December 15, 2012
This is from an article off of Huffington Post. Thanks, CC.
We often have no idea what to say in the face of senseless loss. That is especially true when children are the victims of tragedy. Today’s shooting in Connecticut is heartbreaking in so many ways, not the least of which is the staggering loss of children.
My first two years in ministry were spent as a chaplain assigned to the emergency department of a children’s hospital with a level one trauma center. During that ministry I saw so many senseless tragedies. I also heard some of the worst theology of my life coming from people who thought they were bringing comfort to the parents. More often than not, they weren’t. And often, they made the situation worse.
Here are five things not to say to grieving family and friends:
1. “God just needed another angel.”
Portraying God as someone who arbitrarily kills kids to fill celestial openings is neither faithful to God, nor helpful to grieving parents.
2. “Thank goodness you have other children,” or, “You’re young. You can have more kids.”
Children are not interchangeable or replaceable. The loss of a child will always be a loss, no matter how many other children a parent has or will have.
3. He/she was just on loan to you from God.
The message is that God is so capricious that God will break parents’ hearts at will just because God can. It also communicates to parents and loved ones that they are not really entitled to their grief.
4. God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.
Actually, some people do get a lot more than any one person should ever have to handle. And it doesn’t come from God. Don’t trivialize someone’s grief with a “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” mentality.
5. We may not understand it, but this was God’s will.
Unless you are God, don’t use this line.
And here are five things to say:
1. I don’t believe God wanted this or willed it.
A grieving friend or family member is likely hearing that this is God’s will from a number of other people. Affirm the idea that it may very well not be.
2. It’s okay to be angry, and I’m a safe person for you express that anger to if you need it.
Anger is an essential part of the grieving process, but many don’t know where to talk about it because they are often silenced by others when they express their feelings. (For instance, they may be told they have no right to be angry at God.) By saying you are a safe person to share all feelings, including anger, with, you help the grieving person know where they can turn.
3. It’s not okay.
It seems so obvious, but sometimes this doesn’t get said. Sometimes the pieces don’t fit. Sometimes nothing works out right. And sometimes there is no way to fix it. Naming it can be helpful for some because it lets them know you won’t sugarcoat their grief.
4. I don’t know why this happened.
When trauma happens, the shock and emotion comes first. But not long after comes our human need to try to explain “why?” The reality is that often we cannot. The grieving person will likely have heard a lot of theories about why a trauma occurred. Sometimes it’s best not to add to the chorus, but to just acknowledge what you do not know.
5. I can’t imagine what you are going through, but I am here to support you in whatever way feels best.
Even if you have faced a similar loss, remember that each loss is different. Saying “I know how you’re feeling” is often untrue. Instead, ask how the grieving person is feeling. And then ask what you can do to help. Then, do it and respect the boundaries around what they don’t want help with at this point. You will be putting some control back into the hands of the grieving person, who often feels like they have lost so much of it.
Ronan. I knew yesterday, that I was not going to get out of bed. I got up, showered, took your brothers to school and acted like the happy mama they deserve to love and see. I came back home and sank back into my bed for the rest of the day. I spent the morning and afternoon, throwing up. I don’t think this is much of a Poppy thing anymore. But just the way my body reacts to all of this grief that I carry around with me 24/7. My heart was too heavy for you and Teddy, to do much else so I didn’t. Then I turned on the T.V. just in time to hear about the shooting in Newton, CT. I sat back and watched with horror on my face as the numbers of the kids shot and killed, continued to rise. I hid in my bed. I sobbed in my bed. I told you this world was too awful to continue to live in. All I could think about was those innocent babies, who will never have a future. Just like the thousands of innocent babies who die of cancer every year. What happened yesterday was the most senseless act of violence I’ve ever heard of in my life and my heart is absolutely broken for the families who are left here to try to go on and live, without their children.
Facebook yesterday was full of people shouting their political opinions. I read everything from the reason this happened was because we need stricter gun laws in this country (which I do agree with but that is not going to fix the problem) to it’s because we have taken God out of our schools… (ugh, really?) To it was because the kid was autistic (shut the fuck up). This did not just happen for one reason. It is combination of things that seem to be wrong in our country. You cannot just point your finger at one thing. Clearly this kid had some kind of mental illness and was not getting the proper treatment. Hey! Here’s an idea! Let’s stop throwing so much money at things like war, welfare, and NASA and maybe focus on the things here that really need to be focused on like the well being of people who have an illness down here and really need to be treated, helped, or nurtured. Let’s do whatever it takes to help the person in need instead of ignoring them.
It also seemed that every single person on Facebook was saying things like, “Praying for the families !” Or “hugging my babies extra tight today!” Let me tell you 2 things. The first being, prayers for as nice as they are, are NOT going to change things. Are they going to bring back the dead child? Ummm… no. Are they going to help put an end to this insane violence that seems to keep continuing to happen over and over again? No. I wish it were that simple, but it’s not. I know this first hand. Things do not get done by sitting back and praying and doing nothing else. Change does not happen that way. Change happens by working your ass off. Things only get done by being vocal, taking risks, taking ideas and no matter how many times you hear the word, no, you DON’T accept it as an answer. You keep fighting for the change you want to see happen. You fight with everything you have until finally you start to see things move in the direction you want. Trust me. The things that have happened in my life, since Ronan died, have not been because I have sat back, prayed for it and done nothing else. I work my fucking ass off every single day because I know if I really want to change things, it takes a lot of hard work. It does not happen by me being huddled in a corner, praying for cancer to be cured. If it were that fucking simple, my child would not be dead. The second thing here kills me. It kills me everyday that it takes a tragedy like yesterday to remind us that we need to hug our children more tightly everyday. Why are we not hugging our kids extra tight, every single day? From the second my kids were born, I knew they were an absolute gift that I treasured every single day. From the second Ronan was born, I was constantly telling myself how lucky I was to have him and that every single day with him, felt like Christmas only 1,000 better. I have pages and pages in journals I used to write in just months after Ronan was born where all I did was talk about how amazing he was, how much I loved him, how he made our family so perfect. I knew every single day, that I was so lucky to have him for the time that I did. Looking back now, I can tell you all that I knew deep down, that Ronan was not going to be here forever. Going back now, and reading the things that I wrote about him in his very early years of life, I knew. This is one of the reasons the bond and connection I have with him is so deep. I never took a second of that child’s life for granted. I hugged him and all of my kids, extra tight every single day. Since losing Ronan, I know there have been times that I haven’t hugged Liam and Quinn as tightly as I should be doing so. But my hugs sometimes come in other ways such as getting out of bed and packing their lunches for school. And I always make sure to tell them how much I love them, every single day because I know there is no guarantee in life that I am going to have them forever.
I don’t want to get to political or preachy about all of this because the bottom line is kids are dying left and right every single day whether it be from a senseless act of insanity, cancer or something else. When you become a parent you take that chance in life that you may not have your child forever. I used to be one of the lucky ones who did. And now that I am not, you can be damn sure I am not going to sit back and pray about it while doing nothing else. I am going to change the very fucked world of childhood cancer by being an activist and using my pain for motivation. I am going to fight for my child for the rest of my life because he should still be here. My child is dead due to the lack of funding and attention that childhood cancer receives. Because too many people choose to ignore it and not make it a priority (hello lovely government). Well, that is fucked. That is just as fucked as some person who quite clearly needed mental help going in and shooting all of those innocent kids. So, people of the world. If you are so upset about any of this, then get off your asses and really do something about it! If you are so worried about the safety of your kids, take some sort of action instead of just waiting for someone else or something else, to do it for you. Say your prayers, but then be proactive and DO SOMETHING! I pray all of the time(to Ronan). I pray and talk to him, 24 hours a day. I let him give the me strength to do everything in my life and push me forward. I do not sit back, pray to Ronan, and then do nothing, expecting a miracle to happen. I pray to him while doing a lot of things, too. The power of those two things, gets me through my days. Those two things, are very powerful if I sit back and do them together. I just wish I would see more people praying in the world AND actually doing something as well. It has to start being a combination of the two things. It has to be a combination of your faith and your fight in order for things in this world to change.
And for all of you yesterday, still posting status updates all over Facebook like, “So sorry for all of those kids. Hugging my kids extra tight today!” And then 2 hours later, the same people are posting other updates such as, “GOD! My kids are driving me insane and the Nanny just canceled! How am I supposed to finish my Christmas shopping now?!?!” Fuck you. Fuck you from the bottom of my very broken heart and fuck you for not having any self awareness at all. Some of us would give anything to have our kids here, driving us insane, while knowing that Christmas shopping is the last thing in the world that matters.
My heart goes out to the parents last night who had to go to sleep without their children. I know what that feels like every single night, since being without you, Ronan. It is a pain I would wish on no one. I am so sorry to those kids, their families and every single person who loved and cared for them. I am so sorry for the sweet teachers lives that were taken as well. School is supposed to be the safest place for our kids to be. It is very apparent that there are many things broken that need to be fixed in order for things like this to stop happening. It is very apparent to me that it is not just one problem, but many. I hope we can get this figured out quickly, other wise I fear this will not stop. And my kids may be next. I am not naive to the world of tragedy. I know this could have been my kids, yesterday. I stopped living in a bubble a long time ago.
I miss you. I love you. I hope you are safe. Thank you for visiting me in my dreams last night. Your head was bald but the way you ran into my arms was so real, it was almost like you were here again. I even remember being able to smell you. And you still had your squeaky little voice. What did you say to me, baby boy? Oh yes, I remember. “It’s just me and you, baby.” Forever and always. Me and you.