As we trim our trees and sing our carols, there are families suffering. In Newtown, CT, 26 families are approaching this Christmas without someone they love. Someone who died too soon. Someone they can’t breathe without.
What do you say to someone who has lost a child at Christmas? Many avoid the family, thinking they don’t want to be bothersome. Some come up with cliche’ saying that will make the speaker feel like they did their part, but will not help console the grieving. If you have never experienced a loss like this, it is difficult to know what to say or how to act.
Do you say Merry Christmas? Do you ask How are you? Do you invite them over for a party?
These families most likely do not want to celebrate Christmas in the traditional way. They may cling to the gift of Jesus, our Saviour and the glory of His birth. But, that is probably where it will end. They do not need “Merry Christmas” cards and calls. Every photo they receive in the mail of someone else’s family is a heart-wrenching reminder that they will never have another family photo again. Every facebook post about baking cookies and Christmas parties and trimming trees is a reminder that their lost child will never experience those things with them again.
So what do we do? We will see these families at church. We will see them in town and at school. What do we do?
We pray for them. We embrace them with hugs. We listen if they want to talk. We don’t pretend to know what it’s like and we don’t offer cliche’ advice. We simply say, “I am here.” We don’t say Merry Christmas, or Happy Birthday, or Happy New Year. We say, “I know this day must be so difficult for you. Please know that I am praying for you and thinking about you.”
All of their wonderful memories, their family traditions are gone. They will never be able to hold those traditions again without feeling pain. They will in time build new memories and maybe begin some new traditions. But, they may not want traditions. Traditions attach us to the past and the past is painful.
They may avoid social engagements for a long time. There is no time limit on grief. There is no amount of time that can take away the pain of losing a child. If it’s a year or 5 years or more, just understand that you cannot understand what they are feeling.
Imagine going to a birthday party for one of your children. You are sort of hiding against the wall, trying not to talk to anyone. Someone comes up to you and starts some “safe”, on the surface conversation. One of the first questions she asks is, “Do you have any other kids?” How do you answer that if you child was killed? Or died of an awful disease? So, do not be insulted if you invite one of these families to a party and they decline your invitation, for years. It doesn’t mean they don’t like you, it means they maybe cannot take the social pressure after losing a child.
Imagine grocery shopping and you put double stuff oreos into your cart because that’s your child’s favorite. And then you remember that your child isn’t here anymore. Do you take them out? Do you buy them anyway? Imagine setting the table every single day and having one place empty. Every single day is a reminder that you child is gone.
So, while you are enjoying your family, parties and church services as so many do, pray for the ones who can’t seem to make sense of their world right now. Pray for one breath at a time for them. Pray that they will find comfort in our Lord and that they will see Christmas for what it actually is, the birth of Jesus. Pray that the ones who surround them will be a comfort and will carry them long after the rest of the world has forgotten. That these people who surround them will be sensitive to their needs for years to come and will not put times limits and pressure on them to move on. Pray that through this unfathomable tragedy, they can find peace, somewhere and sometime. That their loved ones did not die in vain and that their memory will be preserved in the hearts of many, not in the media of our world.
I hope that you will all take this advice and apply it not only to Newtown families, but to anyone grieving the loss of a loved one. No two people grieve the same and although we may not know what to say, it is more important to just be.
God Bless you all.