No one wants to hear the words “It‘s actually a blessing,” or “God took them because He needed them more than we did,” or “They had a wonderful life” or “They were just too good for this world”. Never appropriate words, particularly to a parent of a dead child. Even knowing better, and understanding that platitudes are not helpful for a grieving person, sometimes we find ourselves imperiled to find anything to say to a person who is expressing their grief at the death of a loved one.
Does anyone know the “right” words to say? I doubt it. But when a child, a young person, dies, we all agree it seems untimely, we want to shout UNFAIR. What, you mean they died before they reached adulthood, or before they saw their young children grow up, never even had a chance to hold their young ones that we all feel they SHOULD have had the opportunity to bear? Yes, UNFAIR!
I still have this sense of unfairness when I talk to the mother of my little twelve year old patient, more than three years after her death. What to say, even after time has healed some of the gaping, bleeding hole left behind when her child died? When we sit down to talk, I listen and hear that she has found meaning and purpose. Others have heard her story, learned much from her choices, and been consoled by the fact that life does go on; some children may not get to live a long life here on earth, but they do live forever in their parents hearts and minds. We say, “Life will never be the same”. True. But life will go on.
When I hear the words out of her mouth, “because of Katie”, I understand that she has learned unfathomable lessons through her pain and loss; she recognizes her growth as a human being is because of that loss and the choices associated with it.
I am stunned and humbled, that some people are given a huge pile of lemons in life. Sour and seemingly useless lemons, turned into refreshing and rejuvenating fluid, flowing out of their broken hearts, able to transform the unbearable into the gift of lemonade for themselves and those of us blessed to learn from them.
May we all find ways to take the suffering, and make lemonade.
As Victor Frankl wrote of so beautifully, “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing; the last of human freedoms- to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”