How reasonable is it to expect family and Pastoral staff to be supportive?

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A question was posed by a gal on While We’re Waiting. The answers were profound!

QUESTION: How reasonable is it to expect family and Pastoral staff to be supportive after the death of a child? One thing that has been hard is that we have no “family” support. I am an only child. My husband’s family have not been supportive since shortly after our son’s service. The small church we were in for many years, was helpful at first but not after about six months. We found another church that has been very healing though. Praise the Lord.

When my friend posted this question, lots of moms and dads commented.

If you have a friend who lost a child, please read the following comments copied from the thread in answer to the question.

In the coming weeks, I will be posting ideas from some of these same folks on how to help – how to support those who have buried their child.

These comments were written from the heart by moms and dads who have experienced the loss of a child – often this loss is compounded by feeling alone in the months and years after the funeral.

Even our church families do not know that we still hurt, still need love, still need compassion and still need someone – anyone – to mention our child’s name and ask how we are doing.

Many expressed that their pastors never called or checked on them after the service. Even those of us who have been active in our churches for years experienced this. Many families change churches after the loss of a child due to the apparent uncaring of the staff.  I do not believe the staff does not care. I believe they simply do not understand the depth of the loss of a child and, thus, do not know that they families need continued ministry.

Perhaps reading these raw, honest responses to the question will help you understand better that parents who have lost a child are changed forever. We need love, we need compassion, and we need support.

Ask how to help. Send a card on the child’s birthday. Mention them when you see us. Quietly and privately say something like, “I know the holidays are hard without Johnny. Please know that we remember him and pray for you” when you see us out and about.

You may even want to print this out and give it your pastoral staff.

The men and women who commented below are not in deep despair; they live lives full of joy and peace. You may see them volunteering at church, active in Bible Studies, participating in worship. They do not appear to be despondent, because they are not. We go on with our lives. We raise our other children. We go to work and church and coffee dates. We are not mentally ill. But we are hurting still. We will miss our child until the day Christ returns.

 

QUESTION:

How reasonable is it to expect family and Pastoral staff to be supportive? One thing that has been hard is that we have no “family” support. I am an only child. My husband’s family have not been supportive since shortly after our son’s service. The small church we were in for many years, was helpful at first but not after about six months. We found another church that has been very healing though. Praise the Lord.

Answers:

Finding support after the loss of a child is difficult. Many do not know what to say.
The staff of the church we had been in for several years did little after that initial week. Our pastor did an awesome job at the service, but after that, nothing.
We found that our friends in that church and elsewhere were our biggest support.
It may be unreasonable to expect those who have not gone through it to understand. I have a few friends who lost children before I did, so our local homeschool group was familiar with this type of loss and does an awesome job of loving us.
As for family, all of our parents are gone. I am glad they did not experience the loss. Only one of my husband’s brothers and my brother really keep in touch. They try, but just don’t understand.

 

My mom has become very distant and my sister doesn’t get it. It’s sad but I have dear ones that don’t forget my son and their love helps me on this journey!

 

It was surprising to me that we are being pressured to do more for the other family members and they all act uninterested in our lives. It has helped to accept it for what it is and learn boundaries.

 

Yep, I can relate to that! My mom called and told me my sister was grieving and having a hard time with MY son’s death and I needed to call her and console her!!

 

That is true of everyone. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Everyone looks out for his own interests and not those of others.” Selfishness has been around since the dawn of time. It will continue until Jesus returns.   Learn to say, “No” without explanation or excuse and without getting angry. We do not have t explain our actions. Those who love us will understand; those who don’t won’t.

 

I’m sure its cause they don’t understand how you feel. I know it’s a feeling unexplainable to those who haven’t been there!

 

I am glad that most of family doesn’t understand. It means they have not felt this pain.

 

I try to lean on friends who have been there. Family tries but most of them have no idea and say hurtful things like…it’s time to move on or I’m not blaming his death for me falling off the wagon but I’m just not as strong as you.
Or my favorite is when they call trying to make you cry then when you feel just ready to punch them they apologize for crying and start explaining how they grieve.
Anyway. It’s been five years and people do care they just don’t know what to say so they ignore you. Or say “it’s so sad but at least he is with Jesus on his birthday.” To which they expect you to be like “wow I forgot that now I’m super happy let’s get a cake and balloons.”

 

Our church was the same way. Our son’s name was never mentioned again and not one staff member ever asked how we were after that initial week. Our son’s name was taken down in the nursery that next week, too. We changed churches…our pastor lost his son a year ago. It’s totally different.

 

It’s funny that you bring this up. My son and I were talking about this earlier today. Neither my husband’s family nor mine have been particularly helpful or supportive. Any time I talk about it with my sister about my daughter she asks me to change the subject because it is too painful for her. Maybe it’s my personality or something but it doesn’t bother me. It just is. I always think “thank you God that I am the emotionally sturdy one”.

I was also speaking with a friend tonight whose husband died two days after they found out she was pregnant, almost four years ago. We were talking about “grief cool points”. When it first happened EVERYBODY wanted to be her friend. She had people coming out of the woodwork with Facebook friend requests, inviting her to dinner, asking to watch her girls for her…..Now, she was telling me everyone is like “oh, you’re still dealing with that?”.

My support has come from the same place that my support came from before my daughter’s accident. My Savior that loves me so much more than I deserve, my sweet husband, my other kids, my friends that I meet at Waffle House (it’s a southern thang) for breakfast once a week for over eight years, my friends that helped me not end up in a psychiatric hospital after the adoption of a daughter with reactive/attachment disorder, my small group leaders at my church and….THIS GROUP!!!! While I have never imagined myself in a group like this and the initiation fee of a broken heart is really steep I am honored to be a part of a group that tries to walk out this mission field of grief with faith, joy and thanksgiving.

 

People who say they will always be there and if u need anything I’m just a phone call away well it’s not true I feel so alone 24\7. my mom has nothing to do with me. I have my dad and my husband and they are there for me but it’s different for men than it is women we carried these babies gave birth to them and got to raise them for so long then God took them back I am angry and have a lot of questions. 17 years just wasn’t enough time.

 

It does kind of bother me that the youth pastor at my church has not once asked how my teens are doing. I have been praying that someone would call and invite my 17yr old and my 15 yr old out for coffee to just talk. Or take them to the mall. Or do anything to help them. Unfortunately the person in their life who did it all the time was the same one who died.

 

I would like to educate pastors and church staff on how to help us
But the issue is:
each of our kids was unique
theirs lives were unique
their deaths were unique
their siblings and their needs are unique
our families are unique
our grief journeys are unique
what we find comforting and helpful is unique
The only thing that is the same for each of us is God. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is. His love, compassion, and grace carry us through.

 

I totally agree with the “grief cool points”. Everyone and their dog wants to be a part of your loss the first few months. Then…they all disappear.
I kindly emailed my pastor and told him that the one thing church’s get wrong is death. Especially the death of a child. He was totally supportive. I truly think people just don’t know.
If nothing else, this has opened my eyes to a new career journey. I really think I am going to look into grief counseling. It seems so hard to find one that has truly been there. Hoping I can help others get through this ugly beautiful journey.

 

I am blessed that my pastor’s wife (who is also a very dear friend) is always very supportive and loving and remembers hard days for me. So even though I may not get that from anyone else in my church on a consistent basis that is, she is always in my corner. She sends me cards, she brought flowers on Monday (the 5th year date of passing) and she lets me know she remembers our boy. Outside our immediate family, one of my sisters-in-law is the one who is the most sympathetic and does not try to make it about her. It’s amazing how some family members who were not that close to my son turn everything around to be about them…even the passing of MY son. My mother passed a year and a half ago and now my dad lives with us which is extremely challenging. I had to remind him of the significance of the date Monday and even he made it more about him than me. Sigh.

 

In our church my son has been the first child loss in many, many years. People seem to equate my loss with that of other types of losses – seniors, older parents. Of course, in this group we know how very different losing a child is than a grandparent or a senior parent.

 

I called one of the female youth leaders and asked them to take my daughter out for coffee.. they did twice.. it made her feel loved and appreciated for the moment.. but the relationship didn’t continue.

 

I really don’t think church staff (for the most part) knows what to do. Also, it is not a personal loss for them even though they sympathize and feel badly for the family. They cannot possibly be what we feel we need for very long. It’s just the way it is. But if only one or two friends “get it” and continue to be whatever support to you they are able…it can be enough.

 

I can so relate to you and so many of you who have shared on this thread. My daughter’s youth pastor never even checked in on her and she had been an active participant in his youth group for over three years. So sad…I find comfort here because we understand one another! Thank you!

 

Siblings – I have a friend who lost an adult son a few years before we did. Nancy was wonderful to our 18 year old! Even her 28 year old daughter took our daughter under her wings. In fact, they paid for her to fly to see them for thanksgiving to love on her! It makes me want to be aware of helping other teens who maybe can’t talk to their own mom after such a loss.
One of the many things that came out of this for me is the desire to help “new members” of this club and their families heal. I keep an eye out on FB for news of child loss, send friend requests and then a message about this group. That’s how I me a few others in this group.
WE know. WE understand. WE can support those going through this journey. WE are the body of Christ, joined and held together by each supporting ligament, growing and building itself up in love as each part does its work.
We cannot expect clergy to do everything. The church is meant to be a living, active body, working together for the health of the whole body. This means that you and must do our part.

 

My vicar hasn’t mentioned our daughter or asked how my husband and I are since the funeral ( one year ago ) and we are in the choir. Only one couple at our church show interest. Most of my family members say nothing too and friends are the same. it’s a lonely road and made me question my faith many times – but there’s nothing left without it – is there?

 

Thanks to each of you for your prayers, comments, advice and understanding. Now I see how common it is for our “family and clergy” to leave us in the middle of the stream. Fortunately, we have found a church that cares now, we have this group, some wonderful friends who have become like family, good books, Griefshare, and JESUS most of all.

 

My husband went to speak to our pastor (at the time) around the 2nd anniversary. The pastor said, “I didn’t know you were still dealing with that.” I remember telling my husband that we were like the 3 guys in the furnace that came out Not smelling like smoke. This pastor had no clue & he’d seen us put on smiles & keep going to church so he thought we were okay. He’d also seen my husband be strong for me whenever I let the tears flow in church. Pastors & church staff are just ordinary people. If they haven’t walked this road they have no idea how to guide us down it & no idea of how to help us.

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3 thoughts on “How reasonable is it to expect family and Pastoral staff to be supportive?

  1. Pingback: Sad People, Safe Churches | kathleenduncan

  2. After Jason died, we were left so very alone. Our closest actual family was a very long ways away – more than half the country away – so I think we expected our church and homeschool “family” to be there for us. And they weren’t. The silence in our house literally hurt my ears at time. We did nearly everything alone. My head knew that it was difficult to be around us, that people didn’t know what to say to us, that being left alone was more out of lack of knowing what to do that meaning to hurt us. My heart didn’t get it, though. It just hurt my heart more than I could hardly stand at the time to be left so alone, and it really changed me forever. After a child dies, your heart is so raw and your senses so much more attuned to everything that goes straight to the very core of your heart. It’s like the difference between putting hydrogen peroxide or iodine on regular, unbroken skin or putting them on a deep, open wound. One makes little difference and you hardly feel it, and the other hurts like crazy.

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    • Rebecca,

      I am so sorry for your loss and your pain. I so wish I could fix it all by giving you a hug. I would jump on a plane and come wherever you are to do so. But the only One who can heal our broken hearts is Jesus. And we will forever have a scar from our wound.

      You may have seen my post about While We’re Waiting, a faith-based support group for bereaved parents. It is worth joining Facebook to be a part of this group, even if they are the only thing you ever look at on FB. The folks in this group understand our feelings of isolation and sorrow. And they pray, encourage and love us.

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