I have been doing a series on the Grieving Parents Sharing Hope weekly podcast of parents in the Bible who had a child die. It has been a fascinating study, seeing these historical events through the eyes of someone who has also had a child die.
What has really amazed me is how much is “hidden” that I have never realized was there in each child’s death, that bereaved parents can either grab ahold of, or let go of, in their grief journey.
The first death in the Bible was Adam and Eve not only having their child die, but it was at the hands of another son! I cannot even begin to imagine what a double whammy that would be like – to have one of my children murder my other child!
I have also shared about the baby of David and Bathsheba’s who died (making King Solomon a “rainbow baby”). Last week I talked about Mary, the mother of Jesus, who was told when Jesus was just an infant that a sword would pierce her soul. (Wow! Can we bereaved parents ever relate to that!!!)
This week I am studying Job, who lost all ten of his children at the same time! Once again, I am amazed to see how much is there that we pareavors can lean into.
One of the things I have seen so clearly with Job’s story, is something I would like to share with you.
Job’s friends started out right. They sat with him for seven days in silence, just being with him in his grief, but then they started to offer him solutions (out of their own ignorance). In fact, by the end, God told three of them to go to Job and offer burnt sacrifices and have Job pray for them. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly (Job 42:7-8 NIV).
Let’s look at a couple of other scriptures.
Romans 12:15 is a pretty familiar one to most of us. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Some translations say mourn with those who mourn.
Here is one we aren’t quite as familiar with. Prov. 25:20 states, Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart (NIV).
Here it is in a different translation. When you sing a song of joy to someone suffering in the deepest grief and heartache, it can be compared to disrobing in the middle of a blizzard or rubbing salt in a wound (TPT).
There is a reason I am sharing these verses with you.
I want to help you know how to truly minister to someone who is grieving a deep loss.
Because we love and care for that person, we want to make them feel better, so we offer our best solution, which usually starts with “At least…”
- At least you still have your other children
- At least you know she’s in a better place
- At least you can be happy for her because she is healed now
- At least you got to have him for 19 years
That doesn’t make us feel better. It’s pouring vinegar (or salt) on our open gaping wound. It is making us feel totally exposed in the freezing cold blizzard of our painful loss.
Saying those kinds of things is like being Job’s comforters. They had never experienced what Job was going through, but for some reason, they decided they had the answers he needed.
Which brings up another thing some people do, thinking it helps the person grieving.
I know how you feel because I lost my ___________.
I get it. We are trying to relate to that person who is in deep grief with our deepest loss. But that just doesn’t help, especially if it isn’t even a similar loss such as, I know how you feel in losing your child because I cried for six months when my grandpa died. (Yes, I have heard that…)
One thing I have noticed is that bereaved parents very rarely tell even another grieving parent, I know how you feel, even if they lost their child the same way. We just seem to understand that our relationship with our child and the depth of the loss is so unique, that I don’t know how you feel about your loss. I know how I felt. I know the darkness I went through and how I didn’t want to live anymore for a while, etc. But that doesn’t mean I know how you feel.
Then there are the statements such as:
- You are so strong. I couldn’t go through what you are going through. (Say what? That makes it sound like I chose to have this loss. Believe me, I am not strong, just because you see me barely surviving.)
- God needed another angel, so He took your child (spouse, etc.). (Newsflash: God doesn’t kill people on earth to fill an angel roster in heaven. What an awful thought!)
- God says He won’t give us more than we can handle. (That is not in the Bible. There is a verse that says He won’t let us be tempted more than we can bear and will provide a way of escape in 1 Corinthians 10:13. In fact, we are told when life is more than we can handle that He will be our Rock, our Fortress, Our Deliver, Our Anchor, etc.)
Don’t beat yourself up if you have heard yourself say any of those things I have mentioned!
I didn’t know either, until my daughter, Becca, died. It makes me wonder how often I was like Job’s comforters, trying to offer my best solution to something I thought would help the person in deep pain, when I didn’t know what I was talking about.
So, what do I say instead?
Most often, nothing!
Let them know how sorry you are. Give them a hug, and just be with them. You can also look around to see what they need and make sure it gets done.
If you tell them, “Let me know If you need anything,” don’t expect us to contact you. After the death of our child, most of the time we don’t know what we need. If we do know, we aren’t usually going to make the effort to find someone who can help us with whatever it is. It’s just not in us – physically, emotionally, and often even spiritually. We don’t want to be around peppy people who want to try and make us feel better or fix us. We don’t want to be a burden. We are lost, confused, and in so much pain. We just want to know someone cares enough to:
- Weep with us and hold our hand while we weep
- Let us talk about our loss, maybe even go to the cemetery with us
- Bring a meal for our family 2 months later, well beyond the 2-week supply from the church
- Clean our house or do some of the laundry
- Go for a walk with us, not with chatter that drains us, but allow us to feel what we need to feel in the silence
- Share memories and look at pictures with us if we feel compelled to do so
- Take our car and put gas in it for us, or if needed, have the oil changed, put new wiper blades on, etc.
- Bless us by having a quilt made from our child’s T-shirts, or have a 3-D glass picture made from our favorite picture taken with our child, or something uniquely special we can treasure
And most importantly, to allow us to TALK ABOUT OUR CHILD. We are so afraid people will forget about him or her. One of the greatest gifts you can give a parent whose child has died it the gift of talking about their child with them.
You can also gently point them to places that have support and resources specifically for grieving parents. You may not be able to relate to their loss, but there are those who can, and who want to walk with them through the suffocating darkness of child-loss; those who have been in that place and can give them hope that it is possible to get through it to the other side and have hope and light again in their lives.
Grieving Parents Sharing Hope (GPS Hope) is one of those places. Some of the resources we have to offer are:
- A weekly podcast
- A weekly YouTube video
- A weekly Word of Hope delivered by email
- A monthly blog
- Several award-winning books, including a coloring book/journal
- A webpage with a free library of downloadable helpful resources
- A monthly Share & Care online fellowship group
Just sent them to gpshope.org where they can poke around and find what is helpful to them.
There is something for you there as well. Just click on the front-page article I Know a Grieving Parent. You will find more there to help you understand some specific things a parent is dealing with after the death of their child, so you can even more effectively be a strength and support to them.
I pray this has been helpful. Thank you so much for wanting to know how to help a devastated parent who has lost their child from this earth. Your loving support means more to us than we will ever be able to put into words.
There are more things than were able to be mentioned in this article. If you would like to receive the PDF of Eight Things to Avoid and Eight Things to Do For a Grieving Parent, just submit your name and email address below. (It will put you on our mailing list to receive updates about GPS Hope and stories about those we are helping, but you can unsubscribe any time you no longer want to receive them.)
Laura Diehl is an award-winning author, national speaker and singer. She and her husband, Dave, are the founders of Grieving Parents Sharing Hope (GPS Hope). Dave and Laura travel full time in their Hope Mobile (a 38-foot motor home) to be more easily available for speaking and ministry requests.
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GPS Hope exists to walk with grieving parents through the suffocating darkness of child-loss to a place of hope, light and purpose.
- If you are not a bereaved parent but want to support those who are, or want to follow us as we give hope to these precious parents, please connect with us at Friends of GPS Hope on Facebook.
- If you are a bereaved parent, we encourage you to connect with us on Facebook and subscribe to Laura’s YouTube channel for grieving parents.