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.