Happy Birthday Kylie!
Kylie, you have touched the hearts of thousands of people. But I shouldn’t use the word “touched” because it is past tense. Correction: You TOUCH the hearts of thousands and your legacy continues to shape, mold, and grow others including myself.
Is it weird that your love for a person can grow even after they pass? I have always loved baby Kylie, but somehow I feel my love has even grown stronger. She continues to teach me things about life even though she is far younger than I.
These are just some of my thoughts and feelings as I reflect on the beautiful Kylie Rowand and all that she has taught me (and continues to teach me). I wanted to share this is because originally I didn’t know how to comfort someone going through heartbreak or death of a loved one. I know I would have found this helpful and my hope is that maybe someone else will feel the same. And by no means do I think I have mastered any of this in anyway.
Anyone who knows me knows that I can be terrible at comforting others. I just thought I would share some of what I have learned along the way.
There are (and will be) highs and lows every day following the death of a loved one.
Anyone who hears of Kylie’s story is heartbroken. I find myself somewhere in the middle. I’m no stranger to Kylie but I’m not the parents either: I’m the uncle.
There are no magic words to take the pain away, but there are definitely expressions to steer away from.
Things I have learned to avoid: “Back to normal” and “getting over it”.
When someone loses a child, there will never be a “back to normal” or a way to “get over it”. Losing a child transforms a person for life. So instead of expecting the grieving parents and relatives to go back to normal, your support should be directed toward who they are becoming. Rather than likening the grief to a physical illness that we can recover from, it should be thought of as a life-changing physical injury.
“How are you?” In our culture this is such a commonplace greeting that it’s hard not to let it slip out. But really this should be avoided. Obviously, they are doing bad. A child just died. So when you ask that question what kind of response are you really looking for? What you really mean is I care about your well being, so find a way to express that without asking the obvious, and almost offensive, question. It’s hard enough as is. Don’t make them answer that awkward and ill-timed inquiry.
Refrain from, “I know how you feel.” Unless you have had a child die, you probably don’t know how they feel, and it sounds presumptuous to say so.
DON’T say, “It was God’s will” or other cliche churchy expressions. This is a harmful one that I have heard Christians use with the best intentions in mind but the worst outcomes. These words don’t make it alright that the child has died and quite frankly, I believe they are wrong!
God doesn’t want death. He is the one who offers eternal life. He sacrificed His son so that we could have life eternally, and live life on Earth to the fullest.
What God does do is take a terribly tragic situation and bring as much light and beauty as possible. God does not create evil. God takes evil and uses it for good. So even if God brings miracles and changed lives through it, it is NOT God’s will for a child to die. So don’t say it.
Definitely AVOID, “At least you have your spouse,” or if applicable, “At least you have other children.” This should be obvious. You should never try to minimize a child’s death by counting your blessings.
I don’t know who the heck says this but I caught wind of someone telling a grieving mother, “At least you are young enough to have more children.” Seriously? Not helpful.
Everyone will handle it differently and there is no need to pass along judgements about what is appropriate or how they should be healing. Don’t critique if they display “too many photos” thereby idolizing the child, or “not enough photos”. Seriously, I don’t know why you would need to critique anyone about these things but it is some of the expressions I have heard.
Bottomline, if you have never lost a child, it’s incredibly difficult to know what to say to someone in that situation due to the nature of the tragedy. It is unnatural and unfair.
So, what to say?
Sometimes you don’t need to say anything at all. Learn to be comfortable with silence and just be present with those who are grieving. Sometimes people need the silence and sometimes that gives them a window to open up about feelings. It can be cathartic.
Some people are afraid to bring up those who have passed because they don’t want to hurt those grieving. Yet often they need and want to talk about their loved one. Don’t treat those who have passed as taboo words. When appropriate feel free to bring up memories or stories if you knew the person. If not, don’t be afraid to ask gentle questions to get to know them better.
Don’t be afraid to cry. Your tears are a tribute to both to those who have passed and the grieving ones who are left behind. However, just make sure that your grieving is not so intense that those you went to comfort are now having to comfort you.
Side note about crying: Even though it is a normal response to sadness, it isn’t the ONLY response. Just because someone is not crying (or crying as much) does not mean they are not sad. They may feel the pain just as deeply as others but have different ways of showing it.
Sometimes a hug or loving touch is all that will suffice. Your presence is what matters most.
Don’t be afraid of laughter. It helps heal the wounds.
Expressions that are almost always okay:
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
“I’ll call you in a few days to check on you.”
“You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.”
“I love you.”
Something I’ve learned through this experience is don’t say to the grieving family, “Call me if there’s anything I can do for you.” That call will probably never come.
I’ve been guilty of saying this dozens of troubled people in my life. But as I deal with my own anguish of Kylie’s death, I have had multiple kind hearted people offer up these same words to me. Yet, even though I am sad, I would never actually call upon these people. I didn’t want to inconvenience them, even when it was something I felt like would really help.
The best thing to do is take initiative. Find out things that the grieving family needs and do it. Start with the basics. Help out with chores, errands, and basic necessities. So when you find yourself about to say these words, instead figure out what needs to be done, and do it. Just know your boundaries of course. The better you know someone the more initiative you can take. If your invitation is initially declined, don’t give up!
A hand written card sent in the mail is also a very nice gesture.
Even if you feel like you have nothing to say, just letting someone know you are thinking about them can mean a lot.
Everyone grieves differently. Even though grieving is an individual and highly personal experience, love is a universal language that we all can speak, and as humans we all crave.
The biggest mistake you can make is not knowing what to do or say, so not reaching out at all.
The beautiful part about my faith in Christ is that even though I miss Kylie, I don’t have to be stuck in a state of permanent sadness. In fact, when I think of Kylie I can truly rejoice knowing that she is in a much better place than I am. I hear that expression thrown around a lot when it comes to tragic situations such as these, but with a solid faith in our Creator I’m not just saying those words for comfort, but with genuine meaning.
It is my faith in a loving and ever-faithful God that enables me and all those around me to recover from the death of a child.
This reminds me of a story in the Bible from 2 Samuel 12. King David (yes, the same David who killed Goliath) had a child who had fallen deathly ill from sickness. He mourned, fasted, prayed, and wept the entire time his child was sick. He begged God for healing and had all his attendants do everything they could. Yet, the child died.
This is how David responded (2 Samuel 12:20): “Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate.”
The part that stood out most to me was that he “went into the house of the Lord and worshiped.” Honoring God after a crisis sometimes can be very hard to do but it is an important and powerful demonstration of our spiritual confidence in our God. David turns loose what he cannot change.
David’s servants were stunned by his behavior and asked him about it. David’s response from 2 Samuel 12:23 is powerful:
“Now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”
David was fully confident that he would see his son again in heaven. It does NOT mean David didn’t grieve. He just grieved differently than someone who does not believe in life after death.
Face the future with hope. Recognize that we are not alone. We have God who promises us life and we have each other. WE need to lean on each other to help us recover.
I’m trying to learn from David’s example. David worshiped the Lord in his time of deepest sorrow. We need to give God what we cannot change. Worship the Lord for restoring Kylie. Praise God that death is not the end, but only the beginning. I am fully confident that I will meet Kylie agin in heaven.
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” Revelation 2:14