess, “no one understands like Jesus.”

    Due to all my words, you would think I talk about this topic or experience a lot. Actually, this is the MOST I’ve EVER talked about it. Maybe it’s because February will bring many memories to me, and maybe it’s because I needed to get some of this out after all these years, I don’t know…but your thought-provoking posts have a way of doing this to me!

    During those moments of remembrance, I usually just quietly, blankly, with emotions swirling deep down, look at the Precious Moments figurines I have for each loss (not so much a loss as a delayed joy in meeting?) and pray a prayer even as I “know not what I should pray for as I ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for me with groanings which cannot be uttered.”

    And I just realized what comes quickly after that!
    Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God.”
    I’m glad, with you, to believe it’s true, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, my friend, for another perspective. There is no “one size fits all” for grieving. Perhaps I could have added to my post that the mourner has every right to retreat into a very private place if that is what suits the personality. No one understands like Jesus!


  4. We will be honoring the memory of my Niece Merceda Fondren on my blogtalk radio show Thursday February 19, 2015. Our family compiled and published a book,” Merceda’s Touch: Grace For The Grief” after her and her unborn baby’s death in 2009. We will discuss how we used writing as a Wellness work to get to this point. I will ask the audience to check out this blog.

    Liked by 1 person

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