Last week, I received a call from a family who had lost their child. They asked if I would conduct the funeral. My heart always skips a beat when I am asked to minister to a family who has lost a child. It never gets any easier. It’s one of the hardest things you will be called upon to do in children’s ministry. I’ve ministered to many families over the years who have lost a child. Here are some things I want to pass along that I’ve learned along the way.
Being there is the most important thing. In the back of our minds, we understand that one day when our family and friends have lived a long life of many years, that we will have to say good-by to them. But as parents, we never expect to lose a child. We never anticipate our child dying before us. And when it happens, it is devastating. It crushes us.
The family is feeling pain that is mind numbing. They are experiencing incomprehensible grief. Walking into this situation can cause you to feel inadequate as a minister. How can you help them? What will you say to them? What do they need?
First and foremost, they simply need you to be there. They need a hug. They need a shoulder to cry on. They need someone to sit with them in the silence and weep with them. They need someone to walk with them and help hold them up.
If you look at Scripture, God never promises that our lives will be trouble free or not have pain and suffering. But what He does promise is to be with us through the tough times. He has promised that even when we “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” He will be with us.
Be Jesus’ arms of comfort wrapping around them. Be Jesus’ tears crying with them. Be Jesus’ shoulder they can lean on. They probably won’t remember much of what you say. But they will remember that you were there for them.
Don’t try to answer the why, because you can’t. You will hear many parents ask “why?” I’ll never forget standing outside a hospital room and hearing a mother ask me, “Why is my precious little boy dying from cancer while there are people selling drugs and murdering who are perfectly healthy?” And the ones who are not saying it out loud are thinking it.
Let them know it’s OK to ask why. In fact, remind them that Jesus even asked “why?” when He was dying on the cross. When asked “why?” it’s OK to say “I don’t know. I don’t have all the answers.” We live in a world that has been broken by sin. There is sickness, heartache and pain.
In times of crisis, what you don’t say is just as important as what you do say. Choose your words carefully. If you’re not intentional, your words can cause more harm than good. Avoid cliche’ statements such as “God needed another angel in heaven” or “He or she is in a better place” or “There’s a reason why everything happens” or “I know how you feel” or “God will give you more children” or “You’ll get over it.”