For many, when a child dies beliefs become challenged. We try to make sense of such devastation. We try to understand. We feel the need to know why something like this happened. We want there to be greater meaning or purpose. Many people cling to their beliefs as comfort, but many also question them, feeling betrayed by the place in which they put their faith.
And when we are witness to another’s tragedy, we behave similarly. We either cling to or question, our beliefs. We try to place meaning, understanding, and comfort to the heart that we see broken. We helplessly want to alleviate the sadness of our loved one. It is so hard to bear witness to pain. We would do anything to fix it.
When our daughter died, many beliefs that were not our own were thrust upon us. Platitudes claiming “God needed another angel” or how beautiful that our daughter “was with Jesus” as she was now “in a better place”. Those simple statements left me reeling and searing with pain that others were “blessed” with their living children but I had not been blessed with the same good fortune.
I often wondered if they would believe similarly if it were one of their children that died, but obviously, I would never wish my reality upon them.
It took years (and many tears) to realize that those words were our loved one’s way of consoling us, or perhaps consoling themselves, as they tried to understand that which cannot be explained. I have found grace in their proclamations and can now appreciate their attempt to say something, rather than shy away from us entirely. But in the early days, those words were so hurtful assuming that their God was mine. The statements did more harm than good and created an emotional distance when in reality, I know the intention was quite the opposite.
We needed comfort and a witness to our pain, not dismissing it with platitudes that were misaligned to our personal beliefs.
It’s important to remember the audience in which faith is shared as comfort, even considering those from within the same spiritual community. I recommend opening a dialogue. Ask the bereaved how he/she is feeling regarding their faith before assuming or expressing beliefs. For some, these words may be of great comfort. For others, it may cause additional emotional pain and distance in your relationship.
Now, I can appreciate the sentiment that my friends and family were attempting. They were offering the same comfort that they themselves were seeking. However, their efforts fell short when what I really needed was someone to confirm that yes, this was the most heart-wrenching, soul-crushing experience ever. Because it was and it is.
At that time, nothing could console my broken heart. More than words, being present and witness to my pain was the best-received support.
With my heart mended more now than in the early days of grief, I am able to accept others beliefs as their own. I am truly grateful for their attempt to connect with me, but their God is not my God.