Those who lose a spouse are widowed, those who lose their parents are orphaned, but there is no specific word for those who have lost a child, except the generic “bereft,” which describes all of the aforementioned. People expect to bury their parents, and know it is possible to outlive a spouse, but it never seems reasonable to be required to bury a child.
The devastating loss of a child is a tragedy that will test the faith of even the most God-fearing person. There is no “reason why” that can ameliorate the suffering of this type of bereavement. This is true regardless of the age of the child, regardless if the death occurs before birth or after fifty years (or more) of life.
Faith is the firm foundation that can support a parent through this ultimate tragedy. God’s loving arms stand ready to enfold the bereft and His strength is available to lean on and cling to. Faith in God reintroduces hope in the midst of the darkness of loss.
Everyone grieves differently, but many people go through a similar pattern after loss: denial and numbness, pain and anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. A person may find that pattern to progress differently, as grief is a very personal thing and there are no rules to govern it; some people skip the middle three steps altogether.
Whenever there is loss, there will always be questions. The most ubiquitous of these is “why?” There is rarely an answer for that. So many of the truths that surround death sound trite when spoken to one who is hurting and in the midst of bereavement. What most grieving parents really need is just someone to be there and listen, especially at first. Many will choose to isolate themselves, but after a short time, a human presence can be a lifeline, whether or not the parent realizes it.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with grief counseling. Christian counselors who specialize in bereavement have learned how to identify the cues of the grieving individual and meet them where they are, helping them to work through their feelings and experiences. Obviously, counseling will not change the events that led up to the child’s loss, nor the loss itself, but it can help the parent to deal with the grief that could otherwise be debilitating and a Christian counselor can aid the Christian parent through the associated faith-based questions and challenges.
One of the best ways to shore up faith anytime, but especially during times of loss, is to stay in the Scriptures. There are a lot of Bible verses that can be of comfort to a grieving parent. Reminding one’s self about the character of God and His sovereignty can be of immense comfort and hope in the face of such a devastating loss.
There is no time limit to grief. Even though the pain of loss tends to become less sharp over time, it never completely goes away. There is always that empty space at the table, that one less number to count, that one missing hug, missing voice, missing laugh. No matter how young or old the child was, there is always that sense of someone missing. God is the perfect support at this time; He has experienced the loss of a child, too, so He knows the pain.
Also, it is to be expected that sometimes the sharpness will return in unexpected moments – seeing someone the same age as the deceased child would be, noting a date that was significant, smelling a smell that reminds of the person – and these moments cannot be predicted. This is when it is very important to keep close to God. He is the ultimate comforter and can give peace.
Parents need to remember that grief is a personal thing. Because of this, the parents may – and probably will – grieve differently. Understanding is so important so the parents can support each other. Different people cope in different ways and that can cause serious disconnects if it is not understood. For example, if one parent has the philosophy of “I’d rather laugh than cry,” the laughter may be grating to the other grieving parent, who may feel that there is nothing to laugh about in the situation.
It is very common to deal with anger – toward one’s self, toward doctors or caregivers that may have treated the deceased, and toward God. It does not hurt to rage at God. He is big and He knows what a bereaved parent is going through. He can handle the anger and He can comfort and offer peace, when the parent is ready to accept it. He is compassionate. Tell Him what is going on in your head. Read Job, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations – the authors of these books suffered and were angry at God sometimes, too.
It is okay to be not okay.
The Christian faith is about relationship – a relationship with God that is not like any other relationship. Knowing that God is there and cares makes such a difference. It brings with it a hope that those who do not know God cannot understand. There is the hope of seeing the child again one day.
Christian parents can also know that God’s people – the church – are happy to be God’s arms and ears for them on earth. Some have experienced a similar loss and can empathize and offer assistance and advice. Some have not experienced such a loss, but can still offer love and a listening ear.
A loving God Who knows loss, who knows parents, and who holds all things in His hands, also holds the one in four unborn babies who do not make it to birth alive. He holds the infants, toddlers, teens, and adult children whose lives ended too soon for their parents’ liking. He holds the parents in His very capable hands, even though it is a difficult time, and a difficult situation, God is a God of love Who can be trusted.