How You Can Be Present for Grieving Parents in Their Suffering
And what you find at the very center of the Love for Sophia family are two amazing, yet broken, parents who don't deserve this, who are trying to get through the 8 month DIPG nightmare that continues to pour down on them with little to no relief. And we, who are attempting to comfort them, cannot comprehend even a tiny fraction of the gut wrenching, soul twisting, heart exploding pain that holds the Myers family captive.
Angel and Joshua weep. God weeps. The Love for Sophia Family weeps.
We all weep.
Pastorally, I couldn't let this dark hour go by without doing something. I tried to figure out "what" I could do, and so we offered our Live @ 11:11 Services to be a "Hope and Healing" Service. You can check it out here ----> Hope & Healing Service.
I don't have the answers to the hard questions that plague us all. What I do have is insight, born through awful, personal tragedy, to give. And so, I will offer what I have, and pray God will take my small basket of bread and fish and multiple it to provide spiritual nourishment to those that are hurting.
Here is what I offer: A "What Not to Say" List, and a "What to Say/Do" List. My intention is not to hurt anyone. Please don't feel badly if you have already said these things. We ALL have said these things. Just from here out try to be mindful of the Love for Sophia family, and refrain from offering these space fillers.
DISCLAIMER: I know the temptation. You DON'T know what to say. You feel awful for them. So you just reach back into your "Grieving Parent Files" and grab the first cliche you find. DON'T DO IT. DON'T SAY DUMB THINGS. I promise standing there and saying nothing just enduring the awkward silence for a moment is better than saying these things...
What Not To Say to Grieving Parents: 1. "The Lord needed another Angel." Please, don't say this. Or any derivative of this: Needed another singer, dancer, etc. Regardless of your personal religious or spiritual persuasions. Trust me. It stings. Try to put yourself in their shoes. If God needed another "angel" then God could have created one. Not MY baby. I can't tell you how many well-meaning, loving people said this. And I can't tell you how badly it hurts.
2. "This was God's Plan." Nothing like that. Regardless of if you believe that. I don't care. No parent wants to hear this days after their child has been ripped away from them. Who are YOU to say what is and is not God's plan.
3. "Everything Happens for a Reason." Really? Again, are you the Governor of the Universe? Sometimes insanely, devastating, unimaginably horrific accidents happen to some of the most loving, giving, selfless people. And we can't make any sense of it. It's not your place to try to wrap it up in a neat package, and tie it with a "God" bow. Some things just will not make sense on this side of heaven, and it's not your job to try to force sense out of tragedy.
4. "At Least... " She is in heaven now. She's no longer suffering. You got to say goodbye. Or any "at least" sentiment, really. "At least" hurts, badly. Trust me.
5. "I Know How You Feel, I Lost My Youngest Child in 1965." Stop right there. The parents are carrying a load that is unbearable. They cannot hold your pain, too. Don't share any "sad" story. No loss, cancer, divorce. None of it. This is for later. Much later. If you are close to the parents and want to be somewhat of a journey partner, or a guide if you will through the grief process, that time will emerge. If you just want to offer yourself as a witness that you CAN survive this...wait...there will be a time for that. Don't do that today. For the love of God DO NOT do this coming through the mammoth line at the wake. And don't say this at the Celebration of Life. Swapping horror stories is for much, much later. I know it seems "helpful" to say, "I know your pain I lost a child," but it's just too heavy right now. Save it.
6. "God knew you could handle it." "You must be strong people." "You are stronger than I am." " I couldn't do this." None of this is helpful. Maybe you do think they are strong. You are probably right! Maybe you think you couldn't do it (God forbid you find yourself having to endure such heartache). But, seriously, this all hurts, too.
So What IS Helpful to Say?
A good rule of thumb is to make "I" statements, instead of trying to "make sense of their situation" statements: I'm sorry. This sucks. It's totally unfair. I can't fathom your pain. I'm here for you. I'm praying for you. Let me know if I can do something to help you. I love you. I loved ______(name of child). Tell them what you loved about their child. I will miss them. I will miss _______(fill in the blank with a memory). I'm going to call you in a few days (Call them.) I'm going to stop by and check on you. (Stop by. Bring food. Or gift cards. Or something you know they would appreciate. Don't stay long, unless you are super close to them, or they have asked you to stay.) If you can't say any of this... Just don't say anything at all. A touch. A pat on the back. A nod. Just being present in their grief for a split second. Carrying a tiny bit of the pain as you stand there with them.
What Can You DO?
1. Pray. I mean really, really pray. Like put your face to the ground and cry out to God for mercy for this family. Intercede on their behalf--night and day. Whenever you think of them. I KNOW we would not have made it through without the countless multitude of family, friends, parishioners, clergy, casual acquaintances, community members, and people that just heard our story praying for us. Pray without ceasing, Love for Sophia Family, for the Myers family!
2. Let the family know you are praying for them.
Again, the cards and letters that flooded in. What a source of strength and encouragement!
3. Meet the Primary Needs. Communities usually do this well. Greyhound Nation is shining. So much LOVE for Sophia is pouring in. Keep doing it. Don't stop. This serves to nourish the family physically, but also reminds them that people are walking with them. The Love for Sophia Tribe is helping carry the load. I can't tell you all the love and presence that was showered on us, and is continued to be offered, and how much it means.
4. Go through the Parents' Liaison: It's best to try to coordinate most of the "food," "gifts" or "offers to help" through someone close to the family. Do not just show up at their house and walk in. Knock on door. Hand your gift to whoever answers door. Leave. Unless invited in. I say this to say, if you are trying to give food, gifts, monetary support, whatever, try to find out who this person (or people are) instead of going straight to the parents. A few suggestions in this case: Talk to Christi. Or Leah. Dana. or Kerry. Set up the giving through them, so the family is not bombarded.
5. GIVE MONETARILY: Angel and Joshua have plans to fight this monster, stupid tumor, that took their child. I know they can do it. Help them in the fight. Give to the cause.
Great God of mercy, you created us in your own image, redeemed us by Christ's blood, and give us new life through your Holy Spirit. There are times when life conflicts with life and we find ourselves in the crucible of unforeseen tragedy and unbearable suffering. In this dark hour we ask that you provide a beacon of hope to light our way. We, also, offer ourselves to aid the Myers family, who are met with adversity beyond their capacity to endure alone. We offer you our hands to do Your work; We give You our eyes to see as You see; We give you our tongue to speak Your words; We offer our hearts that You may love through us. It is through such giving that we become more like you. Stir up in each of us a holy desire to think less of ourselves and more of others until we are so intertwined with Christ that it is God alone that lives, breathes, and prays in us. Amen.
Lord Hear Our Prayer,