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When a child dies …

When a child dies …

The death of a child is a terrible event and we hope to offer comfort to those who were closest to the child. Here is an essay on 23 things not to say. And perhaps there is nothing but our presence that we can offer.

Last June we accepted a foster placement of twin girls who were four months old. We’ve been foster parents for almost 7 years, but nothing prepared us for the sudden death of one of the twins, Ellie, at almost seven months. She went to bed a happy and healthy baby and when I reached into her crib in the morning I pulled out a corpse instead.

I am traumatized. I am an emergency nurse and not unfamiliar with death. I did CPR on Ellie out of reflex but with the full knowledge that she was gone and I couldn’t fix it. I can still taste the breath that I pushed out of her lungs. I’m never going to be the same…and I know it.

I am also a Christian. I think. In fact my husband is a church leader, making me the wife of a spiritual leader.

She continues:

Please stop attempting to spiritualize the death of my child. Assigning some thoughtless Christian platitude only serves to deepen my anger and further question my beliefs. If you don’t know what to say, a simple, “I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say,” would be far better than these actual attempts at comfort that I’ve received:

1. “God has a plan.”

Really? You serve a God with a plan that involves killing babies? Or at least standing by and allowing the baby to die when you believe that he could have intervened? Because the baby killers I’ve seen get life in prison. And even the convicts know which guy to attack.

2. “Some good will come of this. You’ll see.”

You think that at some point I’m going to see some direct blessing in my life or someone else’s that will make me think, “Aha! Here’s the good that came from my child’s death! I am now so glad that she died so that this could happen!” No! An Almighty God could surely think of some other really creative way to bring about good. Or else I don’t want that “blessing.” I will always wonder why it had to be this way, no matter what good things may come later in my life.

Read all 23 here.


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So she shows a bit of anger. She’s had a tremendous loss, so she should be laughing about it? Since when is a person’s grief about what makes other people comfortable? Every person’s grief is the worst in the world because they have to deal with it; nobody else does. They have their own grief.

I’m glad she said what she did. Hearing what not to say is more important than what to say. How many times have I heard people tell grieving family members “Well, now you can get back to normal” on the steps of the church right after the funeral. So what is normal? It’s not the normal that was before the death happened and the fog set in. What that normal will look like only the grieving will know as they go through it.

I applaud Anonymous’ courage to be up front about her feelings. She’s given us a chance to learn something– before we stick our foot in someone else’s grief.

Jeffrey L. Shy, M.D.

I need to preface any comment that I make with the fact that I do not wish to impugn anything that the writer says. I do, however, have a few thoughts.

First, the emotions that she expresses may be particularly evocative or poignant when a child dies, but they are not necessarily unique to the death of a child. Her experience shares much in common with that of any deeply grieved individual. To insist that only one grieving the loss of a child can experience this is to devalue the experiences of others grieving other losses. By extension, we can take her comments as useful not just for those grieving the loss of a child but others as well.

Second, we need to be accepting of what she is expressing – anger. It is important, I believe, to give people “permission” to feel how they feel. Having dealt with grief personally and professionally, we need to be sure that they do not add “guilt” over how they feel to what they are feeling, as in “I should be feeling x as opposed to y.”

Thirdly, it may be helpful to understand that nothing we say will change her grief. From another perspective, as the process of grief continues, it may be that “unhelpful” things before are later appreciated for what they were, the genuine outreach of one slightly less presently wounded heart to another very wounded one. In “retrospect” unhelpful expressions take on a new light.

Fourth, we need to be careful to distinguish between what is “helpful” to someone emotionally and what may be “true” for us in our life in Christ. It may not “help” her grief to be reminded that we believe that life is more than just the boundaries of birth and death. We do believe in a “more” beyond the confines of earthly physical existence. We do believe that the dead are not “lost” to God or to us. We do believe in the communion of the saints, living and dead, and much more besides. It may not help her now to hear about that, but it may (1) help her later and (2) be true whether it helps her or not.

Finally, I believe that as Christians, we need to have faith in the healing power of God. It may be beyond MY power to heal her grief, but it is not beyond God’s power to do so, in this life or the next.

Ann Fontaine

It is not the job of the grieving to tend to the feelings of those offering comfort. Writing on the Facebook page of the Café, mother whose child died a year ago felt this was “right on” and said she could not believe what people would say to her. Yes this is a difficult piece to read – but hopefully will help us be more supportive to those who suffer this terrible loss.

Ellen Lincourt

I have read the article and found it very angry. I get her anger, but she is not seeing it from other people’s point of view. Notably, her comments about when people say that they are “there for you” were just plain mean. I understand she is in pain, but people do want to help you. Sure, may they can’t but that doesn’t give us the right to dismiss their concern. This was a horrible article.

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