Monday, October 20, 2008

It is also important to know...

what NOT to say to a grieving parent. Here are some suggestions for that pockmarked road of landmines.

I found this list in an ages old Dear Abby column from 1999. On the back of the list is an article about Y2K.

I'm reprinting it in full with my comments in italics:
Please, don't ask me if I'm over it yet. I'll never be over it. Eight weeks after James died, a family member told me that I needed to get over my sadness and depression because I was upsetting other people. Let me just say that years, literal years, of family conflict was the result of that one.

Please, don't tell me he's in a better place. He isn't here with me. As a believer who hopes in Christ, this one didn't upset me because I do believe that in the arms of Christ is better than anything of earth. However, do not tell me that God has a garden and He needed another flower which is why He plucked my son. My God doesn't need anything. Or else there is no better place. Imagine, heaven needing landscaping? I don't think so.

Please, don't say at least he isn't suffering. I haven't come to terms with why he had to suffer at all. James suffered a great deal in his 2 1/2 years. Although I was relieved that God had ended his suffering, it was very, very hard to reconcile the whys of all that suffering. Some I still do not know and so choose to trust by faith that God is trustworthy and sovereign in how He chose to work in James' life and mine. On the whole, though, this is not a consolatory statement at all.

Please, don't tell me you know how I feel, unless you have lost a child. Definitely. And lest you get the idea that those of us who have endured a child's death always get it right in talking to other grieving parents--it is not so. I have flubbed and flopped in my own attempts to console another. You can never open your mouth without first asking God to fill your heart with godly compassion and seasoned words of His grace and mercy.

Please, don't ask me if I feel better yet. Bereavement isn't a condition that clears up. Time does not heal all wounds. Time gives perspective, and God grants spiritual understanding; but time is no magic band-aid where at 20 years the tears do not come on "the" day. That's why the promise of Rev. 21:4 is so very powerful. One day He will cause the old order to completely pass away. Until then, bereavement is not a pimple waiting to clear.

Please, don't tell me at least you had him for so many years. What year would you choose for your child to die? Oh wow, the stories I could tell you on this one. Close to this one is what happened to a friend of mine who had two other children when her youngest died. She was told, "Well, at least you have your other children."  Really? Which of your children would you choose to die and still claim contentment with the 2 for 1 deal?

Please, don't tell me God never gives us more than we can bear. Again, discernment for who you are talking to is critical. Is this grieving parent a believer? Then, look at how the Psalmists mourned and know that her heart is breaking open this way too. If she is not a believer, then this is not the evangelical statement with which to open.

Please, just say you are sorry. Or better yet, you hurt for her--if you really do. Trust me, she will know the difference. Just like in the whole "I'm sorry," statement. If you don't know what to say, then saying, "I don't know what to say," is better than making it up.

Please, just say you remember my child, if you do. I tried to cover this one here.

Please, just let me talk about my child. Ditto.

Please, mention my child's name. Super ditto.

Please, just let me cry. Do not be afraid of the tears. Do not feel compelled to make them stop. If she grants you the privilege of seeing her at the most vulnerable, then treat those tears with the reverence of life God gave and took away. (Job 1:21)

I know this is long, but I'm attempting to respond to the various questions and interest I've received. There's a ton more to say, but that's it for now. Thanks.


  1. Wow.............Ya know, I've received all of those freaking comments, from Relatives, Physicians, Neighbours & Grief Counscellors, to the point where I don't really care if I never see any of them or hear from them again !!!
    Thankyou for this letter, and all the information you shared.
    Boy, it's good to see its happened elsewhere.
    God Bless !!!

  2. Again, a precious insight into how we might better minister to those who are living with terrific loss. Thank you for teaching us and giving us a better perspective from which to speak into the heart of grief.

  3. I am so sorry for your loss. I have no idea what it must be like to lose a child, but I'm sorry. I can't imagine the ache you must have in your heart.

    A dear friend of mine lost her second child when he was four months old. He was born 4 days after my first. At his funeral, I had my husband stay in the car with the baby while I went in. My friend asked where my baby was and I explained. She said, "Don't be silly. Go get the baby." I brought her in and my friend carried my baby around for an hour - full of joy for me and my husband. I never experienced anything so selfless - she was so happy for me during a time of such severe grief for herself. She truly amazed me that day.

    And now I have to go and call her and talk to her about her son who would have been 6 this coming New Years' Eve. Thank you for sharing this post!