To Anyone Who Has Lost a Child
Article by Vaneetha Rendall Risner
A friend told me about a young couple who had recently lost their baby girl in delivery. The couple was devastated and, though trusting God, felt horribly alone. My friend, knowing I had lost an infant son, asked what I might write to them and couples like them.
I’ve never met you, but I have prayed for you and cried out to God for you. I don’t know exactly how you feel, for no one else can know that, but I will tell you what I do know about loss, about comfort, and about your child’s life. I pray this letter might minister to you in some small way.
Leaving the hospital with empty arms. Putting an empty car seat into the trunk. Walking into an empty nursery. It’s not supposed to be this way.
Losing this precious child was never part of your plan. With her death, you lost dreams and plans, many that you hadn’t voiced to anyone. Perhaps not even to yourself. So, how could anyone else know your pain in losing all you secretly hoped for?
Many will not know how to respond to your grief. Some will avoid you and pull away because it’s too uncomfortable to stay close. Others may offer support, but never mention your child’s name, assuming that will upset you. They don’t know how much hearing her name, remembering her, acknowledging your loss means. Still others will offer thoughtless words and clichés. At least you have another child. Heaven needed another angel. You can have other babies. As if any of those statements were helpful.
Some will offer wise advice and biblical truths, some you’ve known and believed for years. Those truths may feel hard to take in right now. They may feel meaningless and trite, even callous, in your pain.
Hopefully you’ll have a few friends who will say little, pray simply, and offer no advice for now. Friends who are willing to wordlessly enter into your pain and come close. Who aren’t afraid of your suffering. These are the people who you long to be near you.
You may wish to go back to normal life, to the life when you felt more carefree, but that life doesn’t exist anymore. This child whom you talked to, sang to, and nurtured long before she was born has changed you, though you may have only glimpsed her for a moment, if at all. Her memory, her life, has made you understand the fragility and brevity of all life.
Grieving may be the most difficult work you’ll do on earth. And it will often surprise you in its intensity as everyday events remind you of your loss. You’ll notice pregnant women in the grocery store, stirring unforeseen emotions. You’ll get birth announcements from friends, triggering unexpected tears. You’ll see babies who are your little one’s age, and the grief will feel fresh again. As you notice all these things, you may wonder, Why me, and not them?
There is no pat answer to that question. Suffering is largely a mystery. No one but God knows why your child and not another. But no matter what God’s good purposes are, be assured that your precious child’s death is not a punishment from God. In Christ, there is no condemnation for you. God is totally for you. And for your child. One day you will see the beauty that God brought from her brief life.
After our 2-month-old son Paul died, I wondered whether his life mattered. Hardly anyone had even seen him. Yet as I read the Bible, I saw that God fulfilled his purpose for Paul, as God fulfills his purpose for each of our lives (Psalm 57:2). Paul hadn’t turned the world upside down. He hadn’t made a mark on other people. He hadn’t done anything “meaningful.” But we don’t need to do anything meaningful for our lives to ‘be’ meaningful.
The Lord has a purpose for each human life, and so a child who dies in the womb has fulfilled his purpose just as fully as someone who lives to old age. At the funeral of her infant granddaughter, my friend said that God had fulfilled the word that he had spoken over her granddaughter’s life. This child’s life, however brief, was full of meaning and purpose. While we cannot understand why it was shorter than others, we can know that it was just as valuable in the eyes of God.
As your child’s life mattered, your response matters too. Don’t let this pain pull you away from God. Hold on to Jesus. Let your tears flow freely. Lament your way through the Psalms. Voice your grief and pain to God. Passages like Psalm 88 have given me words to cry out,
You have put me in the depths of the pit. . . . O Lord, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me? (Psalm 88:6, 14)
When I don’t have my own words, passages like this give shape to the feelings that I’m too broken to even articulate.
Even so, the Bible may be hard to open in deep grief. We might struggle to draw near to the God who wounded us. He could seem distant and cold, and we can’t even sense his presence. But we should not simply do or believe what comes naturally. When everything in us wants to turn away, we must intentionally turn toward God. His promises and his presence await us.
When we open the Bible, the Lord can speak to us through it. Words of comfort. Of reassurance. Of grace. Cling to those. God is for you. He will never leave you. His promises are true. Throughout the pages of Scripture, we see overwhelming evidence of God’s love. He gave his Son for us that we might live with him forever.
God’s promises will comfort you, but they will not magically erase your pain. Time may take away the sting, but this gaping wound will forever leave a scar. You will never forget this child, this little one whom you loved and planned for and treasured for nine months. You will carry her in your heart until the day God takes you home. And on that day, when you see her again, you will rejoice that she is gloriously happy in heaven and that God fulfilled his purpose for her life.
Vaneetha Rendall Risner is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Desiring God, who blogs at danceintherain.com. She is married to Joel and has two daughters, Katie and Kristi. She and Joel live in Raleigh, North Carolina. Vaneetha is the author of the book The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering.