The other day I was in to pick up some family portrait pictures. The sales person was showing me the pictures we had made to make sure I thought they turned out fine (they did). She noticed in the picture that we had one child (our 8-month old daughter). But for some reason she asked me if that was the only child we had. Well it isn’t and even though there is no easy way to tell someone that you have a son who died, I am not about to pretend that I don’t have another child when I am asked about it. So I responded to her and simply said, “We have a son also.” I did not really want to elaborate too much but she went on to ask how old he is. Well there is no way to answer that one without simply telling the truth. So I told her that our Son passed away when he was three days old.
As you can imagine, she was taken back a bit and you could tell she really did not know how to respond. BUT she responded any ways. She said, “I am sorry! Three days old? He mines well have not even been born.”
Now I was taken back. My son, better off not even being born? NO WAY! I told her that I was glad to have the three days with Kenny that we did have and that I would never wish them away.
Thankfully, it has been over three years now since my wife and I lost our son Kenny. Because I am able to handle hearing the ridiculous comments, which I am sure are made with the intension of being comforting rather than malicious.
But this illustrates a point that I cannot emphasize enough. Our world is full of people who experience forms of suffering that go beyond another person’s ability to imagine such pain. It does not necessarily need to be the death of a child. Suffering can exist in the form of divorce, death of any close friend or relative (especially spouses, children, and parents & siblings), being the victim of a violent crime and abuse, depression and other emotional disorders, being stricken with a horrible illness or injury, etc…
When we witness others suffering, we are often left without knowing what to say or what to do. That’s OK! I have lost a father, a son, and now a younger brother. I still do not know what to say to people who have experienced the death of someone they love. When my son died, many people would say the famous nine words “I am sorry, I don’t know what to say.” That is enough, by being there and saying those nine words said more than they could ever say with any other words. Furthermore, being there and only being able to say those nine words does not do any more harm.
What those who are beginning to suffer do not need to hear, is little statements like the one mentioned at the beginning of this post that are intended to comfort but really pour salt on an open wound. What sufferers need – and Christians and Churches take notice of this – is people who will be there for them, allow the sufferer to grieve in their own way (so long as it is not harmful to them or someone else), allow the sufferer to grieve openly when they want to, someone who will do the mundane things that they cannot think about at the moment, and someone who will just listen to them. If you will listen then eventually God will provide you with something to say or do that is helpful and if you listen and do not judge or criticize your suffering friend, then they will give you the opportunity to help them.
One of the greatest gifts my friends at the Wednesday Night Bible Study house group ever gave me, was a place where my wife and I could grieve freely without judgment and a place where there was friends who would just sit back and listen.