I just read an article, written by someone to encourage the mothers of those precious children who were martyrs in our own country, because they stood firm in declaring they were followers of Christ. (I am referring to the shooting at a college in Portland, Oregon on October 1, 2016.)
Who would have thought this would happen in America, especially over and over again, to our children in their places of learning, from grade schools to college campuses? (There were also three older adults killed in this shooting.)
The article was eloquently written, telling these parents how proud they should be that their children were murdered for the faith these moms instilled in their children, and how thankful they must be that their children’s deaths are an inspiration to all of us.
I do not want to come across as attacking the writer of this article. Her heart is grieving for these parents, and she took a step to convey that. I applaud her for it. But as a bereaved parent myself (although not from a school shooting) I strongly feel there needs to be a greater awareness of how we respond to parents who are grieving the death of their children, so as not to increase their pain, thinking we are bringing them comfort.
Put yourself in the place of these parents. Your child has been murdered because he or she declared their faith. You had no idea when he left for school that morning you would never see him again on this earth. All the hopes, dreams, and plans for your daughter, both in the next few months and for the rest of her life are now gone forever. You will never see their smile again, never hear them laugh, never be able to give or receive a hug, or hear them say, “I love you.” They will never sleep in their bed again, never again sit at your table for a meal, never celebrate another birthday…it goes on and on and on.
Now, under that heaviness, how do you feel being told you should be honored that your child died a martyr’s (or a hero’s) death and that it is an inspiration to others? You might graciously tell them thank you, and your mind knows that is true, but your heart is too shocked and heavy to be able to accept the truth of it. It’s easy to tell a parent something like that, and see it clearly when it is someone else’s child, but chances are actually pretty good being told something like that so soon after your own child’s death (they haven’t even had any funerals yet) will make you internally angry. Sadly, you are not being shown compassion – which is acknowledging and validating how you do feel about your deep and intense pain that your child is no longer on this earth; not telling you how you should feel. You are also not being allowed time to process the nightmare itself that has totally shattered your world. Instead, you are being “pumped up” by those around you who have never experienced the death of their child, being a cheerleader in a way that makes you feel like you are supposed to glide right on past the trauma and be grateful for the good fruit that will come from it in the lives of others.
The writer of the article also reminded these parents in detail how their children died…how each one watched the ones ahead of them get shot (directly in the head in case you are not aware) and yet still claimed their Christianity, knowing what was going to happen. She wrote this with good intentions, thinking if she made sure these moms are reminded their children died nobly for the cause of Christ and how brave they were in their deaths, that it would bring the parents comfort.
HOWEVER, reminding parents of the details of their worst living nightmare they cannot wake up from, does not bring comfort to the raw and deep grief of those parents, no matter how noble their child’s death was. The moment of the death of our child plays in our minds over and over and over again (whether we actually saw it, or we are imagining what our child’s last moments on earth were like). So to have someone remind us, even if it was meant to encourage us by telling us how noble of a death it was, can actually be very painful, as we are already fighting seeing that image in our heads. We end up being somewhat forced to put on the thankful face people think we should have, while crumbling on the inside.
When it so fresh, we don’t want to be told how God is going to work it out for good. We don’t want to be reminded that our children are now in heaven with Jesus (we are much more aware of that than you are). WE JUST WANT OUR CHILD BACK!
Anyone who has lost a child can attest to the intense darkness, pain, and confusion that goes beyond anything that can be put into words. The normal clichés and “words of comfort” and scriptures that are given to those grieving other losses do not usually help our shattered hearts. We can’t sleep, we can’t think, we can’t even breathe at times. Our head knows our child is gone, but our hearts fight that fact with every fiber of our being.
We all expect our parents to proceed us in death. It does not diminish the deep pain and grief when it happens, but we know at some point we will have to travel through the “valley of the shadow of death” with our parents. Those of us who are married know in the back of our minds, there is a 50/50 chance our spouse will leave us behind at some point, to live on this earth without them. Once again, I am not saying the death of a spouse is not a dark and painful place of grief to have to work through, figuring out who we are with that part of us now gone. But our children are our legacy. They are our future. They are supposed to outlive us, get married, bless us with grandchildren, be one of our best friends in their adult years… It is unnatural and so very wrong to bury your child. Working through the grief of the death of a loved one can take months, or even years. Working through the grief of the death of our child (no matter their age) takes a lifetime.
If you are interested in reading more about how the death of a child affects a parent, or want to know things to avoid that bring us more pain, and how to be a comfort and a strength to us, I encourage you to check out my book Come Grieve Through Our Eyes: How To Give Comfort And Support To Bereaved Parents By Taking A Glimpse Into Our Hidden Dark World Of Grief.
You can also check out on our website my book coming out in July 2016, endorsed by Darrell Scott (father of Rachel Scott from the Columbine shooting) When Tragedy Strikes: Rebuilding Your Life After the Death of Your Child.
Written by Laura Diehl – founder of GPS Hope (Grieving Parents Sharing Hope)