Helping Others Heal from the Death of a Child
Music as an Aid in Healing
Walking Gracefully with the Wounded
Several years ago I got a call while on my way to a baby shower. It was from one of the mothers of a prisoner I worked with as a chaplain in for 14 years. We had kept communication since she worked in my office. I mentored her for 8 years of her successful transition and we remain friends. She was full of hope as she reunited with her 5 year old daughter, established a home and beome a leader in women's bible studies for her local church. In time, she married and after 15 months, was expecting a baby girl, who had been diagnosed with Down's Syndrome.
Her mother requested that I join them at the hospital. Her daughter had delivered her little girl that morning alive, but unfortunately had died shortly after delivery. We had been praying she would be equipped by the Lord to care for this special child, whom she chose to carry courageously. I assured her that God's sufficiency was enough, but wondered, how would I handle it if it were me? I knew her to love deeply and t He would do a work in them and through them in some way that would bring Him glory, but certainly it would be uncharted territory to navigate for her and her family. We waited, and in the moment, even I had questions. Now I had more.
When I arrived at the hospital, my friend and the family were of course, tearful. I just hugged her and sat beside her for a while. She asked if I would like to go see her sweet little girl. Then it was an emotional crossroad, as I contemplated whether I could hande my own emotions. I honored her request, and made the seemingly long trek down the hall to dedicate the child to the Lord's care, knowing that her spirit was already present with the Lord.
I kept my thoughts to myself, pondering the reality of my faith in my heart. I remembered vaguely the hopelessness I felt because at the time of their deaths. I did not have the faith in Jesus Christ that now sustains me and gives me hope even in the darkest of times. I was and am always grateful for God's extra measure of strength in these times.
Not Afraid to CryClick thumbnail to view full-size
Your Own Pain Provides Compassion
My own twin girls died 30 years ago, with a heart defect that was irreparable. I lost one, held out hope and then lost the other. It changed my life for ever. I didn't know the Lord then. I went through years of grief, until a Christian woman recognized my pain and helped me through a healing process. I was a brand new Christian at the time, I got a piece of my heart back through her skillful counseling and care, which also changed my life. I was so grateful, as because of my familiy's silence, I had emerged quite broken. It was if there was some kind of shame on me, as if I had any control over their death. It was part of why I didn't comprehend the whole concept of God because quite frankly He didn't care about me.
Now I had to face that pain all over again. As I walked to the neonatal nursery, my heart was pounding and I could feel the tears welling up. The nurse, as I arrived, was tenderhearted, and asked me if I could help her dress little Hannah so we could take her to her mom to say goodbye. I said yes, and we did just that. Then I sat with little Hannah in my arms ( I still can't believe the grace God gave me, as I had never done this before).
Then an amazing thing happened....As I looked at little Hannah's face and features, I remembered that I had never held Katherine and Karen after their death, because my husband thought it best. I never got to say goodbye to them, and the healing balm of Gilead began to warm my heart and fill me with joy.
God showed me that this was his gift to me in coming to care for another, he cared for me. I sang Blessed be the name of the Lord and even though her little spirit was already with Jesus, I committed her soul to his keeping verbally. I thanked him for my girls' short lives too, and embraced the thought that sometimes his mercy includes death, even for infants who would have to struggle their entire life.
The nurse cried with me as she slipped a beautiful tiny gold ring on her finger. I asked her why she did that and she said the Lord had prompted her to buy the rings as a gift for the privilege of serving as their caretaker before their entrance to heaven. I was so touched.
She was a strong Christian, she said that she didn't know how anyone could do what she does without God in their life to help the parents and families when babies die. As we took Hannah to her parents, I realized why we need each other as Christians. These tough places are the places we learn to be like Jesus, and die to ourselves so His glory shines through.
After this occurred, I was reminded of my own initial grief process, which was an act of kindness shown to me 10 years after my children's death. I was given a copy of the book I'll Hold You in Heaven, which was a beautiful comfort. Providentially, a woman at church recognized my sadness and invited me to her home to talk and go through some steps to help me.
She didn't give me a lot of advice, she let me reflect, write, and cry for a 3 day session which included prayer and music designed to heal my soul. There were just the two of us, and I was so grateful to finally and gratefully release the pain that I held inside for years, since it was never a topic of discussion with my family.
Years later, it still has yet to be acknowledged by them, so I was prompted to write this article. Here are some suggestions for those who don't know how to be around the grieving:
1) You don't have to say much. A simple, I am sorry you are hurting is enough.
2) Hugs are welcome, so long as you don't expect reciprocity.
3) We are numb, and we aren't able to make sense of all of this pain, so please don't say things like "they are in a better place", because we wish we were too.
4) Listen, don't talk because you are uncomfortable, because we can't even concentrate, and small talk is not helpful. Especially when it's about you.
5) Don't say "call me if you need anything". Just do something kind, and don't avoid being uncomfortable. We need you to do what you can, and you always bring food.
6) Send cards after a tragedy or funeral that say I am thinking of you, and praying for you. When the rush of activity is over, reality sets in. Don't forget our hurt doesn't stop after you leave.
7) If you don't know what to say, just say I love you and I am here. Then be there, even when we are feeling ugly or desperate.
8) Keep reminding us that there is hope, by including us in events that celebrate life. Don't avoid inviting us to events because you think we are sad. When we choose to come, be hospitable, but don't fuss over us like we are in need of excessive attention. That makes it worse.
9) Don't put away pictures of our loved ones in your home. If they trigger us to cry, we need to, so don't run for a Kleenex box when a tear appears, just tell us where it is.
10) Be sensitive to our pain, but don't pretend or say that you understand how we feel. You don't even if you have lost your dog or cat. It's not the same, ever.
11) Pray that we will heal, and have a desire to live. That's what is needed the most.
In summary, these are just some of the things that help. Your heart will tell you other beautiful things to do, if you listen. In time things will be better, and we may not be our old self, but that's ok. Grief makes us better in many ways, in time. We have more compassion generally, and we tend to listen more, which you just might need someday.