I’m not a stranger to hard stories. I’m a licensed professional counselor and I’ve spent many years listening to heartache and tragedy. My job has allowed me the privilege of walking with people in dark places, helping them take steps towards healing and peace.
And still the level of pain in a group of bereaved parents takes my breath away.
I went to a one day seminar for grieving moms. I sat at a table with 4 other ladies. In our group, one child had died of illness, one in an accident (Samuel), one of an overdose, and two were murdered. The beauty at that table was how no one flinched, squirmed, or said anything awkward to lift the pain as we shared our stories. Imagine sitting with that group of women and not feeling uncomfortable. There was no judgement, because when you’re a mom, it doesn’t matter how your child dies. If it’s a situation the rest of the world might criticize, there is an extra measure of compassion from us. We get in a small way how every complicated detail thickens the burden. We spoke freely of our children and their deaths, something that is rarely possible with people who aren’t a part of our reluctant club.
The heaviness in that room, at that little table, could drown an unsinkable ship. The death of our children is the start. From there we descend into depression, anxiety, loneliness, addictions. Families don’t recover and collapse under the pain. There are lost friendships, lost faith, lost careers, suffering marriages.
I am also part of a Facebook group for bereaved parents. I am drawn to the group, but I have to be careful with my time there. Every person tells the story of a precious life, gone before anyone was ready. Moms with recent loss join the group every day, it seems. They pour out their hearts because it’s hard to find safe places to do that, and the group is a safe place. I have to be in the right frame of mind or the sorrow can drag me down to a place of despair.
Many of us are still raw to our bones. But over and over beauty seeps out with the pain. Lovely things come out of the nasty places. Growth is slow, measured in years, but I see it. If someone is overwhelmed with anger and bitterness, the group whispers understanding, patience, and forgiveness. Another person shares that they were able to be gentle even though they were stumbling with weariness themselves. We reflect on small victories and tastes of mercy. When we share fears, we hear peace. When we doubt, we are loved and encouraged. “Six months is barely time to catch your breath, much less to find your footing in faith again,” I’m soothed. People cling to Jesus because losing a child exposes the frightening depth of our need. Hold on to Jesus. Just hold on. He won’t let you go. There is nothing else.
I can’t see beauty in the dark places of my life yet. The ugliness is there, the wreckage. Because my hands spread what’s in my heart, I sure can create damage as I go through the day. I am hopeful when I see others have gained perspective and earned strength in their years of hard grieving. When I don’t have my own faith, I hold on to the faith I see in them. I use their lives to imagine my future. For now, it’s enough.
The most common thing my non-bereaved friends tell me is that they don’t know what to say to me. I wish they could sit in the back of a room of grieving moms for a day, just to listen. Their hearts would be sobered by the intensity of brokenness. They would watch the compassion and grace that spills out when a devastated mom weeps over her child, or weeps for the shattered leftovers of life. There is humility in advice, and patience for the journey. Maybe if other people could see this, the little irritations of life wouldn’t matter quite so much. Maybe they would find courage to speak comfort to hurting hearts without worrying about saying the wrong thing. They would see that most of the time, the greatest gift is being present. It’s easier to face the heaviness when you don’t have to face it alone.