I Am Okay
Coping With the Death of a Child
Pamela J. Kuhn
Just three short months after our daughter Sarah was taken to heaven, my husband wrote in his journal: “I’m not sure about making it. I walked into the bedroom this Sunday morning to take Pam a cup of freshly brewed spice tea. I was met with a crushed wife and mother—a beautiful lady with a face soaked in mournful tears. Pam is quiet with her grief, but I can feel it screaming from every cell in her frame. It reaches out to this man who can only try to swallow and choke out, ‘Will you be okay?’ What a stupid question!”
Those who have lost a child have days when they feel as though they’re not going to make it. How can life go on? Will I ever feel normal again? Will the pain ever stop? Our minds like to remember the shocking times of our tragedy. I suppose it’s natural to allow those moments to play around in our heads. I kept remembering the suddenness of the tragedy—the race to the hospital, the realization that Sarah was gone. Over and over I heard the screams, felt the despair, and heard the question of an unthoughtful friend who had asked, “Wasn’t there anything you could do?”
But then I thought of Mary and the difficult times she must have endured from the moment she agreed to be the mother of Jesus. I found the verse in Luke 2:19 that says, “But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Mary didn’t focus on those times that distressed her. Instead she focused on the wonders and joys that came with accepting God’s will.
I needed to do the same. When the disturbing images entered my mind, I would stop and think about the Christian policeman who had prayed with us at the scene of our burning home. I’d remember how a family friend had brought her own daughter’s clothes to Melanie, Melanie’s smile when another friend brought her a few toys, and the comforting feel of the satin nightgown my sister-in-law had brought me. Like Mary, I pondered the good things and treasured them in my heart.
I’ve never gotten over Sarah’s death. She was our beautiful princess—Sarah of the dark, silky hair, big dark eyes, and beguiling smile. But I have gotten through the deepest pain of mourning. Am I okay?
“He has…given me a cup of deepest sorrows to drink…Yet there is one ray of hope: his compassions never end. It is only the Lord’s mercies that have kept us from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his lovingkindness begins afresh each day” (Lamentations 3:15, 21-23 TLB). I am okay.
Sidebar: Comforting Words and Gestures
"The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares." — Henri Nouwen
1. A simple “I’m sorry” is the most comforting thing you can say. Even the most caring person sometimes say things that comes out wrong, and once said, words cannot be taken back. When a friend of mine was telling an acquaintance about the accidental drowning death of her teenager the man replied, “Sometimes I wish my teenager would drown.” My friend quickly and firmly replied, “No, you don’t!” The man realized how that remark must have sounded to this hurting mother, but it was too late to undo the damage. Stick with “I’m sorry.”
2. Don’t wait for the grieving family to ask for help. Offer! Many times a crowd of people is the last thing a grieving parent wants to face. If another sibling takes gymnastic lessons, plays on a sports team or has band practice, offer to drive the child to his or her activities. . Gift certificates to local restaurants ensure that the family eats a healthy meal. Helping with laundry, house cleaning, and mowing a lawn are practical ways of giving comfort.
3. Don’t be afraid to talk about the lost child. Most parents don’t want to think others have forgotten their child. If a funny incident comes to mind, don’t be afraid to say, “Do you remember when…?” The story may bring a tear or two, but the healing benefits are abundant.
4. Remember and acknowledge dates connected to the tragedy. Mark the date of the child’s death on your calendar. Send a note each month on that day during the first year. Try to remember the family annually. We have friends who still remember August 7th. One elderly woman gave us money each year before she died so we could eat out and remember Sarah together. A birthday is another date to remember. Year after year we received pink carnations on Sarah’s birthday from “Grandma” Arnold. Her remembrance was soothing balm to our hearts.
5. Cry with your friend. A comforting moment for me happened one Sunday in church. The service had not yet begun, but the sacred atmosphere, blessed with God’s presence, brought forth my tears. When I looked up, I noticed a friend in the seat in front of me. When he turned I saw the tears swimming in his eyes overflow to make a trail down his cheeks. He didn’t say a word. He just looked into my eyes and cried.