Friday, November 25, 2011

Helping Grieving Parents Adjust to the "New Normal"

Grief professionals say that grieving parents will endure various “phases” of grief, such as shock, denial, depression, anger, and others. While the severity of each these phases might decrease over time, no grieving parent is ever “over” his or her grief. Grieving parents who are many years removed from the death of their child will say that, even while the “fog” of intense grief has since lifted from their lives, there continues to be an ongoing hole in their life, a void that cannot be filled. Grieving parents sometimes refer to living life in this type of ongoing grief as “the new normal.” Veteran grieving parents can attest to the fact that, even many years later, they continue to live in this “new normal.”

If you know parents grieving the death of a child, extend grace to them as they make arrangements for “the new normal.” Do not assume that they will engage in the same activities, enjoy the same hobbies or activities, and keep the same schedule. Being involved in certain activities that the parent may have previously enjoyed with the deceased child may now be too painful to endure. The child’s death may have caused a significant change in their outlook and priorities. The parents may have new interests and perhaps even new professional endeavors.

This “new normal” for the parents may mean that extended family members must make new arrangements around the Holidays and other significant dates, such a birth dates. Some grieving parents will avoid altogether any of the same activities they did before the death of their child. But regardless of whether the grieving parents wish to retain many of these same traditions, extended family members need to be ready to give up these traditions if it will be too painful on the parents.
For some extended family members, losing a Holiday tradition or other tradition is almost like religious heresy. But as Paul tells us in Colossians 3:16-17, there is nothing uniquely spiritual about our traditions, days, and festivals. Don’t push grieving parents into an ongoing tradition just because the extended family wants to retain the tradition. Instead, realize that just as grieving parents must develop a “new normal,” so also must the extended family members develop a “new normal.” As you consider how to go about structuring Holiday traditions after the death of the child, consider asking the grieving parents what traditional activities they would like to be involved with, and which ones they would like to avoid. Whether it relates to Holiday traditions or other events, you can extend a considerable amount of grace to grieving parents by providing them the latitude to develop their “new normal” following the death of their child.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

God's Unmatched Love for Us

It is particularly fitting for grieving parents to focus on the cross of Jesus Christ as a symbol of God’s unmatched love for us, for the measure of our love for our deceased child is the same measure of love that was poured out, for us, at the cross. The night before my own son unexpectedly lost consciousness, and later died, my wife told her mother, “I love [our son] Micah so much. I can’t imagine the grief that God went through when Jesus died.” If you are a fellow grieving parent, you similarly have a special insight into the level of grief that God the Father must have felt as Jesus was tortured, crucified, forsaken by God the Father, and finally allowed to die. Matthew 27. God’s love for us compelled Him to allow His one and only son to die. “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” 1 John 4:9.

You and I would give everything, including our very lives, for our deceased children. We know how hard it is to lose our child unwillingly; to willingly give up your only child is absolutely unthinkable. But on that Roman Cross two thousand years ago, God’s love for us was proven in how he willing allowed His own son, Jesus Christ, to die for us, that we might be in relationship with Him. If God loved us so much that he allowed Jesus to die, can we not trust His love for us now? About God’s great love for us, Paul wrote, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:32.

The cross is also a demonstration of how God’s love for us transcends life and death. In the very act of dying, Christ demonstrated that love is greater than death, and that he loves us enough to accomplish great purposes on our behalf even through physical death. “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate use from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39. If God allowed His own beloved son to die, can we not also trust that our child’s death is not an indication of our being unloved, or of our child being unloved? In our grief, we must hold fast to the cross, where we can see the full measure of God’s great love for us.