Updated: May 9
A parent never expects to bury their child.
And although parents know that they can’t shelter their children from the dangers of the world, they will do whatever they can to protect their children and help them live a long, healthy, and fulfilling life.
But sometimes, a parent has exhausted all of their efforts, and the unthinkable still happens.
Maybe their child died from a terminal illness or was killed in a horrendous accident.
Perhaps they were victims of gun violence, or they tragically took their own lives.
The news of such an event can seem surreal. It truly tests one’s faith, and there is no easy path forward after experiencing this type of loss.
In cases where their child was murdered, a parent’s heart can be flooded with so much anger towards the offender that they feel almost paralyzed in their grief or feel compelled to take revenge towards the person who took their child’s life.
In contrast, some parents struggle with guilt and condemnation after hearing the news, replaying the details leading to their child’s death in their head. They question if they could have done something to stop it, followed by a series of “maybes.”
Maybe if I told them not to go to the event, they would still be here.
Maybe if I didn’t work all of the time, I would have noticed the signs that they were suicidal.
Although it is tempting to take on this burden, please resist. It is not your fault, and for parents who lost their children to suicide, I wrote a special article for you that you can access HERE.
But even if the parent does not point the blame towards themselves, it is also easy to shift that blame toward God, asking questions like, “Lord, why did you allow this to happen?”
Frankly, there are no easy answers to these types of life events, and when you are in the depths of these valley moments, it's hard to see life beyond your pain.
But if you are reading this, I want you to know that there is hope, and you will experience joy and peace again in your life.
Here are a few steps that you can take to help you move forward during this difficult time.
1. Find a Support Group
Connecting with a support group will provide you with the ongoing support that you need beyond the initial mourning period. Whenever you experience this type of loss, there will be an outpouring of support that you will receive from family and friends. Initially, it can seem overwhelming, but after the dust settles, the calls and texts will slowly disappear, and you are still left feeling the pain of that loss. It is helpful to connect with others who have had similar experiences because you can relate to their pain and can discover what brought them through the dark moments on their healing journey. Plus, you no longer have to worry about feeling as if you are burdening your friends and family because those who attend the support group are there for the same reason as you. Do a quick internet search to see what support groups are in your local area. You can also discover helpful support groups through Instagram or Facebook. Whether you connect with a virtual support group or you identify a local group that you can connect with in person, identifying a tribe of people that you can lean on when you are feeling down can help you to keep going when you feel like giving up.
2. Find Ways to Express Yourself
In your alone time, you must identify other outlets in your life to express yourself. According to a report published by the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, the University of Wisconsin, and the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, expressing yourself through writing provides you with an “opportunity to construct a meaningful personal narrative about what happened. It brings clarity and enables us to place our experience into the context of our larger place in this world." In other words, developing a regular journaling practice can be an effective tool to help you to release some of the pain you are holding inside. Maybe you are a talented poets, singer, or dancer, which can also serve as a vehicle to express what’s on your heart. Do whatever comes naturally to you, and build enough time into your schedule to make that healing practice a priority.
3. Take Action
As I describe in my book, Breaking the Power of the Mask, sometimes one must leverage their pain as the fuel for meaningful action. In Chicago, gun violence is an all-too-common tragic event. Year after year, we hear stories of individuals losing their lives at the hands of someone holding a gun. During my time working at St. Sabina Church in Chicago, I have frequently interacted with members of a group called Purpose Over Pain. This organization was started by parents who tragically lost their children to gun violence. These parents decided to channel their pain into something positive by developing a support group for other parents and family members who have lost a loved one to gun violence.
They work together to create a better and safer community by offering programs for children, resources for the community, and advocating for changes in laws on a local, state, and national level. Although there is nothing that can be done to bring their children back to them, the memory of their children lives on through the selfless work they do in the community to give other children a chance to grow up and live a meaningful life. Like Purpose Over Pain, you can choose to express your pain through action. Consider volunteering. In some cases, you might be led to start your own nonprofit, mentoring program, or support group. Whatever you choose to do, engaging in activities with a purpose can move you one step closer to your healing.
4. Continue to Seek God’s Face.
Whenever you experience a major loss, it can be tempting for you to drift away from your relationship with God. But in your times of despair, those are the moments where you want to sit at God’s feet. God understands the pain in your heart and wants to do nothing more than comfort you and remind you of His love. In your time of grief, take your emotions and burdens to God. God is not intimidated by your anger and can handle your tough questions. Continue to communion with God, and trust that the Lord will bring you through this difficult time.
5. Find a Grief Counselor.
The grief associated with a loss of a child can feel overwhelming, which is why it is crucial to work with someone who is trained to offer you the type of support you need. Although most counselors have a basic knowledge of grief and loss, not every counselor has extensive grief counseling experience. Be intentional about finding a counselor who specializes in grief counseling and can provide you with faith-based and practical tools that can help you to begin the process of healing. There is no shame in getting the additional support that you need. Healing happens through community, and we hope that we can walk alongside you as you take small steps forward on your healing journey.
If you are looking for a Christian grief counselor, please click HERE to learn more about how we can support you.
1. VHA Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation, "Whole Health: Change the Conversation: Advancing Skills in the Delivery of Personalized, Proactive, PatientDriven Care" Accessed July 15, 2019: 1. http://projects.hsl. wisc.edu/SERVICE/ modules/12/M12_CT_TherapeuticJournaling.pdf