I am so sad. Do you remember me telling you I hosted a baby shower last month for Erika, the young woman in our church who was expecting her first child? This morning I got a call saying Erika had gone into labor during the night, but the baby, a little girl, was stillborn. This is such a shock.
What should I do? I know I need to see Erika, but I have no idea what to say. Maybe you don’t know either. If you have any thoughts, please send them.
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Do you remember Jane, my roommate between college and marriage? People used to call us “Janie and Junie.” We lost contact a few years back, but we reconnected on Facebook.
Jane’s first child, Faith, was born prematurely and lived only a few hours. Jane and her husband later had four more children. I decided to forward your message to Jane. Here’s what she wrote back:
Not a day goes by when I don’t think about Faith, but it doesn’t hurt anymore. Don’t get me wrong—that was a hard time. It took five years before I felt totally normal. But the Lord gradually replaces pain with peace. Your sister’s friend will one day have joy that her daughter is in heaven.
People grieve differently, so I can’t predict everything your sister’s friend will feel. But I learned a few things that I think transcend our feelings.
First, she needs to stay in the Word. This may be hard at first. I guess the medical term for it would be shock, but I remember worrying that I was literally going crazy. One day I asked my sister a question, and she looked at me quizzically and said, “Jane, don’t you remember? We just talked about that yesterday.” When I opened my Bible, I would read the same sentence fifteen times and not comprehend it. But eventually the mind recovers. Many of the suggested verses for funeral services in The Book of Church Order were passages that I found most comforting.
Also, your sister’s friend must keep going to church, whether she feels like it or not. The Lord tells us not to forsake the assembly because that’s where he meets with us in a special way.
When your sister visits her friend, I would suggest a minimalist approach. Now is not the time to present theological treatises. That may come later, but for now, “I don’t know what to say” is a good thing to say!
Tell your sister to keep visiting her friend and praying for her after the funeral. That’s when everybody else goes back to normal life, and her friend will not have a normal life to go back to. Also, people sometimes forget that men grieve just as much, though differently. Your sister’s husband or the other men in the church should be checking on the husband, too. The couple may need counseling.
If your sister wants to give her friend any reading material, urge her to vet it first. Many “grief books” say it’s OK to get mad at God. But God’s Son died too, and God even ordained it so we would be eternally blessed. How can we justify being angry toward him? If we are angry, I think we should confess it in humility.
I’d be similarly cautious about support groups. They can help if you find a good one, but they can also stir up bitterness, jealousy, and rage. Our true “support group” is the church. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3–4). Those are not idle words.
I love knowing that our covenant child is face-to-face with Jesus, and that we will see her again. Our children grew up knowing they have a sister in heaven, and that has made heaven more real to them.
Jane gave you a lot to chew on, so I’m not going to add any more. Let me know how your visit with Erika goes.
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I visited Erika on Thursday, the day after I got your message. She seemed spent, so I kept it brief. The next day was the funeral; it was good that every single family in the church had at least one member in attendance. Erika and her husband were in church yesterday, and I saw that she plucked one of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation brochures from the literature rack. These are good signs that she is seeking support in the right places. I’ll visit her again this week. Thanks for your prayers.
New Horizons, March 2012.