Have you paid for their funeral?
Have you contemplated what you wanted on your child's headstone?
Have you driven by a cemetery and been struck by the thought that your child's body lies in there, beneath the ground?
Have you wept every single night wishing they were back, but knowing it was impossible?
Have you longed for their smell, but knowing that it is gone forever?
Have you realized that the only way you can speak about your child is in using the past tense?
I know you care.
I know you hurt for me.
I know you want to help.
I know you feel helpless.
I know you don't know what to say.
I know you don't know what to do.
I know I'm not who I was.
I know I don't make sense.
But if you haven't done any of those things, please don't tell me you understand or know how I feel.
While I know you mean well and are truly sincere, some of the most hurtful comments are the following: (And I've said them myself, btw, before I experienced such a loss, so please don't worry if you've said any of these.)
- I know how you feel.
- You'll get over it.
- It's something you never get over.
- Children shouldn't die before their parents.
- You have other children that love and need you.
- You can have more children.
- I can't imagine.
- You need to move on.
- They're in a better place.
Honestly, unless you have experienced the death of your own child, you don't know what I'm going through. To say "You'll get over it" implies that my grief is minimal or my loss wasn't significant. To say "It's something you never get over" is to say there is no hope and there will never be joy again. To say that children shouldn't die before their parents is a lie. The Bible is filled with many examples of children dying before their parents. This is a fallen world, and because of sin, death entered. And because of death, children die before their parents. I do have other children that need me and love me. I realize that, yet grieve the child that is no longer here. It's like telling an amputee "It's o.k., you have another arm." or "It's o.k., you have two other legs." It negates the loss. I'm not not loving my other children or appreciating that they are still here, but there is no replacement for the one that is gone. I would grieve the loss of any of my children just as deeply.
To say, "I can't imagine" is also not helpful. There is nothing productive or encouraging in that statement. There is also absolutely no timeline for grief. Each person's grief is their own. Obviously, if two months have gone by and the bereaved has not gotten out of bed or left the house, then, yes, they are probably stuck in grief and need to seek professional help. Again, telling them to "move on" implies that the loss was insignificant and should be left behind and forgotten. Moving forward, however, though painful, is acknowledging the loss and offering encouragement. Finally, while it may be true to say "They're in a better place" it is to imply that this place wasn't good enough and minimizes the longing we have for our loved one to be with us.
So what's a person to do? The one trying to comfort is "damned if you do, damned if you don't." The reality is, there's nothing you can say to make it better. Believe it or not, a hug is more powerful than you realize and will bring more healing than words.
By far, however, the most hurtful thing anyone can do is to cease speaking about the one who is gone, not mentioning their name or reminiscing cherished memories of them. We haven't (and never will) forget that our loved one is dead! Mentioning their name does not cause more pain. In fact, it tells the bereaved that you haven't forgotten our loved one and is, in fact, very comforting. To refuse to speak of the deceased is like saying he/she never existed. Another act of great comfort is saying, "I'm thinking of you today" or "I'm praying for you" instead of, "How are you?"
Romans 12:15 says, "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep." On days like today, Mother's Day, if you know someone who is grieving, instead of saying, "Happy Mother's Day," you might just want to tell them instead that you're praying for them and thinking of them. The same goes for their birthday, their loved one's birthday, and any other special day or holiday.