I have anticipated 2014 for a long time.
2014 marks a decade.
In just over a month, it will be my second son’s 10th birthday, only he isn’t here to hit that decade mark and celebrate “double digits” with us. My husband and I lost our 4 month old son 10 years ago this year in a tragic accident. We were thrust into a journey we never saw coming and found ourselves floundering through the world of grief. Losing a child is a long journey and forces parents to travel through dark, stormy waters. There are no short cuts or free passes to get out and get a new life. I have talked to many grieving parents since that fateful day and they have all said something similar. They wish this wasn't their life. They wake up hoping it was all a dream...but it isn't and they have to figure out how to navigate the tumultuous waters of grief and loss. Ten years later, I can remember all too well waking up with those exact feelings.
They all say something else similar, and I too felt the same way. They say it is like they can't breathe.
Deep grief literally takes your breath away.
Grief is ugly, long, and there are no rules. The thing about grief is, it affects more than just the immediate family who lost, but also all those who love them. Over the last ten years I have had countless people contact my husband and me asking how they can reach out to their loved ones who lost a child. What can they say to the parents? How can they help? These requests deeply touch my heart because I know that deep down, many people want to help and encourage but do not know how. If you have found yourself in those shoes, I hope this post will be an encouragement to you today. Yes, grief leaves parents feeling unable to breathe some days, but I only know One who can give the breath of life (Genesis 2:7, Psalm 119:25). There is one true God and the only real hope, joy, and peace these breathless parents will ever find is in a relationship with Jesus Christ the one and only Son of God(Romans 5:1-4, 1 Peter 1:3, Romans 15:13). God, who also knows the deep pain of losing a child, is the only one who gives breath and heals broken hearts (Isaiah 61:1). You don't have to; however, that does not mean there is no room for you to help or be an encouragement to the broken hearted. As I think back on the last ten years, I wanted to share a few thoughts from the perspective of a mom who has recently held her lifeless son. So from that perspective, here are 10 things I would say to someone who wants to reach out to grieving parents:
1. It's okay.
It is okay that you don’t know what to do or say. I understand because I was once you. I hadn't lost a child and I didn't know what to say to someone who had. I was afraid of saying the wrong thing or not having answers. I get it. I know how you feel because I have been there too.
2. I know sometimes it would be easier to avoid me, but please don't. It means the world to me to have you step out of your comfort zone and just be there, showing you care, you remember. I know it won't be easy (because remember, I was once in your shoes) but it will deeply touch my heart. It will encourage in ways you can't imagine. However, if you do avoid, it's okay. I forgive you because I was once an avoider and it took time and unfortunately incredible grief for me to learn how to reach out in those circumstances (2 Corinthians 1:4). I will extend you grace and ask God to help you overcome that fear without the rough experiences it took me to learn to reach out.
3. There is nothing you can say that will fix it ...really. You can stop fearing what to say and just plan to say little and listen instead. Words will never fix it. You know that and I know it too. I am not looking for words that will take away the pain or bring back my child, nothing can. To be honest, I don’t even know what to say about it most days! I am just looking for someone led by the Spirit to come alongside and say, "You are not alone in these dark waters. I don't understand it all or know what to say, but I am in it with you.” I really just need someone to hold out hope in front of me as a reminder it is there and I can choose it. You hold out hope in your presence, in the example of your faith, in a hug, in a listening ear, and down the road, occasionally, in a well-timed verse pointing me back to the One who truly understands it all and can heal the wounds. But even if you don't come, and aren't sure how to hold out hope, it's okay because I will be even more forced to look to the only One who can offer hope, to the One who will not only be with me in the fire (Isaiah 43:2) but can bring me out of it without even the scent of smoke on me (Daniel 3:27) .
Whether you come or not, speak or not, I need to choose to cling to Him, believe Him, grab hold of the hope, peace, and joy He offers even in the valley (1 Peter 1:3-9). Does that take the pressure off you? It should. You don't have to do any of that. I can guarantee though, should you choose to come and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15), you get to be a part of what God is doing and there is great blessing in that which I would love for you to experience. Come on over, we can be speechless together.
4. Fear not. You will not be the cause of me suddenly thinking about the child I lost in those first few tender years post loss. I am always thinking of him. You do not have to fret that your bringing up the subject will send me into a tailspin. I live in a tailspin and only God can stop the spin and calm the storm (Luka 8:24b).
So, just jump on the merry-go-round. I will be thankful for the company.
5. I will always have a hole in my heart. Eventually, the edges will heal and it won't be so excruciating. Eventually I will feel like I can breathe again and will be able to talk about it without breaking down. There is no timetable for how long that will take me though. Losing a child isn't something I will get over. It becomes a part of who I am. It is all part of the story that God is writing with my life and I have to learn to accept this new normal and that this is part of who I am now. All of that will take me time, and nothing can rush it no matter how much I wish something could. I know you will be tempted and maybe even try to "fix it" with what you say. You won't be able to, so you can free yourself up from that pressure. No Bob the Builder needed here, just a friend.
6. I am sorry.
I am sorry for the careless words I will sometimes utter and the harsh things I will let fly from my lips from time to time. Grief is an ugly thing. There is no way to walk through it "right" or "pretty." I will feel like I am failing at it, like I never say or do what is right. I will feel like my emotions are raging out of control like a hurricane! It is not an excuse for my behavior or words, but it is an explanation. Would you grant grace during the first couple of years or longer? I hope and pray I too will extend grace to you as we all figure this thing called grief out together.
7. I know the road seems extremely long.
I don't even understand why.
Matters of the heart are deep and it takes a great deal of time to put broken pieces back together again in a new and better way. I know many of you won't be able to walk the long road with me and that is okay too. I understand not everyone can and not everyone knows how. The truth is, maybe no one will. Maybe God is asking me to walk it alone and it will give me all the more reason to cling to
"My grace is sufficient for you." (2 Corinthians 12:9)
8. Please pray for me and don't think prayer is "all you can do." It is one of the most important ways to help. People praying makes a profound difference on the lives of those hurting. I know when you are praying because I see God answering and because it leads you to keep checking in. If prayer is the only way you know to help in the loss, that is wonderful! Thank you for believing God with me to work good and to bring healing.
9. For quite some time, it will be gut wrenching hard for me to watch you move forward with life. It will feel like everyone is moving on as if nothing happened and I can't. I will struggle with "fun" situations and even feel guilt when I catch myself having fun or laughing. It is almost like I feel like I am not grieving my son correctly if I am ever caught enjoying myself. It feels like I am turning my back on him. Hopefully I will know those are lies and be able to slowly work through them.
10. The anniversaries are important to me forever. I think part of the reason is because it is all I have. I will always remember his birthday, and the day he went to be with Jesus will always have a sting to it. I don't expect everyone to remember and think about those days. He wasn't their son. I will be honest with you though, it means the world to me when you do! I will never be expecting it because I realize that is unfair of me, and I will count it as pure grace when someone remembers and does something to show they do.
It is all grace, all a gift.
On the years when no one says anything at all, I am thankful as well that I serve a God who knows my heart and hurts and always cares.
So will you throw the fears aside and step out of your comfort zone?
You know what?
I am out of mine too and I will be forever grateful.