Monday, May 13, 2013

Comforting Words for a Grieving Parent

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
Romans 12:15

            Your family members or friends have lost their baby in pregnancy, at birth, or soon after. You hear the news, and you’re shocked, devastated, or confused. First, your heart aches for them. Then you panic as your mind screams, What do I say to them? What words can I utter to give them comfort? What should I say to help them, let them know I care? What shouldn’t I say…?
In your eagerness to let them know you care about them, you may hastily utter remarks that hurt rather than help. First, let’s look at what not to say to someone who has lost a child this way:

            “It happened for the best.” Did it? Do you know that? Can you even begin to
fathom, or claim to know, God’s eternal plan and reasons for this event? This statement can make the grieving parents feel as though they really don’t have a right to be sad or to grieve; it negates their sorrow.

If some well-meaning friend says this to you, you can gently point out to them that that is something you, and they, may never know. You can ask them
            why they said that. It’s okay to make them think more carefully about their words.
            And you can always answer by saying, “Well, it doesn’t feel that way to me
            right now."

“Don’t worry, you can have another baby.” While that may be true, the grieving
parents need to mourn the baby they lost. Children are not replaceable. In addition, if the mother is over thirty-five or medical or infertility problems
involved, they may not be able to have any more children.  

If you’re the grieving parent, be honest. Tell this person that you really
don’t want another baby right now; you wanted the one you were carrying and planning to have and invest your heart and soul.

“You didn’t really know the baby, so it’s not like losing a child who has lived
with you.” This may be true, but it is not a thoughtful, comforting or
encouraging thought. This comments makes the loss of this particular child
seem undeserving of grief. Again, the dreams and expectations have been lost.
Those lost dreams need to be grieved.
If you’re the grieving parent, your response could be: “I am grieving
because I really wanted to get to know my baby and now I won’t have that
opportunity.” (Much of the grief revolves around wondering what their child’s
personality would have been like, what they would have done in their life, etc.
So much of their grieving involves what they don’t know and won’t be able to
find out, no matter how much they think about it.) 

“I know exactly how you feel.” Unless the person uttering this remark has
actually walked in the shoes of a grieving parent that has just lost a baby,
they have absolutely no idea how the grieving parent feels and shouldn’t   
pretend to know, or convince themselves they do.
If you’re grieving parent, don’t hesitate to say: “I don’t know if
anyone can truly know what I’m going through right now.” If the speaker truly has lost a child, then you can ask them: “How did you feel? What kind of emotions did you go through? What helped you heal?”

“What are you going to do now?” The grieving parent is likely too stunned
and shaken to even know what they’re going to do, or even want to think
about it. And this question really can be an invasion of their privacy, unless
you are an intimate friend who knows they have the privilege of asking such
a question.
As a grieving parent, it’s okay to say that you really haven’t thought about what you’re going to do; that you’re still trying to deal with this loss and go through the grieving process in a healthy way. Tell the person you need to do that without anyone nudging you forward, or suggesting that it’s time to move on.

“Call me if there’s anything I can do.” On the surface this comment seems
helpful and caring but actually rings hollow to the receiver. And, chances are, the grieving parents really don’t know what they need. As I stated in my previous two blogs, because I was dazed and walking around in a fog of depression most of the time, I didn’t know what I needed. If you speak these words, don’t expect to be called.

            Many people are—like I was—hesitant to make that phone call to ask for help, and a person who is grieving is unlikely to know what she or he needs.  

If you really do want to help, think of the little everyday things that are
            probably now a burden to the grieving person. Call them and ask them what
            you can pick up for them at the grocery store for them while you’re out running
errands. Tell them you’d like to cook a home-cooked meal for them and ask what day would work best for them. Or just drop one off. They can freeze it for a time when lack of energy or desire to perform basic tasks envelops them.

Ask if they would like company, to just sit. Ask if you can care for their other children while they rest or go for a walk by themselves. Invite them to go to a movie. Offer to tidy up their house. Ask God to point out to you just what they might need. He will be faithful to provide you with that knowledge.

So, what are good, thoughtful words to say to someone who is grieving the loss of their baby?
            Consider the following, encouraging words:

            “I’m so sorry. I know how much you wanted to have that baby.” This
            acknowledges the sorrow of a parent’s loss as well as their desire to have a
            baby. It also validates the person’s need to grieve.

            “It’s okay to cry if you feel like crying. I won’t mind.” This will validate
            their feelings and need to release their emotions without embarrassment or
            guilty feelings. Sometimes tears will come freely; other times, a grieving     
            person can feel flat and inhuman. And these emotions can vacillate in a
            mere heartbeat. Be prepared for that to happen!

“Would you like to talk about it?” This displays the most priceless support possible to the grieving parent: your willingness to listen and provide a shoulder to cry on. If they want to talk, listen! Restrain yourself from using this as an opportunity to deliver a theological discourse, or point them to Scripture passages that illuminate the purpose of pain, suffering, loss, appropriate reactions for persons of faith, or expound on theological issues. Simply listen.

“May I call you in a few days to see how you are doing?” If the grieving
person says, “yes,” then do it!! Don’t forget or put it off. One of the worst
things for a grieving parent is to get the feeling that after a certain amount of
time passes, no one seems to want to discuss your loss or pain with you any
longer. Assure the grieving person that you will continue to be there for them,
indefinitely, to listen, to help, to care for them.

“I’m so sorry. I really don’t know what to say.” I received this comment several
times and found it to be one of the most comforting, honest responses I heard.
They were right; they really didn’t know what to say. They knew it, and they
didn’t try to be profound or clever.

Last, which should actually be first, Pray, Pray and Pray some more before you utter or pen your words. Be slow to speak; be a listener first. Then ask God to give you just the right words to say. He will be faithful to instruct you as you sincerely seek to be an instrument of His love, mercy and grace!

I hope these comments and questions get you started in the right direction in offering comfort to a grieving parent, or anyone who is suffering a profound loss. 

NEXT WEEK I’ll look at the basics of grief and what you might expect from yourself, or others, in the grieving process, and what to do and what not to do as a person navigates the valley of grief.

Thanks for joining me.

Until next week!