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Dealing With Grief at the Loss of a Child PDF Print E-mail
Written by Andres Chavez   
Thursday, 20 December 2012 06:23

The heartbreaking murders of 20 first-graders in Newtown, Connecticut has left people all across America feeling shock, grief and anger. When comforting parents after such a tragic loss, people are often at a loss about what to say, or worse, say the wrong thing.

United Church of Christ Rev. Emily C. Heath holds degrees from Emory University and Columbia Theological Seminary. She currently serves as the pastor of West Dover (Vermont) Congregational Church. She spent the first two years of her ministry as a chaplain assigned to the emergency department of a children's hospital with a level one trauma center.

In her blog, posted in the Huffington Post, she writes that she saw many senseless tragedies. "I also heard some of the worst theology of my life coming from people who thought they were bringing comfort to the parents. More often than not, they weren't. And often, they made the situation worse."

Based on her experiences, these are her suggestions about what to say and what not to say. Here are five things to say:

1. I don't believe God wanted this or willed it.

After a tragedy, the grieving person will hear someone say that "It was God's will." The truth of the matter is that Man has free will and can do evil whether God wills it or not. So affirm the idea that God may have nothing to do with it.

2. It's okay to be angry, and I'm a safe person for you to express that anger to if you need it.

Anger is an essential part of the grieving process, but many don't know where to talk about it because they are often silenced by others when they express their feelings. By saying you are a safe person to share all feelings with, including anger, you help the grieving person know where they can turn.

3. The tragedy is not okay.

This is so obvious that sometimes it doesn't get said. Sometimes things don't fit together. There are times when nothing works out right and there is no fix. Saying so can help some people.

4. I don't know why this happened.

When trauma happens, the shock and emotion comes first. But not long after comes our human need to try to explain "why" The reality is that often we cannot. The grieving person will likely have heard a lot of theories about why a trauma occurred. Sometimes it's best not to add to the chorus, but to just acknowledge what you do not know.

5. I can't imagine what you are going through, but I am here to support you in whatever way feels best.

Even if you have a similar experience, each loss is unique. You don't know how the person is feeling. Just ask how the grieving person is feeling and what you can do to help. Then do it and respect the things they don't want help with. You will be giving some control back to a grieving person, who probably feels like they have lost control. On the negative side, these are the things you should not say.

1. God just needed another angel.

Portraying God as someone who arbitrarily kills kids to fill celestial openings is neither faithful to God nor helpful to grieving parents.

2. Thank goodness you have other children, or You're young, you can have more kids.

Children are not interchangeable or replaceable. The loss of a child will always be a loss no matter how many other children a parent has or will have.

3. He/she was just on loan to you from God.

The message is that God is so capricious that God will break parents' hearts at will just because God can. It also communicates to parents and loved ones that they are not really entitled to their grief.

4. God doesn't give you more than you can handle.

Actually, some people do get a lot more than any one person should ever have to handle. And it doesn't come from God. Don't trivialize someone's grief with a "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" mentality.

5. We may not understand it, but this was God's will.

Unless you are God, don't use this line.

When Adam Lanza shot himself after the mass killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, he left hundreds of bullets behind, a score of grieving parents and many unanswered questions the most important being: Why?

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 December 2012 06:26