How-to Minister to Grieving Parents the Right Way

It’s for the best.

Now you have an angel looking after you.

I understand how you feel.

These are but a sampling of cringeworthy phrases friends often offer grieving families upon the loss of a child.

I studied bereavement ministry, however, my experience with infant loss was peripheral. My mother lost a sibling between my brothers David and Richard but never spoke about the baby to me. My daughter’s third pregnancy ended after sixty days. Not wanting to wait alone to deliver her little one, she asked me to stay with her and her husband and grieve when the time came.

Through my experiences and writings, I’ve created some help for those who are grieving and those who love them, starting with:

Myths We Believe about Those Who Grieve

1. If we mention the name of the deceased, it will sadden the bereaved parents. FALSE. Bereaved parents are already sad.

2. You’ll get over it. Time heals everything. FALSE. One never gets over losing a child. Grief is fatiguing work that cannot be rushed or rationally dismissed. Sometimes circumstances prevent us from properly grieving until much later.

3. You can always have another child. Possibly true, but each child is uniquely made. Each child’s loss is unlike any other. Parents with fertility issues have no guarantees of conceiving another. Other parents with health issues, known and unknown, may not live to see another child born.

What Not to Say to Bereaved Parents

To help Christian leaders like you increase your sensitivity as you minister to the grieving, I asked bereaved parents to identify comments that hurt despite being well-intentioned.

Please avoid saying:It wasn’t meant to be.At least you weren’t further along.This happens to everyone; it’s not a big deal.You’ll be fine in a few days.

Maybe you should have/shouldn’t have . . .It’s for God’s glory.This was God’s plan.

If you see nothing wrong with these phrases, ask Spirit-filled friends to help you increase your sensitivity. Pray for wisdom and understanding.

Ministering with More Sensitivity

Here are three ways to increase your sensitivity to bereaved parents.

1. If you’re a fixer, realize a child’s death is not fixable. Let go of saying the right words. A compassionate look or listen sometimes offers the best solace.

2. Speak the child’s name. Say: “Tell me about (name of child).” If the infant has a name, say it aloud. It is music to parents’ ears. You will not spare a parent’s grief by avoiding their child’s name. They think about their child all the time.

3. Affirm their emotions and God’s love for them. Instagram influencer Rebekah Clayton said,

“Messages like ‘This was God’s plan’ just gutted me. But I’ll never forget when Rev. Aldo Mesa, who did my son’s funeral, looked me in the eyes and said ‘this was not God’s plan. God does not plan for babies to die. He does not plan for families to grieve. It’s okay if you feel angry. He’s angry too.’ Death and pain came because of man’s fall, he reminded me, and was never in God’s plan at all. He said it was okay if we blamed God. He said, ‘God can handle your anger. Be angry. It’s okay. He’ll still be here holding you.’ It gave me so much relief to hear that.”

Christian leaders help others find the truth and light of Christ. In asking Jesus to be our Savior or in comforting the grieving, there are no perfect words.

Jesus uses simple, unexpected gifts like a picture book to continue to build His Kingdom. May this humble little tool that softens hearts help you offer peace and comfort to those God brings your way. Chris is the author of the picture book for parents and families who have lost children, The Light We Cannot See.

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