Before I lost Dominic, I know that I, like others who had never experienced the death of a child, undoubtedly said and did things that were hurtful instead of helpful.
I painfully remember sharing at a Thanksgiving women’s gathering and, meaning to encourage the ladies, said something like, “I think we are able to better face the big disappointments or trials in life, but find the daily drip, drip, drip of unfulfilled expectations to be a greater challenge.”
A bereaved mom in attendance set me straight (in a very kind and gracious manner!).
That exchange has come often to my mind in these months after burying my son. I wish I could go back and have a do-over.
I hope that my pain has made me more compassionate, more sensitive to those around me. I pray that I will extend grace and mercy to everyone I meet. I want to be a light, not a candle-snuffer!
I’m convinced that most people want to bless and not hurt.
So here is a list of things (from my own experience and from the experience of others) that can be particularly damaging to bereaved parents when dealing with their loss:
Offering platitudes and quoting Bible verses is unhelpful.
Don’t say, “At least you have your other children.” Which of your own children are you willing to give up?
“God needed another angel!” This is just bad theology as well as unhelpful. God doesn’t need anything and my child is not an angel. He is a redeemed member of the Body of Christ and in heaven with Jesus.
“He or she isn’t suffering anymore.” That may very well be true, but it’s not comforting to hear it.
“All things work together for good…” I may believe that in my heart of hearts, and may come to feel it again one day, but in the days immediately following my son’s death, I didn’t need to be reminded.
“He (or she) wouldn’t want you to be sad.” How do you know what my child would want? Being sad and expressing my pain honors his or her memory.
“God will use your son’s death to bring people to Jesus.” Yes, He might. But He did not need my son to die in order for anyone to receive Christ. He may use my son’s death, but I will speak honestly and say that I would not have exchanged Dominic’s life for anyone.
“It could have been worse” or any sentence beginning with, “At least…”. My child is dead. I cannot have him back. I’m sure there are more painful ways to lose a child besides a motorcycle accident,but it is a matter of degree, not kind. Just please, don’t.
“Don’t try to make your grief ‘equal’ to the parents. Sometimes in an effort to comfort we might say things like “I understand how you feel. I was devastated when my grandfather, or aunt, or best friend died”. My mom and sister proceeded my daughter in death and their loss, as difficult as it was, didn’t even come close to how difficult it has been to lose her. And don’t compare the loss of your beloved pet to the loss of someone’s child. JUST DON’T! Almost everyone I know who has lost a child has had their loss compared to that of someone’s pet. My daughter’s death was compared to that of someone’s pet lizard.”
Asking for details of the cause of death or the conditions surrounding the death of any child is not helpful. If a parent wants to talk about it, listen. Otherwise, keep curiosity in check.
“I did not appreciate [a close family member] persisting to know why our son took his own life. I don’t want to tell her as she will dwell on that forever and I want to celebrate his life, not his death. I also didn’t appreciate those folks telling me to stay strong. I am strong, but if I wanted to be a puddle, I am allowed to do that too.”
Please don’t label us as “strong”–you may mean it as a compliment but we hear it in many ways. One way might be that we are not honoring our child by grieving hard enough. Another way might be that we are expected to act strong even when we don’t feel strong. Trust me, you have no idea what it costs a bereaved mama to hold back the tears.
“I get so tired of people telling me I’m so strong also. I too am a puddle often but no one sees me during these days alone.”
It’s true that no one can fully comprehend our pain if they have not felt it. But it is possible to educate yourself about ways to support grieving parents.
“I wish people were more understanding but the problem with that is about the only way to understand is to go through it and I don’t want that for anyone.”
Please don’t withdraw from us as if we have a communicable disease. I know it makes you uncomfortable to be around me and my grief. It makes me uncomfortable too. But companionship and encouragement can mean the difference between grieving well and being overwhelmed by sorrow.
“I wish one of my good friends had reached out to me more. See we both work for the school system so we had the summer off. I never once heard from that friend all summer. It really hurt.”
“When I got home my church family was there then suddenly I was home alone. Everybody left me home ”
Show up to the funeral. Put aside petty differences. Extend grace. It’s not about you.
“His father didn’t even come. Not even to the funeral. No one brought food or sent flowers. Not even after the funeral. I was left alone a lot frightened and confused. Within a few months I was homeless.”
Be the church. Be the person that writes notes weeks and months after the funeral. Check in with grieving parents and keep checking in. Even if they don’t return a phone call, the act of letting them know you care is meaningful.
“After the funeral, there was a huge sense of abandonment from everyone. I don’t think that was intentional by anyone (except my family members, lovely!) but yeah…..there were hundreds of people at his funeral, and I probably didn’t know half of them. I wanted to thank people, but didn’t know who to thank! Lot of support, but when it was over…….it was over.”
“[Some close family members] were total jerks about the entire ordeal, so if there were anything really, I wish they had sucked up their egos and petty jealousies, and been there more for my other kids. I no longer have ties with them.”
“One huge topic that is discussed in my bereaved parents Facebook group is the response from the church for grieving parents. Sadly, most churches just don’t know what to do so they do…..nothing. Some are great for the first couple of weeks after the death and then….nothing. A very few provide the needed support in the months after such a devastating loss.”
Please don’t rush us to meet your timetable of when our grief should subside. It will take as long as it takes. Sometimes we can participate in life and sometimes we can’t. Sometimes we smile, sometimes we cry– but we will always miss our child.
“People, for different reasons, want you to get back to normal. We can’t even remember what normal was ”
One of the biggest fears of bereaved parents is that their child will be forgotten. Don’t forget. Speak to them about their child. Share memories. Say their name. Be present (even with a text, call or card) on important dates.
“No one would come for my son’s first anniversary. I was left home alone…abandoned felt like.”
Loss will enter everyone’s life at some point–there is no escape.
We educate ourselves (as we should) on so many issues–work hard not to offend, to understand, to reach out. Bereaved parents don’t want pity, they would like to be better understood. We did not choose this journey, it was thrust upon us.
A little bit of kindness goes a long way.
13 thoughts on “Loving Well: Some Things Hurt”
I lost one of a twin. I find people say things like ` at least you have a carbon copy’. The two of you will be a support for each other. No. Actually our experience was different and I nearly lost my second twin. Other remarks are ` in time you will see this death as a healing’., `Give your daughter the gift of letting go’. No wonder I am afraid to speak to people.
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Reblogged this on Dealing with My Grief.
Your words always give me comfort and encouragement. So, I ask you, how do I deal with my husband who in moments of frustration, tells me I am not the same person, and I never used to be “like that” before Dana died. He knows neither of us are the same, but I guess he expects me to be my former self. None of us are our former selves. He throws words at me like, Satan has a hold on you since Dana died. Really? I dont think so. So I just retreat, not try to explain myself. I am tired that is all i have to say.
I am so very sorry dear one! I’ve learned that grief both creates and exposes cracks in our relationships-even the closest ones.
I can’t answer for why your husband is reacting this way but I can affirm to you that grief definitely changes all of us. Did your husband tend toward self-righteousness prior to your loss? Is he a person who dismisses what he can’t understand or might be frightened of?
Sometimes people respond with frustration and anger to our ongoing sorrow and the other changes wrought by child loss because they are afraid of more change. There’s no way to undo the death of our child but sometimes someone close to us wants to push us “back” to “how we were” because it seems like a reachable goal (although it’s not!). Maybe your husband is feeling lost himself and is frustrated about how grief has changed him. That’s no excuse for his lack of grace.
Perhaps you might ask him how he thinks HE has changed since Dana left for Heaven.
Praying that the Lord greets you every morning with grace and strength to hold onto hope and that He helps your husband learn grace toward you. ❤
I can relate to most of this. I was fortunate to have a loving, compassionate church body in the days, weeks, months, years following Klint’s death. The Lord had graciously and soundly saved me just 4 years earlier; so I was a baby Christian and the only believer in my huge family.
I love your analogy—I don’t want to be a “candle snuffer” either!
I do think that sharing Scriptures later on in the journey is helpful as I know the truth sets us free. As an example—acknowledging that the number of my child’s days was pre-ordained by God assures me that God didn’t say “Oops!” on the day of Klint’s “accident,” but that his life was perfectly complete and finished on April 10, 1991.
I despise the horrible theology about angels—thanks for pointing that out. I don’t have the assurance of my 18-year-old’s salvation—but I know the One who created him & loved him more than me & desired his repentance. That will have to be enough on this side of Heaven. And if he is in heaven, he is a redeemed soul—not an angel.
I so appreciate your writing and encouragement gifts.😘
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I think the only comment that unsettled me is the, ‘God has a plan’ comment. I don’t think I want any plan that takes a person’s life. still the person is a sweet person, with the best if intentions. One parent did bring her son to our open house and asked questions that made it sound like someone or something could be to blame (nothing to blame seemed to disturb her so I hope she figures out that life isn’t always about blame, so I ignore her behavior because she is a clueless git). I do find some funeral and cemetery businesses distasteful and slimy. Maybe I’ll get angry later but I’m just sad. It hasn’t quite been four weeks. Everything we know points to a sudden impulsive act of a teenager. Our almost teen is starting to act out, the tween doesn’t understand what occurred and the college kid ended up moving back home temporarily instead of going to school abroad this fall and is questioning so much.
I did not fault lots of people for not coming to the memorial, many of my close friends did not show up but are there for me as they were before our loss. My sister has a lot of unresolved issues about the deaths of a sibling and parent such that I think it might have been detrimental for her to go through this. I certainly hope she gets the right help so I don’t have to go to another memorial any time soon. Anyone who knows they have unresolved ptsd/depression regarding death should do what they need for themselves. The others who actively don’t provide support… their souls are damaged somehow.
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You have great insight and a grace-filled heart. I have three surviving children and their brother’s death made a huge impact on them too. Their plans changed a great deal in the wake of loss but they have managed and are beginning to heal. Praying that you and your family feel the Presence of the LORD and that He strengthens you for each day.
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Today marks 7 1/2 weeks since my only son was killed as a passenger in a car wreck. He didn’t even know I was there has I held him until his heart stopped at 9:49 am. I still have moments that this barely 19 year old energic athletic charismatic young man with a radiant smile and heart would do wonderful things in this world. Devin- Micheal had graduate from high school early that summer and he was searching to find his way. I had sent him to Alaska over the holiday for several months to visit his uncle that he respects in the air force. I thought he needed that make influence to help him with transitioning to adulthood. I never imagined that would be his last holidays. I sometimes drift to self pity because I didn’t get to spend them with him; yet he was granted the opportunity of an adventure and see the northern lights. I know he was very happy and enjoyed his time with his uncle, aunt and cousins. I know it was a wonderful experience for him. He came back to Georgia on the 9th of January. On January 30,th. I got the call. I saw him earlier the evening before with a By mom love ya as the last words I will ever hear. I did what I felt was my motherly duty and I cleaned his fragil swollen face before they took him. I instantly received a call because he was a life link donor. I gave my approval to honor his wishes. I have no idea what was being said as all I could think is why can’t it be the other way. Him being saved. The funeral was large. His biological dad shows but never offered to help with any of the responsiblity. I haven’t heard from him since. My grief has grown aggressively. Some days I barely function. I have had so many hurtful things said to me by the people that you’d expect to be comfort and understanding. I was expected to be fine less than a week. My son still doesn’t have a final resting place. The phone rarely rings and when I’m desperate I sometimes will call a friend or family member more often than not my calls go unanswered. I feel like I’m in complete isolation with my pain. My husband and I seoerated he said he doesn’t feel for me that I lost my only child life goes in, my dad said your not the only mother that’s lost a child, others have whispered why was he out so late implying it was my fault. Well, my son was a passenger with a seatbelt on in the back seat. I called him generally every night checking in on where he was and what time he’d be home. In fact when the phone rang my first thought was he forgot his key. My mom had spent a month a Grady hospital because she tripped on a old heater cord which engulfed her into flames in November. She transitioned to a local rehab nursing home. She had fallen at the nursing home and I received the call her hip was broken requiring surgery. I was at the hospital that night with her preparing for an early surgery. I got home and feel alsleep in my clothes. I thought I’d just rest my eyes a moment. Then I’d call him. The next thing I know the phone was ringing. The reason they were out so late is because they were helping a friend that had been drinking talking him into not driving. He lived in the accident. The jeep went out the road at a curve and rolled over 200 yards. My son went through the top with the seat through a large maple oak tree. The driver was stuck in his seatbelt as the jeep Exploded. He was 90% burnt. He died a few days later. I didn’t sleep for months, still have times that I cannot. I have nightmares in my mind and visions of the accident and scenes of my son laying there with life support the other details are far to gruesome to share. I’ve been told the pain attacks I gave are a result fro. The PTSD. So yes I’ve also ended up homeless. I’m back at my husbands house where my son and I lived before the accident. It’s so quite. There’s no longer life in this house. No teenagers in the drive way no more cars lined up. No more extra laundry. No meals to be served. No laughter. No more advise to share, no stories of plans. Just quite emptiness. No more mom I love you, no more hugs, no more text , no more calls. Even his friends would call if they could get him. My house was the gang out on the lake. Now it’s just Barron. Before Devin died I though I had this strong loving family and circle of friends that I was so blessed. I was dullisional that all his friends and girlfriend that actually called me mom would still be arround to remember him. Well since his service I’ve gotten about 3 calls or text in 71/2 months. Keep in mind there were about 800 people at his service plus the news media. Devin was an athletic star in the area. He never meant a stranger. He was the boy that cut the neighbors grass with a push mover with a cast up to his hip and wouldn’t take a dime, the boy that helped people with groceries, opened doors, the friend that give you the shirt off his back and talk to you all night if you needed. The boy that a friend could seek refuge in our home. He was working on getting his firemans state certification. He’d acquired a bag garabage bag of movie popcorn and set out in an adventure to give it to some homeless. He found that person under a bridge. He shared all kind of stories. His heart was giving. He’d wanted to help the needy and had came up with a foundation. He named the SUUNY Day Foundation. He was a mommy boy. Never embarrassed to introduce me to his friends. In fact I became known as Devins mom. He was fiercely protective over me. He shared tmi with me far to often. he was ver head strong. Parenting him could become oil and water at times. He didn’t alway pick the best path. But I loved him unconditionally. It’s hard to grasp he’s not walking back in that door. That this is really life without him on earth. I found letters he wrote saying mom let Gold mold you like clay. He got a tattoo against my wishes after he turned 18. He begged me to look at it. It took me awhile but I did as he said mom I don’t like you’ll be as mad if you look at it. I thought I can’t change it now and it’s important to him so I looked at it. It was Phil 4:13 I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me. This was in most of his athletic tshirts. I must say if he had to get a tatoo I was glad it was a bible verse. I have to reflect to his tatoo and his letter to let Gid mold me like clay because I want to be with Devin. Our time was too short and he didn’t get the chance to become the man I believe he could be. He didn’t get to marry his girlfriend, gave a career or the twins he said they were going to have that he’d already named. It hurts. I miss him and I’m no longer the same person. I’m broken lost and displaced in this world. I miss my sunshine so much. I miss his voice. I can’t find a purpose. I pray for a purpose. But sometimes I suppose the purpose is to find a way to endure the sorrow grief and pain without burdening anyone else. To make a daily effort to call upon God In faith knowing that until my last breathe is drawn I will forever miss and want my son, Devin- Michael. He came into this world early, he walked/ran at 7 months, he rode a bike without training wheels at 3 and he left this earth too early. It’s not natural I sit alone with no plans again today. The phone won’t ring. Thoes friends and family forgot us as they live there lives. My husband works all the time and he just wants a life with us. He can’t understand it was his step son for a few years. I don’t think he ever shed a tear.
I am so very sorry for you loss and your pain. I know you miss Devin very much. He sounds like an amazing young man. My son was 23 and died in a motorcycle accident. I have to guard my heart and mind against thinking too much about the accident because it can quickly take me places I’m not strong enough to go. I am sorry that you don’t have support in your family and friends, If you get on Facebook there are a couple of online support groups-one is Heartache and Hope: Life after losing a child and there is a public page and a private group. If you click on the private group you can ask to be added. There is another one for bereaved parents through TCF-same routine. Public page and private group. I pray that the Lord fills your heart with HIs mercy, grace and love and that He gives you strength for each day. It is a hard, hard journey. No way around that.