I seriously did not think I would ever do this, but here it is:
What to say to someone who is grieving the loss of their child.
I could probably list a thousand things NOT to say. Things like:
God needed another angel in heaven.
It hurts God more than it hurts you.
We're so selfish to wish our loved ones back here.
At least you have other children.
It's time to move on.
I know. It's almost comical.
Except it's not.
What is it about human nature that makes us say things even we don't believe to try to make someone feel better?
I feel like I want to poke out my eardrums sometimes. Especially with the angel comment. I know William seemed angelic on earth. He was super sweet. And kind. And generous. Yes. I remember. But he's not an angel. He's a saint. But I also know we don't need to get into a big, drawn out, theological debate when you are just trying to take a moment to be kind. And honestly, the only thing I have the energy for is a blank stare.
So here it is. If you're in a situation where you need a one-liner, here is my big, long list of what to say to someone who is grieving the loss of their child.
1) I'm so sorry for your loss.
2) I'm so sorry for your loss.
3) I'm so sorry for your loss.
You get the idea. If you feel the need to embellish, you can add, "I cannot imagine," in there. Because you can't. No loss you've experienced is the same. Even my friends who have experienced child loss do not have my same journey. Sure, there are similarities, but the experience is unique. It's so unique and personal that, even though Michael and I lost the same child, our grief is different. It's why it's so lonely. No matter how much you love and support one another, there's a certain amount of this road that no one can travel with you. You have to do it alone. (Well, with Christ, but no other person here on earth.)
Now, if you're in a situation where you actually want to devote time to a griever and you know them well, by all means share a story of their loved one or tell them you are thinking of their loved one, too.
One of my happiest moments in the last few weeks was when a friend called up just to say hi. After some small talk about the business of life and all that is coming up she said, "I heard a harmonica the other day and it made me think of William and how much he loved to play his. And I remembered his great big smile after he would blow on it. So I prayed right then that God would give you an extra measure of grace to face the coming month."
Wow. Now THAT is a gift. No pressure for me to say how I'm doing or respond in any way. No cookie-cutter one-liner that I might have heard 5 other times that day. It was heartfelt and sincere. She not only told me exactly how she had been praying for me, but she also shared a memory she had of William, giving me permission to talk about him freely while letting me know he's not forgotten.
So, there you have it. There is no one-liner that will help magically bring relief to someone who is grieving, so stay away from them, in general. If you love a griever, it takes time, compassion, grace, and perhaps forgiveness to help bring healing. And even then, they won't be the same.
Remember, a broken vase might be repaired with super glue. It might still be beautiful or useful. It might hold flowers as it did before. It might even be able to hold water again. But the crack will always be there. It might be more visible to some than to others, but it will always be there.