In decades of writing columns, I have taken risks, but perhaps never one as big this: writing a column to and about parents who have lost a child.
I can well imagine that the first reaction of any parent who has lost a child will be: Why does this guy, who hasn’t gone through what I have, think he has something to say about the death of a child? What does he know about the unspeakable pain I live with?
Nevertheless, having talked to many parents who have lost children over the course of 40 years—on my radio show and in private consultations (largely because of my religious writings and talks)—and given the possibility that I might be able to say something that will help some parents, I feel it is a risk worth taking.
So, here are some thoughts in light of the latest massacre of students.
1. Most deaths of young people are what we normally label “senseless.” When an old person dies, no one deems the death senseless. When a policeman, fireman, or soldier dies, we don’t label their deaths senseless. But when most young people die, it is obviously not because of old age, and it is relatively rarely a result of them having risked their lives for society. Rather, it is usually an accident—a car crash, a drunk driver, a drug overdose, a disease, a murder. All of those are indeed senseless, which adds to a parent’s already immeasurable pain. The parent whose child died fighting the Taliban at least has some consolation.
2. As a believer in a just and good God, I am thoroughly convinced that parents will indeed meet their child again. As I explain in a PragerU video on the afterlife, while the existence of an afterlife is not provable, it is axiomatic that if there is a good God, there is an afterlife. A good God would not make this life—with all its unjust suffering—the only realm of existence. Moreover, there is a large body of convincing evidence for the existence of an afterlife.
3. Happiness is usually a choice, even for parents who have lost a child. Abraham Lincoln, who had a very difficult life—including the death of two of his sons, a psychologically troubled wife, and the management of a horrific civil war—famously said, “Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.”
Parents who have lost a child must still try to choose to be happy, or at least allow themselves moments of happiness. As much as this seems impossible within a year or two or five of a child’s death (a close friend who lost his 11-year-old son told me he “wept at least once a day for five years; after that, it quite abruptly seemed to get better”), and even though the hole left by a child’s death is never filled, happiness is possible—if the parents give themselves permission to experience it.
If you do not, it is not only your child who has died but you as well. And if your child was murdered, the murderer has claimed yet another victim.
4. People who have lost a child find some comfort in myriad ways. For some it is through their other children—if they have any—their marriage, or their religion; having a community or a life of service; immersion in a passion, friends, or therapy; or some combination of these things.
But I would be remiss if I did not relate what the father of a 21-year-old who died in a car accident told me. He said that nothing lessened his intense pain over losing his beloved son—not one of the aforementioned ways, for example—until he discovered support groups for parents who lost a child. Because they were the only ones who could empathize with his pain, he found listening and talking to them truly therapeutic. Two organizations that might help are The Compassionate Friends and the Forever Family Foundation.
5. There is something that can be almost as painful as losing a child: losing a child who has not died. This is rarely addressed, yet I am convinced the phenomenon of adult children who have chosen to never speak to their parent has reached epidemic proportions.
Whenever I raise this subject on my radio show, men (and, less frequently, women) call in and weep when they tell me that their child has not spoken to them in 10, 20, or more years. It is frequently, though certainly not always, the result of parental alienation brought about by an angry ex-spouse during and after a divorce.
It is true there is always hope that the child will return to the parent. But after a decade or two, and after the parents having been deprived of knowing their grandchildren, often there is no realistic hope. Their pain is permanent, and they do not have the loving memories that most parents whose child has died have.
6. Finally, don’t blame God. God didn’t kill your child. If anything, he grieves along with you. No one, whether a parent or anyone else, should stop believing in God because of such terrible incidents.
God made a world in which people die at all ages and in many ways, a world in which people are free to do evil. The alternative would be a world consisting of humanlike robots who could never commit evil. But such a world would be meaningless and as devoid of joy as it is suffering. If you want to get angry at God, definitely do so. But that is not the same as not believing in him.
I hope some of this helped.
Short, simple words of prayer provide much needed comfort and hope to all Christians, especially mothers who have lost their children. Prayers are known to be beneficial in healing anxiety and depression during times of trouble. These prayers can be said aloud, alone, for a mother or for yourself.
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Prayer for Bereaved Parents
The Belief Net website is all about inspiration, spirituality and faith. It contains a specific prayer for bereaved parents that they could recite themselves or with which others could pray for the mothers who have lost their children:
“God, you sacrificed your son so that we and our children would transcend physical death. We know that you grieved when he was crucified and that you grieve over all the atrocities done by men — especially in your name. You know and understand grief as you know and understand all. You know best how to comfort these parents. Lift their hearts up to you and fill them with your peace. Your understanding is beyond our human comprehension, but give them the knowledge and faith to endure even that which they can’t understand. Let them be aware of you always God, and help them to remember that your Love is Life that can never really be taken away.”
A Mother’s Prayer to the Guardian Angels of Her Child
“The Angels” magazine’s website passes along this maternal prayer for the well-being of her children:
“I humbly salute you, O you faithful, heavenly Friends of my children! I give you heartfelt thanks for all the love and goodness you show them. At some future day I shall, with thanks more worthy than I can now give, repay your care for them, and before the whole heavenly court acknowledge their indebtedness to your guidance and protection. Continue to watch over them. Provide for all their needs of body and soul. Pray, likewise, for me, for my husband, and my whole family, that we may all one day rejoice in your blessed company.
Simply look to the Bible for simple verses that can create comfort in this sad situation. The following are two that are often used in time of sorrow:
“So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold — though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” 1 Peter 1:6-7
“Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return. They will enter Jerusalem singing, crowned with everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness.” Isaiah 51:11
Prayer After the Death of a Child
Creighton, a Jesuit Catholic University, shares a prayer for mothers after the death of a child:
“My life is upside down, loving God. The order of the world is out of place and I can’t do anything to right it again. Oh, Lord, you know the pain in my heart at all times and you know why: my child has died. How can it be that my beloved child is gone? The child I cared for with such concern in every illness, the one I held close to my heart and promised to take care of for a lifetime, is not here for me to care for anymore. It hurts deeply that I wasn’t able to protect this child I love with my whole being from a death that seems so unfair.
“Let me feel calm. Let me breathe deeply. Be with me in this kind of deep and transformative pain. I now carry this darkness with me on my back and in my heart, always. It is my burden and my companion.
“Lord, there is not a single minute of my life when this loss is not etched so keenly into my brain and heart, whether it is in the middle of a busy day or in those choking moments of grief in the solitary dark of night. Let me be grateful for every minute we had together. Let me treasure those memories and find joy in them. Help me to deal with people better. They don’t know what to say. They stumble and look away when they see me. They pretend nothing has happened. I know they “don’t want to remind me” but they don’t understand it is with me always, always.
“Teach me, Lord. Tell me what you want me to do with this. What am I supposed to learn from this kind of pain? What are you calling me to do?
“Open my battered heart and lead me to comfort and peace. Only you can give me the peace I need. Let me feel your presence in my life.”
by Alexis Dunk ()
Dear Lord, I pray for the family’s who have lost their child. I ask that you would fill them with a deep sense of your peace and grace. I ask that you would surround them with your love and hope.
Give them the strength to carry on and to know that they still have a purpose on this earth. Lord, I am asking that each day they would grow stronger in the knowledge of you and how great you truly are.
Lord, on their darkest days be their light. On their loneliest days, be their friend. On their saddest days be their joy. Grant them with hope to be strengthened with power to continue on.
I pray that they would be firmly established in the knowledge of you. I pray that they may be able to comprehend the depth of your love for them. Let that unfathomable love carry them through their darkest days.
Lord, I pray that the family’s would be filled with pleasant and joyful memories of their child. May each day bring a brighter hope of the future. May they grow closer to you through this experience.
Let not their hearts turn bitter, angry or disillusioned. May they once again begin to trust. Bring them the divine comfort and assurance that can only come through your love.
In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
Return to 7 Daily Prayers to Get You Through The Week
Extreme pain—terrible loss—indescribable suffering! These are just a few of the feelings and emotions felt by parents who have lost a child. Obviously, there is nothing that can alleviate that pain except for consolation from the Lord, the love of family and friends, and the passing of time. God’s word is one of the tools that he uses, though, to comfort us during times of terrible grief and mourning. Here are my top 7 comforting Bible verses for those who have lost a child.
Psalm 30:11 “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness…”
God not only sympathizes with us when we suffer, but he also empathizes with us as well. His son died on the cross for our sins. So his love for us has an incredible way of turning things around on our behalf. Where there is grief and loss, God brings soothing and relief. Where there is pain and suffering, he brings peace and hope. Only he can turn our mourning into dancing and clothe us with gladness instead of despair during our darkest hours.
Psalm 103:3 “who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy…”
The book of Psalms has always been inspiring to me, because David wrote it as a man who had endured suffering as well as great successes in his life. He knew what it was like to suffer the loss of a child, and in this chapter he reminds us that it is God who redeems our life from the pit. Whether it is a pit of emotional despair over a loss or an illness, it is the Lord that will pick us up and take us out of the depths of sadness. He will also crown us with his steadfast love and mercy—both symbols of hope and reassurance.
Isaiah 61:3 “…to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.”
God’s heart grieves with those who are suffering, and he looks for ways to bring solace and consolation to us in the midst of those times. This verse reminds us of how he wants to bless us by turning things around in our circumstances. He cheers us by giving us a beautiful crown instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit. In Jeremiah 31:13b, the Lord also reassures us by sharing, “I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.” In other words, he brings us hope.
Psalm 23:4 “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
This has always been a favorite passage for anyone suffering through pain and loss, as it reminds us that God is always with us. He knows what it is like to walk through the valley of death, so he is quick to comfort us. The Lord wants to take away our fear as well, as his perfect love casts out fear.
Matthew 5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Part of our human condition and existence is the fact that we will suffer loss during our lifetime. Here in the passage commonly referred to as the beatitudes, the Lord reminds us that all those who mourn will be blessed and comforted. If he takes care of the birds of the air, how much more will he offer us consolation when we need it.
2 Corinthians 1:5 “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”
This is one of my top verses, because it reminds us that Christ suffered the ultimate punishment for our sins while dying on the cross, and that we will also share in suffering as well. However, even though we will endure pain and loss in this life, we also will share in his comfort. The apostle Paul goes on to write in 2 Corinthians 13:11, “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” This verse speaks to me about how we can also encourage and console one another as well.
Revelation 21:4 “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Hope—the Lord reminds us here about the second coming of the Lord, and the ultimate hope and comfort we will experience upon his return. At that point, he will wipe away all of our tears and offer us the relief and reassurance we need. He will take away our mourning and our loss, as death will finally be defeated. On that day, we will be able to rejoice fully knowing that all of our former suffering will be behind us forever.
It might seem impossible for the extreme sadness and grief we feel at the loss of a child to ever diminish or decrease; however, the Lord is our hope and our salvation, and he can turn our mourning into comfort. God wants to encourage us and relieve our suffering if we will just go to him at all times. And his word is powerful enough to bring healing and solace even during our darkest hours.