I have friends who have not only buried a child (some have buried more than one) but have also buried parents, siblings, in-laws and other people close to their hearts in a very short span of time.
And I am appalled when they recite the trite comments doled out by others meant to patch broken hearts and sweep the leftover pieces under the rug of social propriety.
Let me just say this: Death. Is. Awful.
Full stop. No easy change of subject or laughter allowed to make the hearing of it softer.
It should be hard.
It should make us pause.
We should stop in our tracks to acknowledge the passing of the breath of God from a person’s body.
Death is an unavoidable reminder that the world is not as God intended it to be. It’s a reminder of the cost of sin. It’s a reminder that our time is short. And it’s a reminder that we are NOT in control.
Those are very uncomfortable truths.
My hope in Christ makes those truths bearable but it does not make facing the death of those I love hurt less.
A broken heart is a perfectly natural and reasonable response to the awfulness of death and to the absence of the presence of one I love. Great grief is the price of great love.
There’s a scene in The Magician’s Nephew where a little boy named Digory meets Aslan. His mother is sick, and he wants to ask for Aslan’s help, but he’s afraid. Lewis writes:
Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great front feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself. “My son, my son,” said Aslan. “I know. Grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another.”
For those outside this great grief, it seems helpful to toss words like bandaids but it’s not.
I’m sure you mean well when you try to circumscribe my grief-to give limits to its expression and duration.
But unrealistic expectations make it more difficult to bear the burden I’m already carrying. Your words add to this weight of sorrow and pain that I cannot untie from my bent back.
Presence-often SILENT presence-is the balm for my wounded soul.
But please: Don’t say it’s not really so bad. Because it is. Death is awful, demonic. If you think your task as comforter is to tell me that really, all things considered, it’s not so bad, you do not sit with me in my grief but place yourself off in the distance away from me. Over there, you are of no help. What I need to hear from you is that you recognize how painful it is. I need to hear from you that you are with me in my desperation. To comfort me, you have to come close. Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.
~Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son