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December 2016 -January 2017


Beyond the Walls


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Five Things Not to Say to a Grieving Parent

By Wayne Bess


In 2013, our lives changed forever with the loss of our son Matt. His death was not under normal circumstances. He died too soon, too young. And it didn’t take long for the comments to begin—well-meaning comments no one is ready to hear.

On April 27, we removed Matt from life support. We were with him as he took his last breath. Before then, I knew little about losing a child; it was uncharted territory. Even though I was a pastor and thought I understood and could relate to people going through this crisis, I was wrong. Like most people, I didn’t know how to respond, or what to say. Three years later, I have learned that some things are better left unsaid.

The following awkward comments come from a good place. I know people mean well, but it sure does hurt to hear them. With that in mind, consider five things NOT to say to a grieving parent:

“Everything happens for a reason.” It’s a cringe-worthy comment for anyone who has lost a child. Sometimes, in this sin-cursed world, life has no rhyme or reason. The truth is, no parent should outlive his or her child. Nothing compares to this unbearable pain. To a heart clutched by grief, this cliché makes no sense. Your soul automatically screams, “What possible reason?” The phrase often goes hand-in-hand with: “God only gives us what we can handle.”

I remember hearing this from a well-meaning friend and thinking, “But I don’t want to handle it.”

However, another friend shared something I continue to live by every day. He said, “God doesn’t give us only what we can handle. He helps us handle what we’ve been given.” So true.

“They are in a better place.” Instead of comforting me, this statement just makes me feel down in the dumps. It even makes me feel guilty. I longed to see my son get married, have children, live life to the fullest, and enjoy our favorite things together. Children are never meant to go before their parents.

I think I speak for every grieving mother and father when I say we would give anything to hold our children again. Yes, we understand they are in a better place, but during agonized, grieving moments, it’s difficult to hear. We would gladly trade places, but that just isn’t possible. Deep down, parents know this truth, and in time they will find comfort in it. Facing reality is hard. Don’t slap them across the face with it before they are ready.

“At least you have other children. Count your blessings.” I always want to respond, “Having other children does not make up for losing one.”

I like to think of myself as a positive person, but even three years later, my heart still aches for Matt. On the darkest, most difficult days of grief, it’s hard to count my blessings.

Of course, I am blessed. I have two beautiful daughters who are the lights of my life. I also have five wonderful grandchildren. But Matt should be here with his sisters, enjoying his nieces and nephews. Our grandchildren are amazing, but I still have a huge hole in my heart. Notwithstanding my many blessings, missing Matt still hurts like nothing else. And the pain never goes away.

“I am sure this cost a lot of money.” It doesn’t matter what you spend, because nothing can bring your child back. You just want to honor them and their memory. We ran a long, detailed obituary for Matt in three newspapers. Someone remarked, “Wow! I bet it cost a lot of money for that long obituary.”

“Yes,” I replied. “It cost a lot—over $1,200. But I will never buy him lunch or dinner again. I’ll never pay for another birthday or Christmas present. I’ll never take him to another ballgame.” What does money really matter when you’ve lost a child?
We also purchased an unusual marker made from bronze. Matt’s portrait is on the marker. It wasn’t cheap, but it’s what we wanted to do for him.

“I don’t know how you do it. I can’t imagine losing a child.” I don’t know how we do it either. We simply have learned to live with it. We have a “new normal,” and in tough moments, we celebrate that we simply survived. This painful comment is a difficult reminder of what we continue to go through.

Instead… So, what should you say to a grieving parent? First, understand no words can take the pain away. Simply letting that person know you are there for them is more than enough.

Three years later, the best thing someone can do is talk about my son. I want them to say Matt by name, and not to be afraid to ask questions about his life and loves. I want to hear stories about him and learn things I didn’t know. While Matt was only here for a short time—32 years—he left a huge imprint on this world. Simply hearing someone else say his name is enough to wipe away the grief and warm my heart for days. My greatest fear is that my son will be forgotten.

Grief is the price you pay for loving someone with every fiber of your being. I miss Matt as much today as the day he left us. I miss his amazing stories, laughter, contagious smile, and zest for life. I miss his phone calls at all hours of the day and night and how much he loved music. And I long to see him again. Friends and family, give grieving families your prayers, support, and understanding. And most importantly, help keep their precious memories alive.

With these things in mind, consider the three most important things you can offer a grieving parent:

  • Your presence. Nothing can substitute for your presence; it’s very important.

  • Your prayers. Never underestimate the positive power of prayer for a grieving family.

  • Your patience. Grief is a slow process, and it looks different for everyone. Give those who are grieving time and understanding to work through these difficult emotions.


About the Writer: Wayne Bess, Jr. is pastor of Ashland City FWB Church in Ashland City, Tennessee.







©2017 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists