I’ve been having a lot of conversations recently that have moved my heart to talk about grieving in faith, especially in the wake of pregnancy and infant loss. If you’ve read any of my story before, you’ll likely know that I came to relationship with Jesus after the death of my son Omie nearly six months ago. I had gone to a really amazing non-denominational church when I was in high school, but I fell out with God and religion and faith generally through a series of shitty life circumstances. I found faith and hope again after the loss of my first son Noah, throughout my pregnancy with Omie, and in the wake of his loss.
For me, finding a supportive church community has been a true life saver. I cannot imagine how, or if, I would have survived Omie’s death without my church. I find so much joy and healing in service every Sunday, worshipping God surrounded with so, so many loving people who have nothing but support and compassion for Jason & I. When I’ve shared our story with different people, especially in moments of prayer request or asking tough theological questions, I’ve always been met with a truly empathetic, honest responses. But I’ve come to realize that unfortunately, not all people are so lucky, especially when they share their losses with people of faith.
“Well, God needed him more than you did” or “It’s part of God’s plan” and “Aren’t you happy to have an angel looking over you,” even “He’s in a much better place now.”
Nope nope nope, hard pass, fake news, UNHELPFUL. While most of these cliches are well-intentioned and come from a place of trying to ease a parent’s grief, NONE of them cause anything but hurt feelings and isolation for a parent whose baby has died. While nobody at my church has said anything of the sort to me, so many loss parents are beaten with these useless platitudes in their darkest hours.
I personally do not believe that the God I know and love has a plan that necessitated the death of my sons. And while I take comfort knowing that Noah and Omie are safe in Heaven, both of them deserved a life here, on Earth, with us, even with all the troubles of this world. I will likely always wonder why they aren’t here, safe with me, but I also know that there are some questions that won’t be answered on this side of Heaven. I’ve said this all before and I’ll say it again as needed.
But, whether you agree with me on these points or not is frankly irrelevant – none of these responses, even if taken as true, are appropriate, compassionate responses to a person in mourning. Instead, these statements only work to distill a person’s loss into a matter that can be easily healed by just believing better. Don’t belittle loss and death – they are necessary parts of this world, and we suffer for them. But healthy grieving and true healing only comes when we are able to experience our grief, with support from others, and work through it – not by sweeping it under the rug or deeming it “solved” because our loved ones are in Heaven. People of faith need to consider how to better respond to loss parents, or any grieving person, as to help bring them into community with others, not drive them away.
I’ve heard far too many stories of loss parents losing their faith in their God after losing their baby. As you can imagine, the death of a child is a life-changer, and it makes sense that such an event might bring into questions like why God let your baby die, what kind of God lets babies die in the first place, why your prayers weren’t answered, what you did that made God punish you so. But most of women I’ve spoken to didn’t lose faith in their God because of these questions or the underlying death of their child. Instead, their questions and emotions were summarily dismissed through unhelpful adages, leaving them isolated by their church or faith community, in the moment that they needed support and compassion the most.
So even if you truly believe that God had a plan that required for a family’s baby to die, please, for all that is good and holy, do not say that to her or her partner. Instead, share genuine condolences. Sometimes it’s hard to find the right things to say, but say something, anything, besides unhelpful religious platitudes. Ask the baby’s name, what they looked like, how the family hopes to remember them, what you can do to support the couple as they grieve. Ask the parents how they are is doing, and say it with the intention to hear their response, their true response, no matter how sad or broken it is. Sit with them, pray with them, pray over them, and simply be available. If even one or two people in a faith community could do that for every bereaved parent, it could change the world. Child loss is isolating and devastating, but nobody should have to walk through it alone. And nobody should be made to felt further from God simply because their faith community finds it easier to hand out empty words than to actually provide emotional support to a family in need.
For any Christian loss moms that are struggling with their faith after loss, I highly recommend was “Loved Baby” by Sarah Philpott. The book includes stories from loss mommas about their own grief experiences and has over thirty devotions to help parents grieve in faith. The book also quotes Biblical passages throughout to help bring comfort and understanding, while dismissing and dispelling most of the unhelpful cliches that people like to offer.